Skywatchers in the UK looking to the south-southeast shortly before midnight on Friday 9 June can see the rising full Moon just 2½ degrees above Saturn, the pair fitting comfortably in the same field of view of binoculars and telescopes magnifying less than 20×. Saturn is closest to the Earth for this year on 15 June, so here is our quick observing guide to the ringed planet at its best.
Jupiter now lies highest in the UK sky at sunset, but the Solar System’s largest planet and its four bright Galilean moons still provide plenty of observable events during June, as we reveal. If you’re uncertain which evening ‘star’ is Jupiter, the Moon conveniently passes by on the night of 3—4 June, a time when European skywatchers can also see the Moon occult (hide) bright double star Porrima.
In the small UK hours of Sunday 14 May, the rising 17-day-old Moon in the southeast lies just 2.4 degrees to the upper-left of Saturn, meaning that the pair will comfortably fit in the same field of view of a typical 10×50 binocular. The ringed planet is now about a month from opposition, so now’s the time to hone your observing skills.
Observers with a clear sky to the south as darkness falls on Sunday 7 May can see the 12-day-old waxing gibbous Moon and planet Jupiter separated by little more than twice the width of a full Moon. For telescope owners in the UK, this is a night where you can also see Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and the planet’s four large Galilean moons.
Mercury attains a greatest easterly elongation of 19 degrees from the Sun on 1 April. This solar separation combined with a favourable inclination of the ecliptic to the western horizon an hour after sunset, means that the period 25 March to around 8 April offers the year’s best evening showing of the innermost planet for Northern Hemisphere observers.
Jupiter is now less than a month from opposition (7 April), so it’s very much open season for the Solar System’s largest planet. If you’re unsure where to find it, the rising 17-day-old waning gibbous Moon passes just two degrees from Jupiter on the UK evening of 14 March. Virgo’s brightest star, first-magnitude Spica, makes it a great binocular triumvirate.
On the night of 4-5 March 2017, UK observers with clear skies can see an occultation bonanza as the 6-day-old waxing crescent Moon passes in front of prominent members of the Hyades open cluster in Taurus. Some hours later, after the Moon has set in the British Isles, first-magnitude star Aldebaran is occulted across a large swathe of North America.