As April 2020 opens, dazzling Venus at dusk is drawing ever closer to the magnificent Pleiades (Seven Sisters) in the constellation of Taurus. The brightest planet makes its closest approach to this famous open star cluster on the UK night of 3 April, when typical 10×50 binoculars and small telescopes will deliver memorable views around 9pm BST.
If you’re an early riser in the British Isles, let the waning crescent Moon be your guide to three naked-eye planets – Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – at dawn on 18 and 19 March 2020. This celestial conjunction occurs in the constellation of Sagittarius where you can see all four Solar System bodies within the span of a fist at arm’s length. Look for attractive binocular conjunctions too.
Dazzling planet Venus continues to be a useful celestial signpost to other planets at dusk. Having already showcased Neptune and Mercury this year, the brightest planet has a close conjunction with Uranus on the UK evening of Sunday, 8 March. The pair lie just 2.2 degrees apart against the constellation backdrop of Aries, simultaneously visible in typical 10×50 binoculars.
For three evenings from 26–28 February 2020, observers in Western Europe including the British Isles can watch the waxing crescent Moon’s changing configuration with brightest planet Venus in the west-southwest at dusk. The pair are closest for UK-based observers on the evening of Thursday, 27 February, simultaneously visible in low-power binoculars.
Even casual skywatchers cannot fail to notice brightest planet Venus currently hanging like a lantern above the southwest horizon at dusk. But as Venus moves eastwards through Aquarius on successive nights, it draws closer to outermost (and faintest) planet Neptune until the pair reach a particularly close conjunction on the UK evening of Monday, 27 January.
Innermost planet Mercury puts on its best morning display of the year for Northern Hemisphere observers from late November to early December. Skywatchers in the British Isles should find a location offering an unobstructed view of the southeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise to get the best views, with the Red Planet and star Spica – the brightest in Virgo – also nearby.
The 12-day-old Moon lies in the same low-power binocular field as Neptune late into the evening of Thursday, 10 October 2019 when observers in the UK can find the pair highest in the southern sky against the constellation of Aquarius. The glare of the gibbous Moon will present a challenge, but well worth the attempt to find the outermost planet with modest optical aid.
Skywatchers in Western Europe and the UK should look low to the south-southwest at nautical dusk on 3 and 5 October 2019 to view the waxing Moon pass close to Jupiter and Saturn, the Solar System’s largest gas giant planets. Observers at northern temperate latitudes should make the most of any opportunities to view these planets before they are lost in twilight.
Neptune reaches opposition on 10 September 2019 having returned to Aquarius, the constellation in which it was discovered in 1846. We show you how to locate the outermost planet using binoculars, a task made easier this month due to Neptune’s close passage to naked-eye star phi (φ) Aquarii on 6 September.