As shooting-star devotees prepare for the naked-eye spectacle of the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December, owners of small telescopes can also witness the close passage of the meteors’ parent body — a curious “rock comet” known as 3200 Phaethon, galloping through the constellations of Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Pisces and Pegasus at a rate of up to 15 degrees/day.
On Wednesday 18 January, brightest asteroid 4 Vesta comes to opposition in the constellation of Cancer bordering on Gemini, ideally placed for observation by Northern Hemisphere skywatchers. While the truly eagle-eyed among you might glimpse it with the unaided eye on dark, moonless nights, Vesta is an easy binocular object.
Ceres, the largest minor planet inside the orbit of Neptune, passed closest to Earth on the evening of 22 October — the night of the last quarter Moon. With the lunar crescent now confined to the morning sky, grab your binoculars or telescope, print out some star charts from our online guide and track down the brightest of the dwarf planets while at its best.
Astronomers have discovered possible evidence for water on the surface of 16 Psyche, the largest metallic asteroid in the solar system. Measuring 186 miles across and consisting of almost pure nickel-iron metal, Psyche is thought to be the remnant core of a planetary embryo that was mostly destroyed by impacts billions of years ago.
Watch as NASA holds a news conference at its Washington, D.C. headquarters to provide a preview of its OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu and back. The mission is scheduled to launch on 8 September, reach the asteroid in 2018, capture a sample of the celestial body in 2020 and bring the specimen back to Earth in a special landing capsule in 2023.