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.
Swirling around the young star Elias 2-27 is a stunning spiral-shape pinwheel of dust. This striking feature, seen with the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), is the product of density waves — gravitational perturbations in the star’s protoplanetary disc that produce sweeping arms reminiscent of a spiral galaxy, but on a much smaller scale.
A hundred days have passed since Mars was closest to Earth this year, but the Red Planet can still be seen in the early evening sky close to the jewel of the solar system, Saturn. If you wish to identify this pair of planets, then a convenient celestial marker in the form of the waxing crescent Moon passes by on the evenings of 8—9 September in the UK and Western Europe.
Observers in the British Isles with a clear sky one hour after sunset on 24 August should find a location that offers an unobstructed view of the south-southwest horizon. Here you will see first-magnitude star Antares in the constellation Scorpius, Mars and Saturn all in a line easily encompassed by low-power binoculars in the bright twilight.
In the bright evening twilight of 14, 15 and 16 July, observers in the British Isles and Western Europe can see the waxing gibbous Moon pass by Mars, first-magnitude star Antares in Scorpius, then Saturn. This series of conjunctions occurs very low in the southern sky for UK-based astronomers, while Australasian observers are ideally placed to view the spectacle almost overhead.
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.