Observing

See Mercury at its best in the evening sky

26 March 2017 Ade Ashford

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.

Observing

See planet Venus hit peak brightness in the evening sky

13 February 2017 Ade Ashford

Currently setting over four hours after the Sun as seen from the heart of the UK and visible in the west-southwest at dusk, dazzling Venus is about to hit peak brightness in the constellation of Pisces. The planet attains magnitude -4.8 on Friday 17 February — some 21 times the luminosity of brightest star Sirius gracing the southeast horizon as darkness falls.

Observing

See the Mars-Venus-Moon conjunction of 31 January

30 January 2017 Ade Ashford

Dazzling Venus and much fainter Mars have a close encounter with a young Moon in the constellation of Pisces at UK dusk on Tuesday 31 January. The trio form an equilateral triangle small enough to be encompassed by the field of view of a 7x binocular low in the west-southwest for a couple of hours from 7pm GMT.

Observing

See Venus farthest from the Sun, in conjunction with Neptune on 12 January

10 January 2017 Ade Ashford

Thursday 12 January brings not only a full Moon, but also finds brightest planet Venus at its greatest easterly elongation from the Sun. By the time darkness falls in Western Europe and the UK, Venus also lies just 0.4 degrees from outermost planet Neptune, while Mars lies less than the span of a fist at arm’s length to their upper left.

Observing

See the Moon pass in front of Neptune on 6 December

4 December 2016 Ade Ashford

For the seventh and final time this year, the Moon occults outermost planet Neptune on Tuesday 6 December. Weather permitting, this event will be seen over a swathe of the Western Hemisphere including the northeastern USA, eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland and the western British Isles.

Observing

How to find Ceres, the nearest and brightest dwarf planet at its best

23 October 2016 Ade Ashford

Ceres, the largest minor planet inside the orbit of Neptune, passed closest to Earth on the evening of 22 October — the night of the last quarter Moon. With the lunar crescent now confined to the morning sky, grab your binoculars or telescope, print out some star charts from our online guide and track down the brightest of the dwarf planets while at its best.

Picture This

Discovering the X-ray treasures in Chandra’s archives

16 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Each year, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory helps celebrate American Archive Month by releasing a collection of images using X-ray data. Each of these six new images — representing just a small fraction of the treasures that reside in Chandra’s unique archive — also includes data from telescopes covering other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as visible and infrared light.

Observing

See planet Uranus at its best in the autumn sky

8 October 2016 Ade Ashford

Have you ever seen Uranus with the naked eye? If not, moonless nights in October offer ideal conditions to test your visual acuity and sky clarity. Uranus reaches opposition on 15 October and attains a respectable altitude in the southern sky as seen from the British Isles. Here is our guide to tracking down the seventh planet from the Sun.

Observing

Find the Andromeda Galaxy in the late summer sky

2 September 2016 Ade Ashford

One of best deep-sky objects of the approaching season is the Andromeda Galaxy, or Messier 31, that is now accessible low in the east-northeast by 10pm local time in the UK and Western Europe. Here’s our comprehensive guide to locating this iconic Local Group galaxy.

News

Astronomers detect double ‘peanut shell’ galaxies

8 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, have discovered an unusually shaped structure in two nearby disc galaxies. The Swinburne team recently developed new imaging software, making it possible to observe the double “peanut shell shape” formed by the distribution of stars bulging from the centres of these galaxies.