Monday 26th February to Sunday 3rd March 2024

How about a bit of asteroid hunting?  On the evening of Saturday 2nd March at around 8pm, the constellation of Leo will be located towards the east.  Just below Leo will be the minor planet or asteroid known as Juno.  You will need a telescope to find it as the magnitude is currently around +8.6 making it invisible to the naked eye.


Juno was first discovered in 1804 and was actually only the third asteroid ever identified.  Officially, its correct full name is "3 Juno" as a result.  Initially it was classed as another regular planet, but in the 1850s Juno was downgraded to the status of being a minor planet or big asteroid!


Juno is actually the tenth largest asteroid, with a diameter of approximately 250Km.  Being part of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, its orbital period (or the length of time it takes to go around the Sun) is 4.3 times longer than ours.  The Earth's orbital period is 365 1/4 days, but a year is rounded down to 365 days to keep it simple.  What do we do with the missing quarter days.....every four years we add one extra day, 29th February and call it a leap year.


I have provided a star chart to help you try and locate Juno above together with an image of it below captured by the Very Large Telescope / Sphere Team at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.


Alternatively, a much easier target will be a Last Quarter Moon which at 5am on Sunday 3rd March will be located towards the south, with the red giant star Antares to the left of it.




Monday 19th to Sunday 25th February 2024

How about a bit of observing during daylight hours?  Around 4pm on Monday 19th, a 79%-lit Waxing Gibbous Moon will be located towards the east and it should be visible even though the Sun will have not yet set below the horizon.

Just before 4pm that day is the optimum time to spot the Clair-Obscur visual effect known as the "Jewelled Handle" on the Moon's surface.

In the art world, the technique known as "Chiaroscuro" refers to the use of strong contrasts between light and dark and the technique is often associated with the Renaissance Period, being employed by artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.


In the astronomy world, the French translation of "Clair-Obscur" refers to extreme contrasts on the lunar surface where sunlight falling on the landscape produces obvious shapes at certain times of the month, when the Moon is in a particular phase and light from the Sun is hitting it at a specific angle.

Sticking with the daylight theme, if you look towards the south east around 7am on Thursday 22nd, it should be possible to observe a magnitude -3.8 planet Venus just above the horizon.  At the same time, a magnitude +1.3 Mars will be just below and to the right of it.  This will be quite a challenge, but please don't be tempted to use a telescope or binoculars though, as the Sun will be in the process of rising beside them!



Monday 12th to Sunday 18th February 2024

If you venture outside around 7pm on Wednesday 14th and look towards the south west, Jupiter will be very easy to spot at a magnitude of -2.1, with a waxing Crescent Moon a little to the right of it.  Turning your gaze to the left and looking south, you will be greeted by the constellation of Orion.  Half way between Orion and Jupiter (and slightly higher in the sky) is the Pleiades open cluster of stars.  To the left of Orion and slightly lower will be the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius.


If you go out again at the same time the following evening, on Thursday 15th, you will have pretty-much the same view except that the Moon will be a little above and to the left of Jupiter.  This is because the Moon is very close to us compared to everything else and it is orbiting around the Earth a quite a speed!  Our natural satellite is actually travelling at 2288 miles per hour and at that speed, it takes just over 27 days to go around us, travelling just under one and a half million miles while it does so!


At the same time on Thursday 15th, planet Uranus will be located just to the left of the Moon.  It only has a magnitude of around +5.8 so you would really need binoculars or a small telescope to stand any chance of spotting it.


Finally, around half past midnight in the early morning of Saturday 17th is the optimum time to spot the Clair-Obscur visual effect known as the Lunar X and Y on the Moon's surface with your telescope.  The Moon will be setting towards the west, with the Pleiades just to the right of it and the red giant star Aldebaran to the left.




Monday 5th to Sunday 11th February 2024

How about a couple of observing challenges?  If you are outside and look towards the south east at around 7am on Wednesday 7th, you will see a magnitude -3.9 planet Venus.  Well that's not much of a challenge as a magnitude of that level is very bright.


At the same time, just to the right of Venus, a very thin 10%-lit Waning Crescent Moon will have just risen above the horizon.  Now that is more of a challenge, but we're not finished yet..........


Around that time, the Chinese space station "Tiangong" will be visible.  It appears over the west horizon at 7.05am.  The space station doesn't climb very high in the sky and by 7.10am it will have passed just above Venus in the south east.  At 7.12am it disappears below the horizon to the east south east.


Tiangong will have a brightest magnitude of around +1.4 as it passes above Venus so should be visible with the naked eye.  It will look like a star that is silently moving.  Please don't be tempted to use binoculars to follow its progress though, as it dips below the horizon in exactly the same spot as the Sun will be rising!


Tiangong is known as a 3rd Generation space station, meaning that it has modular construction, like the International Space Station and it was built in three stages between 2021 and 2022.  It currently has a crew of three astronauts on board.  The name translates to mean "Sky Palace" and its inhabitants conduct scientific experiments with the mission being controlled from Beijing.




Monday 29th January to Sunday 4th February 2024

It's a bit quiet on the astronomy front next week, with nothing particularly remarkable to see, but of course there are always plenty of regular targets to spot.  Probably the most obvious are the various constellations of stars.


Now what exactly is a constellation?  A constellation is defined as an area of the sky that contains visible stars forming a perceived pattern or shape.  They date back to early mythology with different countries and cultures inventing their own.


Probably one of the most obvious is the constellation of Orion that is very easy to identify at this time of year.  If you venture outside around 7pm, Orion will be located towards the south east, with the constellation of Gemini to the left of it and Taurus above.


In Greek mythology, Orion is "The Hunter".  In contrast, Indian culture considered the constellation to represent Nataraja, "The Cosmic Dancer" and some European cultures it is referred to as an "Archer".


To solve all this confusion, back in 1922 the International Astronomical Union formally accepted 88 different constellations.


Astronomers also talk about "asterisms" and these are just small patterns of stars that look like particular shapes.  They might be located within a constellation.  For example, the "belt" of Orion with the stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka is considered to be an asterism, as is the "Sword of Orion" that hangs below the belt with the Great Orion Nebula M42 contained within it.




Monday 22nd to Sunday 28th January 2024

On the evening of Thursday 25th we have our first Full Moon of 2024.  If you venture outside around 8pm, the Moon will be located towards the east, with the constellation of Orion to the south east.  Below Orion will be the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, that I talked about the other week.


This first Full Moon of the year is also known as a Wolf Moon, the name dating back to medieval times when it was thought that wolves howl at the full Moon.  Funnily enough, there is some truth to the myth as when wolves howl to mark their territory, they look towards the night sky so that their heads are tilted upwards and the sound travels further!


Remember I am always warning about catching an accidental glimpse of the Sun in a telescope because it is very bright with a magnitude of around -26.0 and this would cause instant blindness.  Well the Full Moon is a pretty bright target too - it has a magnitude of about -13.0 which is not enough to cause permanent damage, but it can be uncomfortable.  Most astronomers will use something called a Neutral Density Filter in front of their eyepiece to make everything dimmer, but this only works for the Moon - a Neutral Density Filter is definitely NOT good enough to observe the Sun!


Planet Mars hasn't received much of a mention recently.  Well if you are up at daybreak on Sunday 28th and look towards the south east around 7am, a magnitude -0.2 Mercury will have just risen above the horizon, with a magnitude +1.3 Mars just to the right of it.  Venus will be further to the right and higher up.  Please don't risk using that telescope, because the Sun will be rising directly behind them!




Monday 15th to Sunday 21st January 2024

On the evening of Monday 15th, the gas giant planet Neptune reaches conjunction with the Moon, when the two appear closest together.


Look towards the south west around 6pm and you will see a 24%-lit Waxing Crescent Moon.  To find Neptune, you will need a telescope because the planet currently only has a magnitude of around +8.0    Aim your telescope just a little above the Moon. 


At the same time, a much brighter target will be Saturn, located below and to the right of the Moon.  The planet itself is obvious to the naked eye, but if you point your telescope in that direction, you should be able to see the stunning rings of dust and you could have a go at trying to identify some of Saturn's numerous moons.


On the evening of Friday 19th, it's the turn of Uranus to be in conjunction with the Moon.  Look towards the south at 6pm to find a 67%-lit Waxing Gibbous Moon.  Uranus will be just below it and as the planet will only have a magnitude of around +6.0, it's telescope time again!


Easier targets to find that evening will be Jupiter sitting to the right of the Moon and the Pleiades open cluster of stars to the left of the Moon.


Finally, the early hours of Sunday morning 21st, say around 1.30am, is an optimum time to spot the Clair-Obscur effect known as "The Jewelled Handle" on the lunar surface.  At that time, the Moon will be located towards the west and I have provided a diagram at to help you find the visual effect.