Mercury is currently putting on a fine show in the east before dawn. Find a UK location with an unobstructed view due east an hour before sunrise to see the innermost planet some 6 degrees above the horizon from about 25 September—5 October. The very old crescent Moon lies just 2 degrees from Mercury at dawn on Thursday, 29 September.
As dusk fades to dark on Saturday, 11 June, observers in the British Isles should look low in the western sky to see the 7-day-old waxing crescent Moon and Jupiter less than 3 degrees apart, within the same binocular field of view. Get your observations in now as the solar system’s largest planet is poised to leave the celestial stage during the summer.
Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) is currently a morning object in Virgo low in the southeast before dawn twilight for UK observers. The comet has a photogenic close encounter with Venus and the waning crescent Moon on the mornings of 7—8 December, then rapidly heads north through the constellation Boötes for a closer brush with Arcturus on New Year’s Day.
In many ways stars are like living beings. They’re born; they live; they die. And they even have a heartbeat. Near the end of their lifetime they begin to pulsate, increasing and decreasing their brightness by a large amount every few hundred days. Using a novel technique, astronomers have detected thousands of stellar “pulses” in the galaxy Messier 87 (M87). Their measurements offer a new way of determining a galaxy’s age.
In the remaining days of October and early into November, a fascinating series of planetary peregrinations plays out low in the East before dawn twilight gets too bright. Venus, like a sprinter on the inside lane of a running track, overtakes both Jupiter in Mars in two readily observable conjunctions set against the stellar backdrop of constellations Leo and Virgo.
Now that planet Saturn is effectively lost in the dusk twilight for UK-based observers, you may be wondering what has happened to the other four bright naked-eye planets. Far from disappearing, they have just transferred to the morning sky. From 8—11 October, the waning crescent Moon acts as a guide to Venus, Mars, Jupiter then Mercury in the eastern dawn sky.
Columbia University astronomers provide additional evidence that a pair of closely orbiting black holes deep in the Virgo constellation is causing the rhythmic flashes of light coming from quasar PG 1302-102. Separated by a mere light-week, the black holes are spiralling toward a collision so powerful it will send a burst of gravitational waves surging through the fabric of space-time.