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.
When 252P/LINEAR passed just 14 lunar distances from Earth on 21 March, the comet was galloping across the far southern sky at a rate of almost ten degrees per day. Now rapidly heading north, 252P finally appears in the predawn UK sky. While moonlight will interfere with current observations, the comet is much brighter than predicted.
In the pre-dawn twilight of Tuesday, 1 March, the 21-day-old waning gibbous Moon acts as a convenient celestial guide to planets Saturn and Mars. For observers in the centre of the British Isles, the best time to see this triple conjunction is shortly before 6am GMT, when the trio are highest in the sky to the south.
On the morning of Saturday, 9 January — just two days after their photogenic conjunction with an old crescent Moon — planets Venus and Saturn reach the denouement of their pre-dawn show with a spectacular close conjunction. To observe this spectacle you need an unobstructed view low to the southeast around 7am GMT (central British Isles).
On the morning of Thursday, 7 January, observers in the UK with a clear sky and an unobstructed view low to the southeast at 7am GMT (central British Isles) can see a close conjunction between the old crescent Moon, Venus and Saturn — all three encompassed by the field of view of a typical binocular.
Not all galaxies are neatly shaped, as this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 6240 clearly demonstrates. Hubble previously released an image of this galaxy in 2008, but the knotted region was only revealed in these new observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys.