Comets, asteroids and other Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are a fascinating sight to behold, if you can manage to spot one in the night sky.

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Many will remember the appearance of Comet Hale-Bopp in the 1990s, or much more recently, the beautiful sight of Comet NEOWISE that made headlines around the world and enticed us all to take a look up at the evening sky.

Asteroid Vesta, for example, is one member of the Asteroid Belt that can also be seen, provided you know where and when to look.

But how do you spot comets and asteroids in the night sky? Find out in our guide below which comets and asteroids are visible tonight and over the coming weeks.

For help understanding what our brightness indicators mean, read our guide to stellar magnitude.

If you're a complete beginner, get started with our guide to astronomy for beginners.

Kieron Vernon, Coventry, UK, 11 July 2020. Equipment: Sony a7III camera, Sigma 24-70mm lens, ISO 800, 20x6”.
Comet NEOWISE, photographed by Kieron Vernon, Coventry, UK, 11 July 2020. Equipment: Sony a7III camera, Sigma 24-70mm lens, ISO 800, 20x6”.

December 2022

Asteroid 532 Herculina

Chart showing the location of Asteroid 532 Herculina in December 2022
Chart showing the location of Asteroid 532 Herculina in December 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Asteroid 532 Herculina reaches opposition on 2 December when it will brighten to mag. +10.1 as it moves from Orion into Taurus, where it spends most of December.

As the weeks pass, it only dims by 0.3, ending the month at mag. +10.4.

The good news is that it is particularly easy to identify and gets to a good altitude under the darkness of a winter sky, giving you a great opportunity to track this relatively dim object over the month.

Herculina was discovered in April 1904 by Max Wolf at the Heidelberg-Königstuhl State Observatory.

Wolf was a pioneer of astrophotography and had developed photographic methods to automate the discovery of asteroids.

Wolf himself discovered an impressive 248 asteroids in his lifetime.

Herculina is a large main belt asteroid estimated to be 200km across.

Its precise shape and size are still to be confirmed, but it is believed to be like a battered cube, a shape some have described as resembling a toaster!

Its orbit takes it out as far as 3.26 AU and in as close as 2.29 AU from the Sun, taking 4.62 years to complete.

At favourable oppositions, Herculina shines at mag. +8.8, while at unfavourable ones, it dims down to mag. +12.0.

During December 2022, Herculina can be found travelling between mag. +3.2 Pi3 (≠3) Orionis in a gentle arc taking it west-northwest towards mag. +4.3 Mu (μ) Tauri.

This path is less than 10° to the south of the V-shaped Hyades open cluster, presenting an opportunity to record the cluster and asteroid in a single photograph.

Overlaying and ‘blinking’ a series of photographs will show the movement of 532 Herculina, as well as several other asteroids in the vicinity.

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF

A treat for Christmas: comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is predicted to be viewable with binoculars, reaching mag. +8.0 on 25 December.

The comet is will be visible inside the semi-circular constellation of Corona Borealis.

November 2022

Asteroid 324 Bamberga

Asteroid 324 Bamberga
Chart showing the location of asteroid 324 Bamberga in November 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Asteroid 324 Bamberga reaches opposition on 21 November, shining at 9th magnitude in the constellation of Perseus.

It is fortuitously well placed at the moment, the asteroid describing a north-bowing arc between mag. +3.8 Nu (ν) Persei and eclipsing binary Algol (Beta (β) Persei).

324 Bamberga begins the month 20 arcminutes southwest of Nu Persei, thereafter heading west and very gently north, before curving southwest towards the quadrilateral of stars formed by Algol, Omega (ω), Pi (≠) and Rho (ρ) Persei.

It ends the month a degree east and very slightly south of Algol.

Over this period its brightness hardly varies, starting and ending the month at mag. +9.2, increasing fractionally to +9.1 in the middle of the month.

Despite being the 324th officially recognised asteroid, Bamberga is quite large.

With a mean diameter of 227km, it’s in the top 20 largest asteroids within the main belt.

It also has an eccentric orbit that takes it out as far as 3.59 AU from the Sun and in as close as 1.77 AU.

This creates a considerable variation in its opposition magnitude, reaching mag. +8.0 when conditions are favourable, allowing it to become the brightest of its class
– Bamberga being a C-type, carbon-rich asteroid.

Favourable, near-perihelion oppositions occur with a periodicity of 22 years, and the next is due in 2035 when the asteroid will reach mag. +8.1 in September of that year.

Bamberga rotates once every 29.43 hours, a long period for such a large asteroid.

It’s carbon-rich makeup gives it a low reflectivity of just 6%.

It was discovered by the prolific Austrian asteroid hunter, Johann Palisa in 1892 and is named after Bamberg, a town in southern Germany.

October 2022

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will dip into and out of Serpens Caput in October 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will dip into and out of Serpens Caput in October 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

As brightening comet C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS has now moved too far south to be followed from the UK, all eyes will be turning to C/2022 E3 (ZTF), a comet currently in Corona Borealis.

Its orbit, combined with the relative motion of Earth, has it performing a south-pointing loop into Serpens Caput before heading north out of the semicircle of stars which forms the distinctive constellation of the Northern Crown.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered on 2 March 2022 using a 48-inch telescope at the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at Mount Palomar Observatory, California.

It’s due to reach perihelion on 13 January 2023 when it will lie 1.11 AU from the Sun.

Its closest approach to Earth is on 2 February 2023, the distance between us and the comet dropping to 0.29 AU or 44 million kilometres.

Its brightness should increase as it approaches perihelion, due to its close proximity to the Sun, and as the distance between us and the comet reduces through to the start of February.

At the start of October, C/2022 E3 is expected to be around mag. +11.7, brightening by one magnitude through the month.

Its location in Corona Borealis means it’s best seen in the evening sky, shifting to the morning sky as we head through November and on towards the end of the year.

At the end of November C/2022 E3 is expected to appear around mag. +9.4, brightening to binocular range at mag. +7.6 by the end of December 2022.

At perihelion on 13 January 2023, the comet is predicted to reach mag. +6.6.

As it performs its closest approach to Earth on 2 February 2023, it’s predicted to be a naked-eye object at mag. +4.8.

Excitingly, it’ll be well positioned for UK observing over this entire period.

September 2022: asteroid 3 Juno

Chart showing the path of asteroid 3 juno september 2022 as it reaches opposition
Credit: Pete Lawrence

Minor planet 3 Juno reaches opposition on 8 September, a time when it appears to the southwest of the faint, yet surprisingly distinctive, Circlet asterism in Pisces.

On 1 September, 3 Juno is in Pisces, around 5˚ below the midpoint of a line between the Circlet and another famous asterism further to the west, the Water Jar.

Shining at mag. +8.1, Juno crosses the border from Pisces into Aquarius on 3 September.

Juno brightens to mag. +7.8, the same as the planet Neptune, on 7 September, holding this brightness until 9 September after which it slowly begins to dim once more.

By the end of September, Juno will have dimmed to mag. +8.4.

This means it’s a viable binocular target throughout the month, and eminently suitable for tracking through a small telescope.

The comparison in brightness to Neptune is particularly apt as this distant main planet sits about 10˚ to the east of 3 Juno when both worlds share a similar brightness.

The brightest guide star in the area is mag. +3.7 Lambda (λ) Aquarii, Juno appearing around 7˚ to its northeast on 1 September.

It then tracks southwest, appearing 1˚ northwest of Lambda (λ) Aquarii on 21–23 September.

Between 10 and 13 September, 3 Juno appears to cross a roughly 3˚-long, bent line of faint stars formed from mag. +6.7 TYC-5245-586-1, mag. +5.8 TYC-5245-1215-1, mag. +6.3 TYC-5238-1235-1 and mag. +5.8 BU 178.

These provide a good location aid.

Facts about asteroid Juno

Juno is the 11th largest asteroid and the second largest stony (siliceous or S-type) asteroid, with an estimated 1% of the entire mass of the asteroid belt.

Its elliptical orbit is highly eccentric and takes it out to 3.35 AU (Astronomical Units) from the Sun at aphelion and as close as 1.99 AU at perihelion.

The entire orbit takes 4.36 years to complete and is inclined with a tilt of 12˚ to the ecliptic.

August 2022: 4 Vesta

Minor planet 4 Vesta tracks past the Helix Nebula in August 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Asteroid 4 Vesta has the potential to appear the brightest of the minor planets, reaching a respectable mag. +5.1 when it’s at a favourable opposition, easily visible to the naked eye from a dark-sky location.

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Vesta reaches opposition on 23 August 2022 and although not quite as bright as it can get, it will be on the threshold of naked-eye visibility from a dark sky site at mag. +6.0.

Vesta is currently located in southwest Aquarius, east of Saturn and triangular-shaped Capricornus, tracking in a southwest arc above NGC 7293, the Helix Nebula.

One of the closest planetary nebulae to Earth, the Helix appears large with a very low surface brightness.

Its inner ring is 8x19 arcminutes in size, extending out to appear almost 25 arcminutes across.

The Helix Nebula Mainak Chakraborty, Kolkata, India, 2 October 2021 Equipment: QHYCCD QHY294C Pro camera, William Optics Redcat 51 apo refractor, iOptron Sky Guider Pro mount
The Helix Nebula byMainak Chakraborty, Kolkata, India, 2 October 2021. Equipment: QHYCCD QHY294C Pro camera, William Optics Redcat 51 apo refractor, iOptron Sky Guider Pro mount

Vesta begins August 2022 5º north-northeast of the Helix, ending the month 5º to the west of it.

Use mag. +3.3 Delta (δ) Aquarii as the navigational starting point at the beginning of the month.

Vesta appears as a mag. +6.4 object on 1 August, brightening to its opposition magnitude of +6.0 on 18 August, a value it maintains through to 25 August.

By the end of the month it will have dimmed to mag. +6.2, but is still an easy binocular target.

Vesta was discovered on 29 March 1807 by Wilhelm Olbers, part of the so-called Celestial Police. As its prefix number suggests, it was the fourth minor planet discovered.

It’s a large example, only beaten in size by dwarf planet Ceres.

It completes an orbit of the Sun once every 3.63 years, its orbital path taking it out as far as 2.57 AU and in as close as 2.15 AU.

Interestingly, its size combined with its varying distance from Earth means it presents an angular diameter that varies between 0.2 and 0.7 arcseconds.

July 2022: Asteroids 9 Metis & 14 Irene

Chart showing the path of Asteroid 9 Metis in the night sky, July 2022
Credit: Pete Lawrence

9 Metis

Asteroid 9 Metis is a main-belt asteroid, located in a vast band of similar objects orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

It is a large siliceous or S-type asteroid, a term used to describe a stony or mineralogical composition.

The best-fit size of Metis is a tri-axial ellipsoid 222km x 195km x 140km. It was discovered by Irish astronomer Andrew Graham with a 3-inch, wide-field scope made for hunting comets.

Asteroid 9 Metis reaches opposition on 20 July 2022, having tracked from southern Capricornus at the month’s start into Sagittarius.

This area of sky can be challenging to navigate due to the fact that it never gets very high from the UK.

The start of the track is also less easy to navigate to, thanks to a lack of notable stars in the southeast corner of Capricornus.

Lightcurve-based model of asteroid 9 metis
Lightcurve-based model of Asteroid 9 Metis. Credit: Astronomical Institute of the Charles University: Josef Ďurech, Vojtěch Sidorin -

The situation does improve throughout July though, thanks in part to darkening skies, but also by virtue of a small kite-shaped pattern – the Little Kite – formed by 58 Omega, 59, 60 and 62 Sagittarii.

These stars range in brightness from mag. +4.5 to mag. +4.7 and thanks to the area being devoid of much else, do tend to stand out.

The asteroid begins the month at mag. +10.1, brightening towards opposition on the 20th, when it shines at mag. +9.7.

By July’s end it only dims by one tenth of a magnitude to end the month at mag. +9.8. This places 9 Metis within small telescope range.

One caveat will be the Moon, which is full on 13 July, making it difficult to navigate this area of sky around mid-month.

On the morning of 14 July, the Moon will sit immediately west of the kite-shaped asterism mentioned earlier.

On opposition night, the Moon will appear 56%-lit, 80˚ to the east, and should be less intrusive, a situation that continues to improve towards July’s end.

14 Irene

Minor planet 14 Irene reaches opposition on 6 July, at the eastern edge of the handle of the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius.

Shining at mag. +9.8, it’ll be tricky to identify Irene’s star-like dot against the backdrop of Milky Way.

June 2022: Comet C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS and asteroid 29 Amphitrite

Comet C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS

Chart showing the location of Comet C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS in the night sky throughout June 2022
Credit: Pete Lawrence

Comet C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS is predicted to continue brightening through June and remains well placed for UK observation.

If it follows predictions, it will begin the month with an integrated magnitude of +8.8, making it binocular-friendly.

By the month’s end, it should have brightened to mag. +8.1.

The June solstice occurs on 21 June, representing the period when the night skies are brightest for the year.

For those in the UK’s far north the eternal twilight is obvious, while those in the south fare better in the middle of the night.

This means that although the comet will be brightening over June, so will the sky, only starting to darken subtly by the time the end of the month arrives.

The good news here is that the comet’s brightening will continue beyond June, with it reaching a peak brightness of mag. +7.1 in January 2023.

Unfortunately, the UK will lose sight of K2 PanSTARRS well before then as it tracks ever further south to become a target only visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

Comet C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble
Comet C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble

In June K2 PanSTARRS is well positioned, starting its track 3˚ to the east of the mag. +3.7 binary star system 72 Ophiuchi.

It then appears to move southwest, clipping the southern edge of IC 4665 on the night of 20/21 June.

It appears close to mag. +2.8 Cebalrai (Beta (β) Ophiuchi) on the nights of 21/22 and 22/23 June, when it is around 8 arcminutes west of the star at 01:00 BST (00:00 UT) on 23 June.

PanSTARRS’s brightness is estimated to be mag. +8.2, but this is also the time when the sky will appear brightest due to the June solstice.

C/2017 K2 PanSTARRS is an Oort Cloud comet with a hyperbolic orbit. Its closest approach to the Sun is on 19 December 2022.

Asteroid 29 Amphitrite

Minor planet 29 Amphitrite reaches opposition on Monday 6 June 2022.

Shining at mag. +9.7, Amphitrite can be found low in Scorpius, the Scorpion in June.

May 2022: 13 Egeria & 18 Melpomene

13 Egeria

A chart showing the position of asteroid 13 egeria in the night sky during May 2022
Credit: Pete Lawrence

Asteroid 13 Egeria reaches opposition on 4 May when it can be found shining at 10th magnitude in Libra, the Scales, less than a degree to the west-southwest of mag. +2.7 Zubenelgenubi (Alpha22) Librae).

Zubenelgenubi is the name given to the brighter, eastern component of the double star.

The fainter companion, Alpha11) Librae, shines at mag. +5.2 and is located 3.8 arcminutes to the northwest of Alpha2.

At 01:00 BST (00:00 UT) on 1 May, 13 Egeria is located about 20 arcminutes southwest of Zubenelgenubi, shining at mag. +10.1.

It reaches its peak opposition brightness of mag. +10.0 on 4 May, remaining that bright for a couple of days before dimming again.

By the month’s close, 13 Egeria will have faded to mag. +10.8.

Its monthly track has it heading west, curving and tilted slightly south. It crosses the border from Libra into Virgo on 28 May.

Facts about asteroid 13 Egeria

Egeria was discovered by Annibale de Gasparis on 2 November 1850.

It is a main belt asteroid, taking 4.14 years to complete its orbit around the Sun.

Its orbital distance varies from 2.79 AU at perihelion to 2.36 AU at aphelion, and it spins on its axis once every 7.05 hours.

Egeria was named after a mythological nymph and is a dark object with an albedo of just 8.25%, a figure that indicates how much light is reflected by its surface.

It’s an uncommon type of carbonaceous asteroid known as a G-type, which accounts for just 5 per cent of the asteroid population.

Its occultations of stars have given us details about the asteroid’s physical size.

One such event on 8 January 1992 gave us dimensions of 217km x 196km.

A second opportunity, on 22 January 2008, meant its size could be refined to 214.8km x 192km.

18 Melpomene

Asteroid 18 Melpomene reaches opposition on 5 May. Shining at mag. +10.3, Melpomene is located in northern Libra.

April 2022: Asteroid 8 Flora & Asteroid 10 Hygiea

This month there are several low numbered asteroids reaching opposition, including 8 Flora on 12 April, 15 Eunomia on 16 April and 10 Hygiea on 28 April.

Asteroid 8 Flora

Chart showing the position of asteroid 8 flora in the night sky throughout april 2022
Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine / Pete Lawrence

8 Flora, an asteroid, is close to opposition on 12 April.

Technically, opposition occurs when a superior or minor planet has an elongation of 180˚ from the Sun.

However, some objects may not achieve this within a particular year, reaching an elongation of almost 180˚.

On 12 April, Flora’s elongation reaches 170.3˚, which is just shy of a true opposition, but certainly good enough to present the asteroid at its best for the year.

On this date Flora shines at mag. +9.8 in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin. It’s located near to mag. +3.4 Heze (Zeta (ζ) Virginis) in April.

On the night of 12 April, 8 Flora lies 1˚ north of Heze (Zeta (ζ) Virginis).

During the rest of April, it follows a gently curving track, approximately parallel to the line joining Heze to Auva (Delta (δ) Virginis), its brightness making it a great target for a small scope.

Facts about Asteroid 8 Flora

Flora is a large asteroid. Its mean diameter is 128km, based on tri-axial ellipsoidal dimensions of 136km x 136km x 113km and it has a high albedo of 24.3% (a measure of how much incoming light the asteroid reflects).

At favourable oppositions it can brighten to mag. +7.9, but is also capable of dimming to mag. +11.6. The near-opposition presents Flora at a fairly average brightness.

Asteroid 10 Hygiea

Chart showing the position of Asteroid 10 Hygiea in the night sky throughout april 2022
Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine / Pete Lawrence

Of the three asteroids on view in April 2022, 10 Hygiea will be the brightest, reaching mag. +9.3 as it sneaks into Virgo, the Virgin having spent much of the month in neighbouring Libra, the Scales.

On 1 April, 10 Hygiea can be seen 5˚ to the southwest of mag. +2.7 Zubenelgenubi (Alpha2 Librae).

Zubenelgenubi is a double star, the mag. +2.7 primary having a mag. +5.2 companion, which is 3.8 arcminutes to the northwest of it.

As the month progresses, Hygiea performs a gently arcing movement to the west-northwest, crossing the border between Libra and Virgo on the night of 22/23 April.

It begins its monthly path at mag. +9.9, brightening to its peak opposition brightness of mag. +9.3 on 25 April, a level it maintains to the month’s end.

Facts about Asteroid 10 Hygiea

10 Hygiea was discovered on 12 April 1849 by Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis at the Naples observatory.

It’s a large body located in the main asteroid belt, with dimensions of 450km x 430km x 424km. It’s estimated to contain 3% of the total mass of the main asteroid belt.

10 Hygiea takes 5.57 years to complete one orbit of the Sun at an average distance of 3.1 AU.

As a C-type or carbonaceous asteroid it was once considered for dwarf planet status, mainly by virtue of its nearly round shape, which is close to what you’d expect if it had undergone plastic deformation due to gravity, also known as hydrostatic equilibrium.

It’s now believed that Hygiea’s shape is due to it being a ‘collisional family’ object, a body disrupted by an impact which resulted in fragments coming together to form it.

March 2022: Comet 19P/Borrelly & Asteroid 16 Psyche

Comet 19P/Borrelly

Chart showing the path of comet 19p borrelly in the night sky throughout march 2022
Comet 19/P Borrelly passes northwest of the Pleiades on 15/16 March 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Comet 19P/Borrelly was at its brightest in February 2022, the comet reaching perihelion on 1 February.

At its peak it was expected to reach mag. +8.9, making it a binocular target.

As we head into March, Comet 19P/Borrelly may just remain within binocular range, but it is dimming.

On 1 March, Borrelly shines with a predicted integrated magnitude of mag. +9.5, about 15˚ to the west of the Pleiades open cluster, in the middle of Aries, the Ram.

It’s currently tracking northeast, passing 4˚ to the south of the mag. +3.6 triple star system 41 Arietis on the night of 3/4 March.

By 12 March, Borrelly’s magnitude will have reduced to mag. +10.0. At 00:00 UT on 12th, the comet is about 8˚ to the west-northwest of the Pleiades.

View of the Pleiades through 15x70 binoculars. Credit: Pete Lawrence
View of the Pleiades through 15x70 binoculars. Credit: Pete Lawrence

On the nights of 13/14 and 14/15 March, it passes close to the mag. +4.5 TYC 1796-1306-1 in Aries, an orange coloured star.

If Borrelly is showing the greenish hue associated with comets, this should make a nice colour contrast, despite the large difference in brightness between the two.

Closest approach to the Pleiades occurs on the night of 15/16 March, the comet expected to be around mag. +10.1 at this time as it passes 7˚ to the northwest of the cluster.

On 21/22 March, Borrelly will lie about one-third of a degree north of mag. +3.8 Omicron (ο) Persei.

Its northeast track takes it up towards NGC 1499, the California Nebula.

It lies a couple of degrees to the south of the nebula on 26/27 March, moving within one degree of its eastern edge on the 28/29 March, when Borrelly is expected to have faded to around 11th magnitude.

Asteroid 16 Psyche

Chart showing asteroid 16 psyche in march 2022
Asteroid 16 Psyche reaches opposition in Leo. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Asteroid 16 Psyche reaches opposition on 3 March when it can be found shining at mag. +10.4 in the belly of Leo, the Lion.

At 00:00 UT on 1 March, Psyche appears at mag. +10.5 and forms the northeast vertex of an equilateral triangle with mag. +4.6 Chi (χ) Leonis and the mag. +5.0 star 59 Leonis.

It subsequently tracks west-northwest, brightening to mag. +10.4 on 2 March, a level it maintains until 5 March.

It then starts to dim, ending the month at mag. +11.1. At this time, it will be located 1.5˚ east-northeast of variable Rho (ρ) Leonis.

This star exhibits a small brightness variation between mag. +3.8 and mag. +3.9. Psyche’s position at the end of the month places it around 3˚ to the southwest of the galaxy trio M95, M96 and M105.

Facts about asteroid 16 Psyche

Artist's impression: NASA
Asteroid 16 Psyche is being studied by NASA spacecraft Psyche. Credit: NASA

Psyche has a diameter of 200km and is thought to be the remnant iron core of a failed planet, a protoplanet.

This is a body that formed out of the Solar System’s original protoplanetary disc and had enough mass to undergo its own internal melting and deformation.

The result is a massive object, Psyche ranking as one of the ten most massive asteroids known.

It’s so massive that its gravitational effect on other asteroids can be used to measure its mass. This has been determined as 2.72 x 1019 kg.

Psyche’s orbit takes 4.99 years to complete, its passage around the Sun taking place at an average distance of 2.9 AU.

It rotates relatively quickly, completing one rotation every 4.2 hours.

It is believed to be potato-shaped, measuring 279km x 232km x 189km.

Its size and shape were partly calculated by compiling the results of over 100 occultation events involving distant stars.

February 2022: Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas and 19P/Borrelly; Asteroid 20 Massalia

Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas

A chart showing the path of Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas in February 2022
Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas curves south around the foot of the twin Castor in Gemini in February 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

In January 2022 Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas reached perihelion in Gemini, when it appeared at its brightest, hovering about 10th magnitude.

In February 2022, L3 Atlas continues to be well positioned for UK viewing and, if it behaves as predicted, will remain around 10th magnitude, making it an object for larger binoculars and small telescopes.

Discovered by the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) facility at Haleakala, Hawaii on 10 June 2019, the comet has been a steady performer for many months.

It begins its February track 2˚ north of mag. +3.0 Mebsuta (Epsilon (ε) Geminorum).

From here it tracks into the main shape of western Gemini, the Twins curving south to end the month 2˚ northeast of mag. +4.1 Nu (ν) Geminorum.

This places it near the stars forming the foot of the twin Castor, which is a distinctive area thanks to the presence of open cluster M35.

The cluster is located about 6˚ to the west-northwest of L3 Atlas at the end of February and a mid- or wide-field photograph should capture both objects easily.

Comet 19P/Borrelly

A chart showing the path of Comet 19P Borrelly across the sky in February 2022
Comet 19P Borrelly makes a good binocular target as it heads northeast through Pisces in February 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Comet 19P/Borrelly heads northeast through Pisces, the Fishes and into Aries, the Ram in February.

19P/Borrelly reaches perihelion on 2 February, and from the middle of January to 4 February it is expected to appear at mag. +8.0, making it a good target for binoculars and small telescopes.

The comet has been moving northeast and this month it will be favourably located.

At February’s start, it’s positioned south of the narrowing pattern of stars converging on Alrescha (Alpha (α) Piscium). Use mag. +4.9 Mu (μ) Piscium and +4.4 Nu (ν) Piscium to locate it.

19P/Borrelly then tracks northeast, passing Mu Piscium by 0.6˚ on the evening of 3 February and missing mag. +4.3 Omicron (ο) Piscium by 0.5˚ on the evenings of 7 and 8 February.

The comet slips across the border of Pisces and Aries on 9/10 February, and on the evening of 21 February it appears 5˚ northwest of Uranus.

As it continues tracking northeast, it ends the month close to mag. +5.5 Nu (ν) Arietis. At this time 19P/Borrelly lies 7˚ north of Uranus.

19P/Borrelly should appear brightest at February’s start, at mag. +7.9. By mid-month it’s predicted to be mag. +8.1, and it will be down to mag. +8.5 by the month’s close.

Despite its slow decline, these magnitudes are still respectable for a comet and 19P/Borrelly should remain a decent binocular target for the month.

Asteroid 20 Massalia

A chart showing the path of asteroid 20 Massalia throughout February 2022
Asteroid 20 Massalia reaches opposition on 5 February 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Asteroid 20 Massalia is a good target with a small telescope throughout February 2022. It reaches opposition in February in Cancer, the Crab.

It’s located near to the border of Cancer and Leo, the Lion on 1 February, 5˚ east-northeast of mag. +4.3 Acubens (Alpha (α) Cancri).

It then tracks west-northwest along a line that takes it to a point about 4˚ southeast of mag. +3.9 Delta (δ) Cancri.

Massalia has an orbit that keeps it within the inner part of the main asteroid belt.

It’s the parent body of a large group of asteroids known as the Massalia family, a collection which has over 6,000 members.

Massalia is an S-type, or stony asteroid, with a mean diameter of 145km. Its orbital period is 3 years 9 months and its mean distance from the Sun is 2.41 AU (361 million kilometres).

When at aphelion, its orbit takes it out as far as 2.75 AU from the Sun, and when at perihelion it moves in as close as 2.07 AU.

Massalia is believed to be nearly spherical in shape, having triaxial ellipsoidal dimensions of 160x145x132km.

It is also believed to have large, flat regions on its surface. Its rotation period is 8.1 hours.

Massalia’s geometric albedo is 21%, a figure that indicates how much incoming sunlight is reflected back from the asteroid’s surface.

This leads to an apparent magnitude that ranges from +8.3 at favourable oppositions to mag. +12.0 at its least favourable oppositions.

February 2022 is favourable, Massalia reaching opposition on 5 February when it appears to shine at mag. +8.5.

On 1 February, Massalia is mag. +8.7, brightening by one-fifth of a magnitude as it reaches opposition. By the month’s end it will have dimmed to mag. +9.3.

January 2022: Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas, Comet 19P/Borrelly

Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas is well placed in January and will be best seen at the start and end of the month when the Moon is absent.

Reaching perihelion on 10 January, Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas is expected to reach mag. +9.7, making it a viable target for larger binoculars or a small telescope.

A chart showing the position of Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas throughout January 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A chart showing the position of Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas throughout January 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

L3 Atlas was discovered by the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) facility at Haleakala, Hawaii on 10 June 2019.

Around 18th magnitude, it has brightened since then. It is located in the constellation of Gemini, tracking along the northern edge of the stick figure representing the body of the twin Castor.

In terms of brightness, C/2019 L3 Atlas is expected to stay at mag. +9.7 for the first half of the month, dropping a tenth of a magnitude during the second half.

If the sky is clear and the Moon is out of the way, it should be easy to keep tabs on.

At January’s start, the comet is 3˚ north of mag. +4.4 Tau (τ) Geminorum, midway between mag. +1.9 Castor (Alpha (α) Geminorum) and mag. +3.4 Theta (θ) Geminorum.

It follows a curving path southwest, ending the month 2˚ north of Mebsuta (Epsilon (ε) Geminorum). The full track length over the month is around 10˚.

Slightly brighter than 10th magnitude, L3 Atlas will make a great imaging target for wide-field and close-up study.

A chart showing the position of Comet 19P/Borrelly throughout January 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence
A chart showing the position of Comet 19P/Borrelly throughout January 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

C/2019 L3 Atlas isn’t the only bright comet visible this month. 19P Borrelly is moving northeast as it approaches perihelion on 2 February.

Comet 19P/Borrelly is potentially visible using binoculars and should be a great target for small telescopes.

It joins comet C/2019 L3 ATLAS in January’s night sky to produce a great cometary feast.

The comet is currently moving northeast and brightening as it goes.

Starting the month in Cetus, not far from mag. +2.0 Deneb Kaitos (Beta (β) Ceti), the comet remains inside the Cetus boundary for much of the month, managing to slip into Pisces at the end of January.

On the evening of 1 January, 19P sits 5˚ west of Deneb Kaitos, visible after evening twilight has subsided and true darkness has descended, just after 18:00 UT.

This places the comet slightly to the west of south, around 19˚ up as seen from the centre of the UK.

By the month’s end, 19P is predicted to have brightened to mag. +8.9 and, located 3˚ southwest of mag. +4.9 Mu (μ) Piscium on the evening of 31 January, its altitude will have improved too, the comet appearing about 34˚ up as true darkness arrives.

This is despite the region of sky containing Borrelly having naturally drifted further west of south as darkness falls.

We know about Comet 19P/Borrelly thanks to a visit by the Deep Space 1 probe in 2001.

Its nucleus is 8km x 4km x 4km and it follows an elliptical orbit, which takes it out as far as 5.83 AU from the Sun and in as close as 1.35 AU, the distance the comet will be from the Sun at perihelion on 1 February.

It takes Borrelly 6.8 years to make one orbit. Its closest approach to Earth is 55 million km.

December 2021: C/2019 L3 Atlas, 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 4P/Faye

A star chart showing the movements of comets C/2019 L3 Atlas, 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko and 4P/Faye across the sky in December 2021.
The month’s tracks for C/2019 L3 Atlas, 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko and 4P/Faye. Credit: Pete Lawrence

There are three reasonably bright comets and one wild card in December 2021.

Comets 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 4P/Faye and C/2019 L3 Atlas are all located in the general region centred on Gemini, highest around 00:30 UT on 1 December, 23:30 UT mid-month and 22:30 UT by the month’s end.

Comets 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in conjunction with the Crab Nebula (M1) imaged from Mayhill, New Mexico on 9 October 2021 by José J. Chambó (www.cometografia.es). Equipment: Telescope Takahashi FSQ-106ED f/5.0, SBIG STL-11000M camera, Exposure 26 min. (L=10x120 bin1 + RGB=1x120 bin2).
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in conjunction with the Crab Nebula (M1) imaged from Mayhill, New Mexico on 9 October 2021 by José J. Chambó ( www.cometografia.es). Equipment: Telescope Takahashi FSQ-106ED f/5.0, SBIG STL-11000M camera, Exposure 26 min. (L=10x120 bin1 + RGB=1x120 bin2).

67P is the periodic comet visited by the Rosetta spacecraft from 2014 to 2016.

It reached perihelion on 2 November when it was brightest at mag. +10.7. During December, 67P fades from mag. +10.9 to +11.7.

The comet is relatively easy to find as it never wanders far from mag. +4.0 Iota (ι) Cancri, staying within 5˚ of the star throughout December.

Comet 4P/Faye

Periodic comet 4P/Faye reached perihelion on 8 September and like 67P is now fading.

On 1 December it is predicted to be at mag. +11.9, not significantly dimmer than its mag. +11.5 perihelion peak.

By the month’s end, it will have dimmed to mag. +12.5. 4P/Faye follows a gently curving track to the west in December, in an area of sky about 9˚ to the south of Alhena (Gamma (ζ) Geminorum).

Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas

Comet C/2019 L3 Atlas is the brightest of the three, starting the month at mag. +9.9 and ending at mag. +9.7.

Its December track starts conveniently 5˚ to the north of Castor (Alpha (α) Geminorum) and from there follows an almost linear path southwest, moving just 7˚ throughout the month.

Actually, all three comets have relatively short paths this month, making it both easier to keep track of these objects and photograph them.

Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard

The other comet to keep an eye on in December is Leonard, which seems to be continually brightening and which you can find out about via our guide to Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard.

November 2021: Comet 67P

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is the comet made famous by ESA’s spectacular Rosetta mission. In November 2021 it can be found passing from Gemini into Cancer.

A star chart showing the passage of Comet 67P across the night sky throughout November 2021
Comet 67P maintains similar brightness throughout November. Credit: Pete Lawrence

At 00:00 UT on 1 November, 67P is located 2° southwest of mag. +3.8 Iota (ι) Geminorum, and predicted to appear at integrated magnitude +10.7.

On the night of 3/4 November it passes approximately one degree south of Iota Geminorum heading east.

It lies 40 arcminutes southwest of mag. +4.1 Upsilon (υ) Geminorum at 00:00 UT on 5 November, and southeast of the star by a similar distance at 00:00 UT on the 6 November.

At 00:00 UT on 8 November it lies 1.6° south of Pollux (Beta (β) Geminorum).

Comet 67P captured by Rosetta's NAVCAM on 21 May 2015. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Comet 67P captured by Rosetta's NAVCAM on 21 May 2015. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The comet then passes close to mag. 5.0 Phi (φ) Geminorum on the nights of 9/10 and 10/11 November and 30 arcminutes south of mag. +5.1 Chi (χ) Cancri on 18/19 November.

67P can be found 2° south of mag. +4.0 Iota (ι) Cancri during the morning of 30 November.

The comet remains at a fairly constant brightness throughout the month and is predicted to dim marginally to mag. +10.9 by its end.

67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a Jupiter-family comet. This is a class of periodic comets with orbital periods less than 20 years and orbital inclinations of less than 30°.

Its orbit takes it out as far as 5.63 AU from the Sun at aphelion and in as close as 1.243 AU at perihelion. The next perihelion occurs on 2 November.

The comet was discovered by Klim Ivanovich Churyumov while examining a photo taken by Svetlana Ivanovna Gerasimenko on 11 September 1969.

October 2021: Comet 4P/Faye

October 2021 offers a great opportunity to observe Comet 4P/Faye as it passes slightly to the east of Betelgeuse in Orion.

The comet puts on a faint but steady performance in October, passing through a region of sky across Orion’s Club and through to the southwest corner of Gemini.

4P/Faye’s magnitude holds steady at +11.5 all month.

A chart showing the location of Comet 4P Faye throughout October 2021
Look for Comet 4P/Faye in the early hours of the morning throughout October 2021. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Starting its path 9˚ north and slightly east of Betelgeuse (Alpha (α) Orionis), the comet tracks east in October, gaining a more southeast trajectory at the month’s end to position it a little over a degree south of mag. +3.3 Xi (ξ) Geminorum.

As a handy guide to sky distance, the apparent separation of Rigel (Beta (β) Orionis) and Mintaka (Delta (δ) Orionis) is 9˚, while the gap between Xi and 30 Geminorum – the mag. +4.5 star slightly northwest of Xi – is half a degree.

4P/Faye is a periodic comet with an orbital period of 7.55 years. It’s a Jupiter-family comet, a class which describes comets with a period of less than 20 years and orbital inclinations less than 30˚.

Faye’s orbit takes it in as close as 1.666 AU from the Sun at perihelion and out as far as 6.026 AU at aphelion. The last perihelion occurred on 8 September 2021.

4P/Faye is named after Hervé Faye, a French astronomer who first observed the comet on 23 November 1843, with confirmation coming on the 25th.

The discovery was made possible because the comet was passing close to Earth at the time, making it appear bright.

This month, 4P/Faye is best seen with medium to large telescopes. Smaller instruments should be able to pick it up in a dark sky.

Its position north of Orion is favourable, this area of sky reaching greatest altitude in the early hours of the morning.

September 2021: minor planet 2 Pallas

Minor planet 2 Pallas is, as its prefix number suggests, the second minor planet discovered. It’s one of the ‘big four’ asteroids which includes 1 Ceres (now re-classified as a dwarf planet), 3 Juno and 4 Vesta.

They were discovered in close proximity to one another between 1 January 1801 and 29 March 1807 (for more on Vesta, read our guide to the brilliantly named 'Celestial Police').

Amazingly, 5 Astraea wasn’t discovered until 8 December 1845, breaking a long period where it was thought that 1-4 were the only such objects.

A chart showing how to see minor planet 2 Pallas in September 2021
Spot asteroid 2 Pallas as it passes from Pisces to Aquarius throughout September 2021. Credit: Pete Lawrence

To date, around one million asteroids have been observed and recorded. The four largest asteroids (in size order) are Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea.

The third discovery, 3 Juno, is the 10th largest. 2 Pallas is third largest with a mean diameter around 513km.

Pallas’s discovery is attributed to Heinrich Olbers on 28 March 1802, but it was a close call.

Charles Messier recorded it 23 years earlier while tracking a comet, but he thought it was a star and its identity remained hidden.

In 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi discovered 1 Ceres. While initially believing it to be a comet, its motion was unlike any he’d seen before.

An image of asteroid 2 Pallas captured by the Very Large telescope. Credit: ESO/Vernazza et al.
An image of asteroid 2 Pallas captured by the Very Large telescope. Credit: ESO/Vernazza et al.

After months being lost from sight, Ceres was recovered by Baron von Zach and Olbers later in 1801.

It was while attempting to relocate Ceres a few months later, that Olbers found Pallas which was nearby in the sky.

Pallas reaches opposition on the 11 September 2021 when it can be seen at mag. +8.5 in Pisces, to the southwest of the faint Circlet asterism.

It spends much of the month in Pisces, skipping into Aquarius at the end. Starting the month at mag. +8.8 and ending at mag. +8.9, Pallas is an easy target for a small scope.

It’s a B-type asteroid, part of the C-type class, but having a spectral bias towards blue.

August 2021: asteroid 89 Julia

A chart showing the position of asteroid 89 Julia in the sky, August 2021.
Track asteroid 89 Julia as it passes close to the Water Jar asterism. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Minor planet 89 Julia reaches opposition in Aquarius in August 2021. 89 Julia orbits the Sun in the main asteroid belt region between Mars and Jupiter. It’s a large object, being around 150km across.

It’s a stony or siliceous asteroid (S-type) discovered in 1866 by French astronomer Édouard Stephan and it’s named after Saint Julia of Corsica.

89 Julia will appear shining at mag. +9.0 near the Water Jar asterism. The Water Jar, or ‘Steering Wheel’, is formed of four similar brightness stars in the northern regions of Aquarius.

It sits south of the triangle that forms the upside-down head of Pegasus and to the west of the faint Circlet asterism in Pisces.

The four stars of the Water Jar asterism are:

  • Mag. +4.3 Zeta (ζ) Aquarii in the centre
  • Mag. +4.4 to +4.7 variable star Pi (π) Aquarii to the north
  • Mag. +4.0 Eta (η) Aquarii to the east
  • Mag. +3.8 Gamma (γ) Aquarii to the west

The asterism lies 5˚ east of mag. +2.9 Sadalmelik (Alpha (α) Aquarii) and is quite easy to locate.

At the start of August, 89 Julia is located a little over 1.5˚ south-southeast of Gamma Aquarii and from here tracks west-northwest to pass one-third of a degree south of Sadalmelik on the night of 21/22 August.

On 1 August, Julia shines at mag. +9.5, as mentioned above, brightening to mag. +9.0 on 25 August, when it reaches opposition. It then retains this brightness through to the month’s end.

Consequently, 89 Julia may be observed with a small telescope throughout August. To confirm an observation, image or sketch the region in which you think the asteroid is lurking over the course of several nights.

If you’re looking in the correct place, the asteroid’s star-like dot will appear to move.

July 2021: minor planet 12 Victoria

Track 12 Victoria’s progress over July 2021 with a small telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Track 12 Victoria’s progress over July 2021 with a small telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Minor planet 12 Victoria reaches opposition in July 2021. On 1 July it shines at mag. +9.3, slowly brightening over the rest of the month to a peak of mag. +8.8 at opposition on 30 July.

This makes it an ideal object to find and track with a small telescope.

On 1 July 12 Victoria is located in northwest Aquarius, close to the border with Aquila. This region lacks any really bright stars: the best guides are the mag. +4.4 star 3 Aquarii and 70 Aquilae at mag. +4.9.

On 1 July 12 Victoria sits two-thirds of the way along a line from 3 Aquarii towards 70 Aquliae. Its path arcs as it tracks northwest.

At its brightest, near the month’s close, it lies about 2.5˚ east and a fraction south of mag. +3.2 Theta (θ) Aquilae.

The best way to identify 12 Victoria is to sketch or image the field you suspect the asteroid to be located within over the course of several nights.

If 12 Victoria is in this field, its movement will reveal it. In order to achieve this, the field must be recorded with field stars below the threshold of the asteroid, say at least mag. +9.5.

Models of asteroid 12 Victoria. Credit: Astronomical Institute of the Charles University: Josef Ďurech, Vojtěch Sidorin
Models of asteroid 12 Victoria. Credit: Astronomical Institute of the Charles University: Josef Ďurech, Vojtěch Sidorin

12 Victoria was discovered on 13 September 1850 by John Russell Hind. Although officially named after the Roman goddess of victory, it was also named in honour of Queen Victoria.

It’s a siliceous or stony (S-type) asteroid, around 120km-across, orbiting within the main belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Its apparent magnitude varies between +8.7 and +12.8, making this opposition quite favourable.

12 Victoria’s orbit takes it out as far as 2.85 AU and in as close as 1.82 AU from the Sun.

Studies of its elongated shape suggest that it might be a binary object, the primary chunk having an irregular shaped moon in mutual orbit around it.

June 2021: See Asteroid 30 Urania

Asteroid 30 Urania was discovered by the English astronomer John Russell Hind on 22 July 1854. It reaches opposition on 14 June 2021, when it can be located against the stars of the constellation of Ophiuchus, the Serpent-bearer.

Urania is a main belt asteroid. Its shape and dimensions were measured using a technique known as speckle interferometry, which revealed the asteroid to be elliptical with a longest dimension of 111km and narrowest of 89km.

At its brightest it can be mag. +9.4, so this opposition doesn’t present it at optimal brightness. It takes 3.64 years to orbit the Sun, an orbit that takes it out as far as 2.67 AU and as close as 2.07 AU.

Urania is an S-type or siliceous asteroid, a class that has a stony or mineralogical composition. S-type asteroids account for about 17% of asteroids.

Diagram showing the path of Asteroid 30 Urania in the sky throughout June 2021
Use a small telescope to track 30 Urania’s progress over June. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Strictly speaking Urania starts the month in Sagittarius, the Archer, 2˚ north of mag. +4.2, 3 Sagittarii. This positions it very close Sagittarius’s western border and tracking west.

It’s not long before Urania crosses this invisible demarcation line, slipping into Ophiuchus in the early hours of 3 June.

Urania remains above or equal to mag. +11.0 all month, a viable target for a small telescope, but beyond average binocular range.

Its track this month takes it 2˚ south of the mag. +7.4 globular cluster NGC 6401 on the nights of 6/7, 7/8 and 8/9 June.

It passes 0.5º south of mag. +3.3 Theta (θ) Ophiuchi on 22/23 June.

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By the month’s end, it’s located 4˚ east-northeast of the mag. +6.8 globular cluster M19. The bright skies found near the June solstice will make locating even a mag. +11.0 object trickier than normal.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.

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