For an early astronomical treat to usher in the New Year, seek out the natural pyrotechnics of the rich Quadrantid meteor shower. Peak shooting star activity occurs within a four-hour window centred on a prediction of 8am GMT on 4 January 2020 – a time that favours UK skywatchers at astronomical dawn, or North American observers around local midnight.
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.
Barnard’s Star is a familiar name in both the history of astronomy and popular culture, but did you realise that it’s the closest stellar body to the Sun that you can see from the British Isles and similar latitudes? We tell you some fascinating facts about this famous runaway star and show you how to locate it.
Urban dwellers may resign themselves to spotting the Moon, planets and the brightest stars with the unaided eye on a clear night, but every so often a bright satellite will catch your attention as it glides silently across the sky. The brightest is the 400-tonne International Space Station (ISS) whose orbit carries it directly overhead as seen from the British Isles and parts of Western Europe tonight.
The diminutive yet distinctive constellation of Lyra is home to dazzling star Vega, the Ring Nebula (M57) and the celebrated double-double star epsilon (ε) Lyrae. But did you know that Lyra harbours yet another ‘pair of pairs’ that are somewhat easier to resolve in smaller telescopes? Ade Ashford shows you how to locate the beautiful Struve Σ2470 and Σ2474.
During the first week of September, observers have an opportunity to see a bright near-Earth asteroid known as 3122 Florence (aka 1981 ET3) as it sails by our planet. On the night of 2—3 September, observers in the UK and Western Europe can see this 4.4 kilometre-wide space rock pass through a prominent asterism in the constellation of Delphinus, the dolphin.
Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková passes just 0.08318 astronomical units (7.73 million miles, or ~32 lunar distances) from Earth on the morning of 11 February. Early risers can catch the magnitude +7 comet speeding through the constellations of Hercules, Corona Borealis (CrB) and Boötes at up to 9 degrees/day.
If you chance upon a bright ‘star’ crawling across the sky in an arc from west to east, an object that doesn’t flash or possess red and green running lights (which is an aircraft), then you can be fairly certain that you’re looking at the International Space Station (ISS). Find out when and where to see it from the British Isles and Western Europe this week.