Say what you will about 2020 the year when it came to disasters, famous deaths, professional sports (unless you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and/or Dodgers, Tampa Bay Lightning, or Kansas City Chiefs), crazy elections, and of course a global pandemic that changed the courses of many lives going forward, including yours truly. But when it came to astronomical events, 2020 was one I looked forward to before the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve 2019, and not only has it come through with the February Mars/Moon Occultation and the 2020 Mars Close Approach, but we even had a bonus in the form of Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) putting on a show in July.
And we’re not done yet!
You still have THREE events – Two of which are HIGHLY recommended you watch out and plan for!
The November 2020 Leonids, which will peak on the night of November 16-17
While the highest rate of 15 per hour will not be anything special, there will be no moon in the sky during the best optimal hours to view – between midnight and dawn. Therefore, this is just a good excuse to go out and deep sky observe in a dark location away from the cities. While the Leonids are famous for “Meteor Storms,” there is no storm or outburst predicted this time around. But you’re still bound to catch a few if you’re patient enough, as those that do are usually bright and consistently leave trails.
But if you’d rather wait for the next strong shower, then don’t worry, December has you covered!
The Geminid Meteor Shower – December 13-14
This one will be the best meteor shower of the year. Not only will there be a reliably strong rate during the peak, but once again, you have NO MOON INTERFERENCE! You can potentially have a Zenith Hourly Rate of 150 per hour! Plus, it’s a shower where the radiant point, the constellation Gemeni, is high in the sky at 10pm on the night of the 13th, so unlike the Perseids, you won’t have to wait until 2-3 am for peak times.
This is definitely a shower you should plan a trip to a dark sky location and set up camp. Meteor showers are all night events, so you’re bound to catch a lot if you brave the cold December air long enough (or warm summer air for you Aussies). All you need is a clear sky!
I do have spots reserved out in Cottonwood Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, for this event, and will send details to those interested in joining me! If you want to go to any camping spot, you better start checking up on them now or plan on arriving early to claim your spots!
And for your grand finale for 2020…
The Jupiter/Saturn Great Conjunction of 2020 – December 20-22
For TWO NIGHTS, in this rare alignment between the two gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn will be so close together that they’ll appear to almost “merge” into a single bright “star” to the naked eye! You’ll be able to cover both of them with just your pinky finger held at arms length!
They’ll be so close that you’ll be able to observe both of them at the same time through a telescope!
This is the closest they have appeared next to each other since 1623! They’ll be as close as six arc-minutes away from each other, which is the equivalent to 1/10 of a degree across, or 1/5 the diameter of a full moon! And they will not align this close again in the sky until 2080. Unless you can survive another 60 years, THIS IS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME VIEWING EVENT!
The actual closest alignment will be at 18:37 UTC on the 21st, which means it’ll technically be closest during the daytime over North America, but once the Sun sets in the early afternoon on the 20th and 21st, you’ll be able to catch the pairing close together for up to 2 hours until they set. On those nights, telescope users will be able to magnify as high as 300x and still see both planets and their moons. Even if you can’t catch it on the 21st, you’ll be able to comfortably view the close alignment through a telescope at 100x magnification from December 18 through the 24th at the latest, and at 50x starting December 14 until the 27th.
All you need is a clear sky with as little haze as possible, and you need to make sure there are no obstructions in the southwest corner of your view! You do not need to travel far! Just find a spot with no obstructions and hope the weather will be good enough!