For an early astronomical treat to usher in the New Year, seek out the natural pyrotechnics of the rich Quadrantid meteor shower. Peak shooting star activity occurs within a four-hour window centred on a prediction of 8am GMT on 4 January 2020 – a time that favours UK skywatchers at astronomical dawn, or North American observers around local midnight.
If you’re bemoaning the current dearth of bright planets in the evening sky, or light pollution prevents you from viewing a multitude of spring galaxies, don’t give up – there are always attractively coloured double and multiple stars to view. Join us on a tour of the Northern Hemisphere constellation of Boötes (pronounced Bo-oh-tees), the Herdsman, easily located due to its brightest star, Arcturus.
For ten nights starting 5 April 2019, asteroid 2 Pallas and unmistakable Arcturus – the northern celestial hemisphere’s brightest star – lie within the same field of view of typical 8× binoculars. Also, don’t miss magnitude +7.9 Pallas’s very close conjunction with magnitude +2.7 star eta (η) Boötis at 22h UT (11pm BST) on the night of 10 April.
Hot on the heels of terrestrial fireworks ushering in the New Year, it’s time for some celestial pyrotechnics from the Quadrantid meteor shower – the year’s first major display of shooting stars – on 4 January. With an old waning crescent Moon not rising until nautical dawn in the UK, dark skies could see up to 80 meteors per hour around 2am GMT.
Five hundred-metre-wide asteroid 2017 CS passes just 1.9 million miles, or 7.9 lunar distances, from Earth on the afternoon of Monday 29 May 2017. For a few nights around this date, Northern Hemisphere observers with 6-inch and larger ‘scopes can see the asteroid gallop through the constellations of Canes Venatici, Boötes and Hercules at up to 14 degrees/day.
Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková passes just 0.08318 astronomical units (7.73 million miles, or ~32 lunar distances) from Earth on the morning of 11 February. Early risers can catch the magnitude +7 comet speeding through the constellations of Hercules, Corona Borealis (CrB) and Boötes at up to 9 degrees/day.
It’s time to direct your attention skyward for some celestial pyrotechnics from the first major annual meteor shower — the Quadrantids. The short-lived peak of this active shower is predicted to occur at 2pm GMT on 3 January, favouring observers in the west of North America, but most Northern Hemisphere observers with clear skies will still see some shooting stars.
Astronomers have uncovered evidence for a vast collection of young galaxies 12 billion light years away. The newly discovered “proto-cluster” of galaxies, observed when the universe was only 1.7 billion years old (12 percent of its present age), is one of the most massive structures known at that distance.
On the afternoon of 21 March, Comet 252P/LINEAR brushed by Earth just 14 lunar distances away. The comet’s separation from Earth now exceeds 20 million miles, but it’s still a suitable target for binoculars and small telescopes — if you know exactly where to look. Here’s our UK observing guide for 252P/LINEAR in the constellation Ophiuchus between midnight and moonrise over the coming week.
Pale Red Dot is an international search for an Earth-like exoplanet around the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri. It will be one of the few outreach campaigns allowing the general public to witness the scientific process of data acquisition in modern observatories via blog posts and social media updates. The Pale Red Dot campaign will run from January to April 2016.