The year 2020 promises some unusually fine celestial fireworks. Here are the top most noteworthy night sky events to look forward to: three amazing meteor showers (not washed out this year), a spectacular year for Mars, and the finest planet conjunction of our lives as Jupiter meets Saturn on the winter solstice. Take a look …
Quadrantid Meteors on Display (January 3-4)
The year kicks off with great conditions for the Quadrantid meteor shower since the Moon sets well befor dawn that night. See your Moonrise and set times. The Quadrantids have a short but active viewing window, peaking between 3 A.M. and local dawn on January 4 (early Saturday morning). Find more information.
Venus Reigns Now Through Early Spring
See the extremely bright “star” hovering low in the west as soon as night falls? This is planet Venus which we call the “Evening Star” because it can be seen shining in the evening sky right after the Sun sets in the west (around 7:30 to 8:30 P.M. Eastern Time). See your planet rise/set times.
Venus will get steadily higher and brighter over the next four months. On the evenings of April 2 and 3, witness a truly high-up and eye-popping apparition. Venus shines at a shadow-casting magnitude -4.5, and shines bright until near midnight.
Earliest Spring Equinox of our Lives (March 19)
The earliest spring of our lives begins on March 19 in all U.S. time zones. Why? Partly, this early spring is because 2020 brings a Leap Day!
Biggest Full Moon of the Year in April
The April Moon will appear as the biggest full Moon of 2020, arriving at perigee (closest point to Earth) on the 7th of April. Those who live near the coasts will experience a dramatically large range of high and low ocean tides.
Favorable conditions for the summer Perseid meteor show
The Perseids, which peak the morning of August 12, are the “Old Faithful” of meteor showers. In a dark, cloudless night sky, they produce a meteor a minute!! Let’s hope for clear skies.
The last-quarter moon may cause some glare but it should still be a solid showing. If you wish, try the 12th, 13th, and 14th. The Moon glare will lesson but you’re also getting further away from the peak.
A fantastic early-autumn opposition of Mars, whose brilliance will rival Jupiter’s
The year 2020 will be a spectacular year for the Red Planet! Mark October 13, when Mars reaches opposition to the Sun. Mars will shine at an extremely bright magnitue of -2.6, which is brighter than giant Jupiter, making it the third brighest object in the sky after the Moon and Venus from September 29 to October 28. The Red Planet will shine high in the sky; you can’t miss it!
On the 6th of October, Mars will be exceptionally close to Earth as well so the views of our neighboring planet will be the best they get until 2035.
Perfect conditions for the December 13 Geminid shower, the year’s best
The Geminid meteor shower is probably our favorite event of 2020. Unfortunately, in 2019, the full Moon made conditions poor. But in 2020, conditions will be at their best! These bright and frequent shooting stars reach their maximum late on the night of December 14 into the morning hours of the 15th. Expect 60 to 120 meteors per hour under ideal dark-sky conditions! Make plans to get to a dark sky location!
A total solar eclipse on December 14 in Patagonia in both Chile and Argentina
Unfortunately, our North American readers will not see this total solar eclipse, which is visible only from the lower two-thirds of South America. The good news is that a few telescopes today are now online so you can look through the lens as if it were your own. If interested, check out Slooh.com.
The finest planet conjunction of our lives, when Jupiter meets Saturn on the Winter Solstice
Once every 20 or so years, Jupiter and Saturn meet up. We call it a “conjunction.” On December 21, the winter solstice, the two planets will come closer than they have since 1623.
Normally, in a conjunction, planets are quite close (within a degree or two), but this is an exceptional conjunction. The two worlds will be separted by ⅕ of the diameter of the full Moon!
You’ll have no problem seeing this awesome sight with your own two eyes. But consider calling up an astronomy club in your area and viewing this spectacular sight from a high-power telescope with other stargazers.
Mark your calendars and I’ll also remind you of these events in my monthly Almanac Sky Watch.