Set your alarm for 6am GMT if you wish to see three naked-eye planets in the UK dawn sky this week. Find a location that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast to south and let the waning Moon be your guide to locating Jupiter, Mars and Saturn on successive mornings from 7 to 11 February.
It currently pays to be an early riser if you wish to view the planets, for it’s all happening at dawn in the skies of Western Europe. Find innermost planet Mercury, see a near miss of Mars and Jupiter on 7 January, then a fabulous binocular conjunction of the waning crescent Moon, the Red planet and Jupiter on 11 January!
A waxing crescent Moon hanging low above the horizon in evening twilight is always a pleasant sight to behold, but observers in the UK watching the 4-day-old Moon through a telescope around 40 minutes after sunset on Sunday, 24 September have an additional treat in store in the form of an occultation of naked-eye star gamma (γ) Librae.
Mars lies highest in the sky to the south soon after sunset at the beginning of July for observers in the UK, so you should not waste any opportunities to view the Red Planet while it is close and still relatively large in size. Tharsis, the great Martian volcanic plateau that is home to the largest volcanoes in the solar system, is turned toward Earth in the first week of the month.
We may be losing Jupiter in the west at dusk, but two other planets are well placed in the late evening. Skywatchers in the UK and Western Europe should look low in the southern sky around 12am local time on 17, 18 and 19 June to see the waxing gibbous Moon in the vicinity of planets Mars and Saturn, plus first-magnitude star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius.
On the evening of Monday, 30 May, Mars is closer to Earth than at any time since 30 October 2005. This begs the question: just how close can Mars get? Ade Ashford gives you an overview of close Martian oppositions past, present and future. Also, Friday, 3 June sees the opposition of Saturn, the other planet visible low in the south around midnight.
On the morning of Sunday, 22 May planet Mars reached opposition in the constellation of Scorpius and is closest to the Earth on 30 May — its best showing in a decade for Southern Hemisphere observers. As seen from the UK the Red Planet will be low in the south at 1am BST, but on nights of good seeing surface detail will be visible in amateur telescopes. Use our interactive Mars Mapper to identify its features.
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.
With just a month to go until the 2016 opposition of Mars, the Red Planet is now visible very low in the southeast before midnight for observers in the heart of the UK. Mars and ringed planet Saturn are presently separated by just over 7 degrees — a low power, wide-angle binocular field of view. The waning gibbous Moon passes by on the mornings of 25—26 April.
Now just ten weeks from opposition, Mars is growing in both apparent size and brightness in the pre-dawn sky as the distance between our two worlds decreases. On the morning of Wednesday, 16 March, around the onset of UK nautical twilight, the Red Planet passes just 0.15 degrees from double star Graffias in the constellation Scorpius.