What are the 10 most noteworthy astronomy events of 2020? What sky phenomena should I turn my attention to? Of course, every astronomy lover has his own preferences. For those who do not yet know what can be seen in the sky this year, we compiled a selection of the most interesting sky events of 2020. The events are numbered and follow each other in chronological order:
- Venus in the evening sky
- Comet C 2019 Y4 ATLAS in April and May 2020
- Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the spring of 2020
- Solar eclipses 2020
- Jupiter and Saturn at opposition to the Sun
- Perseids meteor shower 2020
- Mars opposition October 13, 2020
- Mercury and Venus in the morning sky of November
- Geminids meteor shower 2020
- Jupiter and Saturn conjunction December 21, 2020
Venus in the evening sky
Have you already seen Venus? Throughout the first half of 2020, it shines in the evening sky as a very bright, large star. In winter, the planet could be observed in the southwest, in March-April – in the west, and in May – in the west and northwest.
Venus appears in the early twilight, and half an hour after sunset, it already sparkles like a droplet of molten silver. When the twilight thickens, Venus looks like a spotlight flying towards the plane. Unlike stars, Venus does not flicker or tremble; it shines smoothly, calmly and powerfully. The view of the planet often affects people who are far from astronomy. No wonder Venus is still the most important source of UFO rumors.
Although the evening sky with radiant Venus is beautiful in itself, the young moon gives it a special, delicate beauty. At the end of each of the spring months, a thin lunar sickle appears next to the planet for two or three evenings.
In 2020, Venus will be observed in the evening sky until the end of May. From July to the end of the year, the planet will be in the morning sky.
Comet C 2019 Y4 ATLAS in April and May 2020
Comet C / 2019 Y4 (ATLAS) was the among the final comet discoveries of 2019. Initial forecasts assigned it a very modest place in the list of brightest comets. It was assumed that by the end of May, when the comet draws closer to the Sun to a minimum distance, its brightness will not exceed the 9th magnitude.
But by the beginning of spring, the situation had changed: the brightness of C 2019 Y4 began to increase sharply. Already in March. Outside the city it became possible to observe it with ordinary prism binoculars. By the end of the first month of spring, the comet has grown a thin ion tail. This tail, however, is visible so far only in photographs.
One way or another, the brightness of the comet continues to grow in April. The current visual magnitude of Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) is 7.62. If the growth dynamics continues, it will reach the 5th magnitude. Then, it will become visible to the naked eye.
The comet reaches its maximum brightness in May. It is expected that the integral luminosity will exceed 2nd and possibly reach the 1st or even 0th magnitude. In this case, C / 2019 Y4 (ATLAS) will turn into one of the brightest comets of the decade!
During April and the first half of May, the comet moves through the Camelopardalis constellation and is available for observation at night. Finally, in mid-May, the comet will pass into Perseus constellation and after another two weeks – into Taurus constellation.
Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in the spring of 2020
In the spring of 2020, it will be possible to observe three planets in the morning sky – Jupiter , Saturn and Mars. Finding Jupiter is easier than Mars and Saturn. This is not only the brightest planet of the observed trinity. Jupiter is much brighter than any of the stars and in many ways resembles Venus (although not so bright). Unlike stars, Jupiter practically does not flicker, but shines with an even and calm light. Based on Jupiter, one can quite easily find both Saturn and Mars in the sky.
During March and April, it is interesting to follow the movement of the planets relative to the stars and each other. The main character here is Mars. Jupiter and Saturn practically do not move against the background of the stars. Mars moves quite quickly from west to east.
In early March, the planets were located approximately along one line. To the east (to the left) was Saturn, in the middle was Jupiter, and to the right (i.e. west) was Mars. Within a month, the mutual angle distances between Saturn and Jupiter decreased, and Mars approached Saturn and Jupiter. On March 20, the Red Planet passed by Jupiter, joining it, and on March 31 it joined Saturn.
Starting from April 1, Mars appears to the east of other planets, then Saturn, and then Jupiter. Further, over the course of the month, Mars is increasingly distancing itself from the pair of giant planets.
In May, the trend will continue. But in the temperate latitudes it will become quite difficult to observe the planets because of the early sunrise.
Solar eclipses 2020
Two solar eclipses are expected in 2020:
- An annular solar eclipse on June 21
- A total solar eclipse on December 14
The phase of the annular June 21 eclipse will begin in Africa, pass along the Arabian Peninsula, then through Pakistan, northern India and China. The December eclipse will be observed in the southern hemisphere of the Earth.
Jupiter and Saturn at opposition to the Sun
The planets of the solar system are classified as inner and outer planets. The inner planets are Mercury, Venus, and Mars. Their orbits pass inside the orbit of the Earth (they are closer to the Sun), therefore, they are called inner. In our sky the inner planets never stray too far from the sun .
Another thing is the outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. They can appear in the sky opposite to the Sun. In other words, a planet is in opposition when Earth passes between it and the Sun. The opposition of a planet is a good time to observe it, because the planet is then at its nearest point to the Earth. Therefore, in our sky it is brighter and has larger visible dimensions. And this is important when observing a planet through a telescope. It is interesting that in 2020, the oppositions of Jupiter and Saturn occur with an interval of only 6 days. Jupiter will enter the opposition on July 14, and Saturn on July 20, 2020. In July, both planets will be in the Sagittarius constellation, near the border with the Capricorn constellation .
Sagittarius is known to be the southernmost constellation of the zodiac. Remember: the sun dwells in Sagittarius in December and does not rise high above the horizon. The same thing will happen to the planets. Both will be low above the horizon.
This is a minus. When observing planets with a telescope, the quality of the atmosphere is very important. Only in a calm atmosphere will the images of the planets in the eyepiece be clear and sharp. Near the horizon, powerful turbulence is almost always observed, which leads to “blurring” of the picture.
However, July and the first half of August 2020 will still be the best time to observe Jupiter and Saturn. Pay attention to how bright and noticeable Jupiter will be in the sky. The planet looks like Venus, although not so bright.
Perseids meteor shower 2020
Traditionally, the night of August 12-13 is considered the time of the “shooting stars.” People go outside, leave the city to watch meteors from the Perseid shower, the maximum activity of which falls precisely on this date.
Perseids are one of the most stable and prolific meteor showers. Every year at the peak of activity, it gives from 60 to 120 meteors per hour. Among them, a large percentage of bright meteors is noticeable even in the illuminated city sky. Often, “shooting stars” leave traces in the sky that look like an inversion trail from a jet plane.
Interestingly, the Perseids often fall in packs of 2-3, and sometimes 4, 5 and even 6 meteors. To see several meteors at once within a couple of seconds is an unforgettable experience.
For a real observation of meteors, a dark moonless sky is needed. Fortunately, in 2020, on the night of 12 to 13, the Moon is in the phase of the last quarter and will appear on the sky only in the morning. This means that only bad weather can interfere with Perseid observations.
Mars opposition October 13, 2020
In October, one of the main astronomical events of 2020 will take place – the opposition of Mars.
For a long time, the planet Mars was considered the most intriguing, mysterious planet of the solar system. There are many reasons for this: the strange “behavior” of the planet in the sky, which ultimately helped Kepler discover the laws of planetary motion, the reddish, warlike color of Mars, and its similarity in many respects to the Earth.
Mars is the only planet in the solar system, which surface can be seen well with a telescope. In this regard, at the turn of the 20th century, there was a real Martian fever: everyone rushed to observe Mars. The impetus was the discovery on the planet’s surface of a network of “channels”, the creation of which was attributed to some intelligent civilization.
But observing Mars is difficult. This is a small planet, and when it is far from the Earth, little can be observed. Therefore, effective observations of Mars are possible only during periods around oppositions.
Mars oppositions occur every 26 months. At the same time, the distance from Earth to Mars varies from opposition to opposition. The reason is the elongation (the angular separation between the Sun and the planet) of Mars’ orbit. When the opposition occurs in winter, Mars is relatively far from Earth. When in summer, especially in August, – Mars approaches our planet at a distance of less than 60 million kilometers. On October 13, Mars will be at a distance of 62.5 million km from Earth.
The second half of September, October and the beginning of November 2020 is the best time to observe Mars with a telescope!
Mercury and Venus in the morning sky of November
The planet Venus, which will play the entire first half of 2020 as the beautiful Evening Star, will move to the morning sky in summer. Already in July, it will be possible to observe it before sunrise low over the eastern horizon. But the planet will become truly noticeable in the fall, when it will shine for people rushing to work.
In the middle of November, late autumn, venus will shine in the southeast – against the background of the morning dawn. At this time, below Venus, you will be able to observe another planet – Mercury.
No wonder Mercury is considered an elusive planet. In our sky, he is always near the Sun. You can watch it only against the background of sunrise or sunset. And that is not always the case.
In 2020, there will be very favorable conditions for observing the planet. Firstly, Mercury will be observed throughout the month. Secondly, Venus will serve as an excellent pointer to Mercury. And on November 13 and 14 next to the planets the crescent of the old moon (last quarter) will also be visible.
All in all, November is a great month to watch for Mercury.
Geminids meteor shower 2020
Every year on the night of December 13-14, there is a maximum activity of the Geminids meteor shower with a radiant in the constellation Gemini.
Geminids – the most powerful meteor shower in the northern hemisphere of the Earth. It is not as popular as the Perseids, but almost exclusively because of the time of its activity. Perseids are observed in August, when the nights are still warm. Geminids takes place during cold December nights. In addition, in December, observations often fail due to the cloudy sky.
In all other respects, the Geminids have an excellent meteor shower, giving a maximum of 100 to 150 “shooting stars” per hour of observation. Among them are quite a few bright meteors. Their color is white. Unlike Perseids, Geminid meteors almost leave no traces.
Naturally, to observe meteors you need a dark sky. The bright moon often ruins the observations of “starfalls.” How will it be this time?
On December 14, 2020, the Moon rises late in the morning, in the waning crescent phase. Therefore, all night from 13 to 14 the conditions for observing the Geminids will be excellent!
Jupiter and Saturn conjunction December 21, 2020
Another interesting astronomical event awaits us at the end of 2020. On December 21, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction.
What it is? In precise, dry language, planets come together when their ecliptic longitudes are equal. But what is ecliptic longitude? This is one of the coordinates in the ecliptic coordinate system, in which the ecliptic plays the role of the equator of the celestial sphere – the path of the Sun against the background of constellations.
Let’s put it simpler: during conjunctions the planets approach close to each other for all terrestrial observers. Sometimes it’s very close. So close that for the naked eye they practically merge into one star!
That is how the union of Jupiter and Saturn will be on December 21, 2020 . On that evening the planets will approach each other at an angular distance of 6 ′ or 1/5 of the moon’s disk in the sky. You can watch the conjunction in the evening twilight; planets will be low over the horizon in the southwest.
The conjunction will look especially impressive through the telescope, because both planets will be in the same field of view.
Here’s an interesting fact: due to the fact that Jupiter and Saturn are located far from the Earth, they move slowly against the background of stars, which means they are rarely found in the sky. How rare? In fact, their connections occur only once every 20 years. So, next time the planets will meet in the sky only in 2040!