There’s a new comet on the block – Comet Leonard. It’s not bright, so you won’t see it without good equipment, but for the keen observers and photographers it’s looking promising in the early morning sky.Read more
A partial lunar eclipse takes place in the early morning of 19 November 2021. It could be spectacular over much of the northern and western UK – but you need to know just where and when to look.Read more
Dwarf planet Ceres is bright enough to be seen easily with binoculars in November as it crosses the familiar star cluster of the Hyades. At the start of the month it lies close to Aldebaran (α Tauri).
(This article is an update – Pallas has travelled southwards and faded considerably.)
The first two asteroids to be discovered, Ceres and Pallas, can both be spotted with binoculars in the night sky this autumn. They should be fairly easy to locate too, since both lie near recognisable asterisms, or star patterns.
Ceres, which has been promoted to the status of Dwarf Planet, will spend the next few weeks crossing the V-shaped pattern of the Hyades star cluster as it heads for opposition in November, when it will shine at magnitude 7.
Pallas, which was discovered on 28 March, 1802, is currently close to a ring of stars in Pisces, known as the Circlet. It reaches Opposition on 11 September, when it will be around magnitude 8.5 and lie almost exactly on the Celestial Equator.
Over the coming weeks, Pallas will slowly head southwards from Pisces into Aquarius, crossing the boundary on the night of the 24/25 September.
It lies not very far in the sky from the planet Neptune, and they appear of similar brightness, though Neptune is very much larger and a lot further away.
A telescope will bring Pallas much more clearly into view, though you will never see more than a starlike point of light as it is only around 512 km in diameter and at a distance of more than 320 million km from Earth at Opposition.
Ceres, which was discovered on New Year’s Day, 1801, is similar in brightness to Pallas in early September, at magnitude 8.7. See it a little to the south of Aldebaran, the brilliant star at one end of the V-shaped Hyades cluster. (In fact Aldebaran is unrelated to the cluster and lies between us and the Hyades.)
You may find Ceres a little tricky to identify among the myriad of stars making up the Hyades cluster. However, over the next few weeks, it will become more than three times as bright as it is in early September.
That will make it much easier to spot when it reaches Opposition on 26 November, by which time it will have crossed to the northeast of the Hyades cluster.
Both Ceres and Pallas lie in the main belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.
If you’ve never seen Mercury, then the next few mornings offer a great opportunity – but you’ll need to be quick!
The closest planet to the Sun can never be seen in a truly dark sky because it cannot venture far enough away from it in the sky.
We only see it with the naked eye on one of its fleeting appearances in the evening or morning twilight, soon after sunset or just before dawn.
Currently, Mercury is in the morning sky and gets high enough above the horizon to be observable before the sky becomes too bright. The ecliptic – the path along which the planets appear to travel – is tilted steeply to the horizon on autumn mornings, from northern latitudes, so Mercury gets between 5° and 10° above the horizon before being lost in the dawn glow.
You need to look roughly eastwards to see Mercury, in Virgo. You will also need a clear horizon free of low cloud, buildings and hills. A sea horizon is ideal.
Mercury reached Greatest Elongation West on 25 October, when it lay 18° from the Sun, and shone at around -0.6, which is brighter than most stars.
Since then it has been slipping slowly back towards the Sun but you will have several more days into the first week of November to catch the planet it weather conditions are favourable.
Between 6.30 and 7am BST is an optimal time to seek out Mercury before the clocks go back on 31 October. After that, look an hour or so earlier local time, of course.
A fine waning crescent Moon will lie near Mercury on the morning of 6 November.
Binoculars will help you locate Mercury due to the brightening twilight sky and its low altitude. Make sure you don’t scan the sky with them after sunrise when it will be to late to see Mercury anyway.
Mercury will reach Superior Conjunction, on the far side of the Sun, on 29 November, after which it moves back into the evening sky.
Noticed a bright star over in the south or south-west and wondered what it is? You aren’t alone, and it’s a question that every astronomer gets asked! Could it be the Pole Star, or the Space Station, perhaps?Read more
The SPA is delighted to be supporting Marlborough Dark Skies Fest, which runs next week, from 25–31 October.
During the weekdays there will be two exhibitions in progress – Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon and a display of astronomical photos by Robert Harvey.
From Friday evening and through the weekend of 30–31 October there will be a packed programme of talks from a range of speakers including Chris Lintott, practical daytime workshops with Mary McIntyre and Sally Russell and observing, weather permitting. Most events are free, but be aware that many are fully booked.
The SPA will also be represented, and we’d be keen to hear from any member going to Marlborough who could help on our stand over the weekend, 30 or 31 October.
To support the work of the festival volunteers, the SPA has produced an Autumn Skywatch leaflet which will be widely available at venues around Marlborough. You can download your own copy of this guide to the autumn skies, in PDF form, by clicking on the link.
And if you are going to Marlborough, then we look forward to seeing you!
Have you seen a really bright star in the south over the past few days and wondered what it is? Could it be Jupiter, or Venus, or Sirius maybe? Take a look at our new night sky video which identifies this and many of the other objects you can see in the autumn night skies as seen from the UK.Read more
One of the most interesting variable stars, omicron Ceti, is currently easy to spot in the night sky, after peaking at magnitude 2.3 in mid-August.Read more
We’ve got a new updated video of the sky for August 2021 as seen from the UK. It gives a quick look at some of the more easily overlooked constellations, so make the most of any clear spells, look for Jupiter down in the south-east or south, and get stargazing!Read more
We’ve produced a new video guide to the stars and constellations that you can see from the UK during June and July 2021. It takes you on a tour of the sky using a low-light video camera in real time.Read more