Owls may be scarce near your favourite viewing spot, but the Northern Hemisphere spring sky contains one celestial owl that you can track down in small telescopes – Messier 97 (NGC 3587). Commonly called the Owl Nebula, M97 is a planetary nebula discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781 that is currently ideally placed for observation almost overhead at nightfall in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
Comet 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák orbits the Sun every 5.4 years and will pass through perihelion (its closest point to the Sun) on 12 April 2017. Motoring through Ursa Major at close to 2°/day during the remainder of March, this fascinating comet with a history of dramatic surges in brightness, passes close to Messier 97 and 108 on the UK night of 22 March.
In this Hubble Space Telescope image we see an irregular dwarf galaxy known as UGC 4459, located in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). While UGC 4459’s diffused and disorganised stellar population of several billion sounds impressive, this is small when compared to the 200 to 300 billion stars in the Milky Way.
This extraordinary bubble, glowing like the ghost of a star in the haunting darkness of space, may appear supernatural and mysterious, but it is a familiar astronomical object: a planetary nebula, the remnants of a dying star. This is the best view of the little-known object ESO 378-1 yet obtained and was captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile.