While you may not relish the prospect of waking up in the small hours most Monday mornings, observers in the British Isles and Western Europe will want to set their alarms no later than 5am GMT on 21 January to see this month’s showstopper celestial event — a total lunar eclipse of an unusually close ‘supermoon’. The total lunar eclipse is also visible in its entirety (weather permitting) from the Americas.
The December Geminid meteor shower is generally regarded as the richest and most reliable of the major annual shooting star displays. This year the predicted peak occurs close to 12h UT on 14 December, though high rates of activity should be encountered between 8pm GMT on Thursday, 13 December and 5pm GMT the following evening.
If you’ve never seen a comet, there’s currently a bright example visible in the late evening about to make a close approach to the 6th brightest star in the night sky on the UK night of 2–3 September. We show you how to find Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner around the time it passes within a degree of prominent star Capella.
While antipodean observers are enjoying views of the totally eclipsed Blue Moon in Cancer the Crab on the night of 31 January/1 February, Northern Hemisphere observers should look out for magnitude +6.9 1 Ceres at opposition in the northern fringes of the same constellation. The dwarf planet puts on a good show in the dark of the Moon during February.
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.
While truly massive stars go out in a blaze of glory, intermediate-mass stars — those between roughly one and eight times the mass of the Sun — are somewhat quieter. Such stars eventually form cosmic objects known as planetary nebulae, so named because of their vague resemblance to planets when seen through early, low-resolution telescopes.
The highlight of October for meteor observers is the Orionid meteor shower, which occurs when the Earth encounters the debris stream of Halley’s Comet. With a broad maximum 21-23 October, peak rates are typically about a quarter of those seen for the Perseids of August. A good percentage of Orionids are bright and leave persistent trains.
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?
Nomination number 13 from the prestigious Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, an annual celebration of the most beautiful and spectacular visions of the cosmos by astrophotographers worldwide. The 2015 competition received 2700 spectacular entries from over 60 countries and the winners will be announced 17 September.