Skywatchers in the UK looking to the south-southeast shortly before midnight on Friday 9 June can see the rising full Moon just 2½ degrees above Saturn, the pair fitting comfortably in the same field of view of binoculars and telescopes magnifying less than 20×. Saturn is closest to the Earth for this year on 15 June, so here is our quick observing guide to the ringed planet at its best.
Three teams of astronomers have made use of SPHERE, an advanced exoplanet-hunting instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, in order to shed light on the enigmatic evolution of fledgling planetary systems. The explosion in the number of known exoplanets in recent years has made the study of them one of the most dynamic fields in modern astronomy.
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.
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.
This 10.5-billion-year-old globular cluster, NGC 6496, is home to heavy-metal stars of a celestial kind! The stars comprising this spectacular spherical cluster are enriched with much higher proportions of metals (in astronomy, elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are curiously known as metals) than stars found in similar clusters.