Get ready for Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) in the northern spring sky!
Comet C/2019 Y4 was discovered by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) on 28 December last year and brightened 6000-fold in just two months to attain magnitude +7.5 on 1 April. Alas, the comet’s nucleus has now fragmented, dashing hopes for a conspicuous naked-eye spectacle in the constellation of Perseus. Here’s our telescopic observing guide.
Planet Venus photobombs the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) 1–5 April
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.
See the Red Planet’s encounter with the Seven Sisters at dusk
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.
Pirouetting Pleiads provide clues to stellar structure and evolution
Like cosmic ballet dancers, the stars of the Pleiades cluster are spinning, but all at different speeds. By watching these stellar dancers, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has helped amass the most complete catalogue of rotation periods for stars in a cluster. This information can provide insight into where and how planets form around these stars, and how such stars evolve.