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.
Early risers wishing to see Venus as a dazzling ‘morning star’ need only glance low to the east in the pre-dawn sky. The planet reaches greatest brilliancy on Sunday, 20 September when, for a couple of mornings, it can be seen outshining brightest nighttime star Sirius in the southeast by a factor of seventeen times. Can you see your shadow cast by Venus?
As dawn creeps across Western Europe on the morning of Thursday, 10 September, a close conjunction of the two brightest objects in the nighttime sky is taking place low in the east an hour before sunrise. So, set your alarm for 5:30am in the UK to see a beautiful juxtaposition of a 26-day-old waning crescent Moon and dazzling planet Venus in the twilight.
Astronomers have detected wildly changing temperatures on a super-Earth — the first time any atmospheric variability has been observed on a rocky planet outside the Solar System — and believe it could be due to huge amounts of volcanic activity, further adding to the mystery of what had been nicknamed the ‘diamond planet.’