Observers in Western Europe with a clear sky around local midnight cannot fail to notice the conspicuous ‘star’ that is Jupiter low in the south. But look a span-and-a-half of an outstretched hand at arm’s length to Jupiter’s left and you’ll find another giant of the solar system – Saturn. The ringed planet is closest to Earth for 2019 on 9 July, so here is our quick observing guide.
On 18 June at the end of civil twilight in the UK, planets Mars and Mercury lie slightly less than one-quarter of a degree apart in the constellation of Gemini. Observing this conjunction will be a challenge from the UK as the pair will be just 5 degrees high in the west-northwest at civil dusk in bright twilight, which is about 50 minutes after sunset for London.
Observers in the UK with clear skies around 1am BST on Tuesday, 21 May can see Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, just 4 degrees from the waning gibbous Moon low in the south-southeast. At this time both the Moon and Jupiter fit within the same field of view of binoculars magnifying less than 10×, while telescope users can also view Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
UK skywatchers with a view low to the west between midnight and moonset on Saturday, 11 May 2019 can see the 6-day-old waxing crescent Moon close to Messier 44, otherwise known as Praesepe, or the Beehive Cluster. Later, observers on North America’s Eastern Seaboard can see the Moon pass in front of this glorious open cluster just before local midnight on 10 May.
On 31 March at 4am BST, Mars passes just 3.1 degrees south of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus. The Red Planet sets before midnight as seen from the UK, so you should look to the west as darkness falls. Mars and the Pleiades lie within the same field of view of typical 10×50 binoculars from 28 March through 1 April 2019.
For lunar and planetary enthusiasts, the only naked-eye planet of the evening sky is distant and tiny Mars in the constellation of Taurus. But if you’re prepared to be an early riser, the dawn sky is where you’ll find two of the solar system’s heavyweights, Jupiter and Saturn, getting up close with the Moon on 27 and 29 March, respectively.
On Saturday, 2 March 2019, observers in Western Europe should seek a location offering a level and unobstructed southeastern view at civil dawn (some 36 minutes before sunrise in the heart of the UK) to have a chance of seeing the 25-day-old waning crescent Moon between Venus in Capricornus and Saturn in Sagittarius with the unaided eye.
Have you ever seen planet Uranus? If skies are clear in the UK and Western Europe on the evening of Sunday, 10 February, see this icy gas giant less than 2 degrees (or four lunar diameters) from Mars and 6 degrees from the 5-day-old crescent Moon. In fact, you’ll see all three in a single view of wide-angle binoculars like 7×50s.
Skywatchers in the UK and Western Europe should look low to the south-southeast an hour before sunrise on 31 January to see a beautiful naked-eye conjunction of Venus, the old crescent Moon and Jupiter, all within a span of 8½ degrees. But if you have a telescope and live in just the right place, you can also see the Moon hide a double star.