Say what you will about 2020 the year of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Even if you did not catch the virus itself, or if you didn’t know anyone who did, your way of life as you remembered was still affected for most of 2020. Say what you will about how professional sports leagues, businesses, and governments handled the pandemic, everyone has their opinion, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. You’re still alive, reading this post, and the decades you have left on this planet are still going to move forward!
When it came to astronomical events in the sky, they were always there to remind us that despite our problems, we are mere specs of dust in the spectacle of the Universe. There is only so much we can truly control, and if the laws and mechanisms that create planets, stars, galaxies, and in special cases – life as we know it; should they decide to end us tomorrow, it can be so!
They also remind us of the beauty of the sky, and what it can offer should one choose to get in tune more with what’s above us. And when these events that happen are visible over your vantage point, they inspire more people to get into astronomy – the same way that Comet Hale-Bopp did all those years ago for me in 1997.
Around the world, but not visible over North America, we had two solar eclipses: in June an extremely thin annular “ring of fire” eclipse visible over Central Africa and Asia, and in December a total eclipse visible over South America. Don’t worry, us North American viewers will get an annular in 2023, and a total in 2024!
We had four penumbral lunar eclipses – where the Moon passes within the outer part of Earth’s shadow but doesn’t quite cross into the inner shadow that darkens the disc = two of which were visible over North America. While not that impressive and often times an event I personally don’t bother with, there are always those who just like knowing that it’s going on.
But from my vantage point in Southern California, 2020 had quite a few highlights!
February 18, 2020 – Moon Covers Mars
This was something you had to be in the right place at the right time to see it, and it just so happened that Southern California was at just the right latitude, and it occurred at just the right time for me to see it before dawn on February 18.
I recorded a live stream, which I later edited into a 5 minute video, where you can watch the Moon cover Mars, and then see Mars reappear behind the Moon’s dark limb about an hour later.
March & May 2020 – Two Comets Fizzle Instead of Impress
C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) made the rounds in March, and got everyone’s hopes up. In fact, my work asked me and other astrophotographers to get images of it. But then it appeared to break up in April. But just as we were watching ATLAS break up, another comet, C/2020 F8 (SWAN) was making the headlines, and it was as if (SWAN) would be the savior of the sky and dazzle viewers as it got closer to the Sun. Adding to the hype were the great images posted from observers in the Southern Hemisphere, where the comet was well placed in the sky as a target.
But in mid May, when SWAN was supposed to be brightest, it never brightened to levels expected, and it was a really hard target to observe due to it straddling the horizon, and then being washed out by twilight when it rose high enough.
But the silver lining to this was of course all the trips I made out to Amboy and Rice during this period, so I spent a lot of hours observing, and getting more valuable experience with astrophotography.
April 29, 2020 – Asteroid 1998 OR2 Flies By Earth
Asteroids fly by Earth all the time, but it’s not very often that one can get bright enough to observe one that’s bright enough for backyard telescopes! Even though I was in a light polluted location, I could snap it moving across the sky in a 20 minute span, and sequence the images together!
July 2020 – Comet NEOWISE… Enough Said!
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) proved third time was a charm, as this comet made a dazzling appearance in July. It was the brightest comet seen above the northern hemisphere since Hale-Bopp ’97!
When it was a morning target, it was barely visible to the naked eye from suburban skies if you knew where to look, but then when it was an evening target and got higher in the northern sky, it was a great binocular and telescopic target, and even a few seconds exposure from the city locations made the comet show up in cameras.
Sadly, a lot of people didn’t have the sense to travel to dark locations, so they missed out on the obvious 6 degree long tail to the naked eye over locations like Joshua Tree National Park, where I witnessed nearby campers cheering when they realized what they were seeing.
I have two dedicated galleries for this comet!
What was better about this event was how many people I set up and showed the comet through my scope, and the number of people asking me telescope and photography advice afterwards.
October 5-6, 2020 – Mars Close Approach
While not as close as the 2018 showing, Mars wasn’t subject to a global sandstorm that prevented us from seeing details. This time, the polar caps and albedo features were easily visible through my scope, and the video above would be stacked and processed into the image!
December 13-14 Geminids
While it was cloudy over the actual peak night for most people in Southern California, even over the Mojave Desert, I did manage to capture a Geminid – accidentally I might add – over Amboy, CA on the night after the peak. Those who were lucky enough to have a clear sky reportedly saw over 200 meteors per hour!
Winter Solstice Great Conjunction
The once in a lifetime event was definitely one to remember! I was very lucky to have clear skies above Southern California up to the night when it was closest, and very fortunate that my pictures got shared to thousands of people who reside in Southern California.
The interest this event generated into astronomy is second to none, and I look forward to more people asking me telescope advice, or who just want their space questions answered!
Support Your Neighborhood Astronomers
Most mainstream media sources get their info from people like us, but don’t always get it right! Help support those who observe the sky and look for cool events to check out so you don’t have to!