Innermost planet Mercury puts on its best morning display of the year for Northern Hemisphere observers from late November to early December. Skywatchers in the British Isles should find a location offering an unobstructed view of the southeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise to get the best views, with the Red Planet and star Spica – the brightest in Virgo – also nearby.
Plumb the hidden depths of spring’s deep-sky by seeking out 3C 273, the optically-brightest quasi-stellar object (QSO) in the constellation of Virgo. Quasars are the intensely luminous centres of very distant and active galaxies, powered by a supermassive black hole. And don’t worry that you need a huge ‘scope to see it – a 15-cm (6-inch) instrument and a clear, moonless night are all you need.
Find a location that offers you an unobstructed view of the southeast about an hour before sunrise in the UK over the next week to see dazzling Venus close to the horizon. Look carefully at the planet around 6:30am GMT on 15 November and you’ll see it close to first-magnitude Spica, Virgo’s brightest star.
Possibly as large as The Shard in London, Apollo asteroid 2017 VR12 passes just 3¾ lunar distances from Earth at 7:53am GMT on 7 March. For a few nights, this magnitude +12 space rock is a viable target for small backyard telescopes as it gallops through Coma Berenices and Virgo, passing just 0.8 degrees from Spica on the UK night of 7–8 March.
Possibly a kilometre or more in size, Apollo asteroid 2002 AJ129 passes just 10.9 lunar distances from Earth at 21:30 UT (9:30pm GMT) on 4 February — its closest approach for 114 years. For a few nights around this date the magnitude +12.6 body is well placed for observers as it gallops through the constellations of Virgo and Leo into Cancer at a rate of up to 40 degrees/day. We show you where and when to look for it.
It currently pays to be an early riser if you wish to view the planets, for it’s all happening at dawn in the skies of Western Europe. Find innermost planet Mercury, see a near miss of Mars and Jupiter on 7 January, then a fabulous binocular conjunction of the waning crescent Moon, the Red planet and Jupiter on 11 January!
At the beginning of civil twilight on Monday, 13 November, observers in Western Europe and the British Isles should seek out a viewing location offering an unobstructed view very low to the southeast horizon to see brightest planet Venus and largest planet Jupiter separated by little more than half the width of a full Moon.
Observers in the British Isles and Western Europe should look low to the east about an hour before sunrise on Wednesday, 18 October to see the slim crescent of a very old Moon close to the brightest planet, Venus. Mars is also nearby for the keen-eyed among you, but don’t leave it too late or the growing twilight will drown out the Red Planet.