Hot on the heels of terrestrial fireworks ushering in the New Year, it’s time for some celestial pyrotechnics from the Quadrantid meteor shower – the year’s first major display of shooting stars – on 4 January. With an old waning crescent Moon not rising until nautical dawn in the UK, dark skies could see up to 80 meteors per hour around 2am GMT.
At 9:24am GMT on 31 October 2016, near-Earth asteroid 164121 (2003 YT1) will safely fly by at a distance of 3.2 million miles (5.2 million kilometres), or 13.5 times the distance of the Moon. Furthermore, this 1.1-mile-(1.7-kilometre)-wide Apollo asteroid also passes very close to Polaris early on 2 November, creating a rare astrophotographic and observing opportunity.
Having brushed by bright star Arcturus on 1 January, Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) continues its trek through the constellations of the far north. Now a circumpolar object for the British Isles, in the early hours of 17 January it lies between famous double star Mizar (ζ Ursae Majoris) and the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), virtually overhead in the UK.
A constant feature of spring nights owing to its enviable circumpolar position, Comet Lovejoy still rides high throughout June, yet it’s fading slowly with distance and has to compete with twilight all night for observers in the British Isles — but it has one more conjunction in store for the end of the month.