All five of the bright naked-eye planets are observable in the pre-dawn sky from about the third week of January 2016, particularly if one lives south of the equator. But even from the UK, you can get to view the spectacle if you time it right — and the weather obliges! The last time that Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn appeared in the same sky was 11 years ago.
Have you ever seen planet Uranus? If UK skies are clear on the evening of Sunday, 22 November, the icy gas giant lies just 1.5 degrees (or three lunar diameters) from the 11-day-old waxing gibbous Moon, making it very easy to locate in binoculars and small telescopes. Here’s our online guide to locating this fascinating distant world.
The existence of a fifth giant gas planet at the time of the solar system’s formation — in addition to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that we know of today — was first proposed in 2011. Now astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in the fifth giant planet’s ejection from the solar system altogether.
Using a new process in planetary formation modelling, where planets grow from tiny bodies called “pebbles,” Southwest Research Institute scientists can explain why Mars is so much smaller than Earth. This same process also explains the rapid formation of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, as reported earlier this year.
Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, reaches opposition on 12 October. It is therefore best placed for observation during 2015 and reaches a respectable altitude as seen from the British Isles. It can be seen with the naked eye from dark sky sites, so here is our guide to tracking down this gas giant during October using nothing more than an average binocular.
Researchers at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Queen’s University in Canada have unravelled the mystery of how Jupiter and Saturn likely formed using computer simulations. The discovery, which changes our view of how all planets might have formed, also suggests that the gas giants in the solar system probably formed before the terrestrial planets.
An international team of scientists has solved an age-old scientific riddle by discovering that planetary rings, such as those orbiting Saturn, have a universally similar particle distribution. The study also suggests that Saturn’s rings are essentially in a steady state that does not depend on their history.