What to look out for in 2020

  1. The biggest planet in the solar system, Jupiter is still visible through Autumn low in the south west as night falls. It is very bright and binoculars will reveal up to  four of its largest moons as star-like points of light.
  2. The ringed world of Saturn is also low in the south and stays just to the left of Jupiter. Looking like a bright yellow star, a small telescope with 36x magnification will begin to show its show-stopping rings.
  3. Autumn is Milky Way season because it is well placed for observation directly overhead during evenings.  The best views come from dark areas.  Look for a narrow band of light stretching across the sky.  This picture is by Dave Williams and taken in the Peak District in the UK.  See that hazy glow that splits into two? That’s the Milky Way!Milky Way Dave.jpg
  4. Mars is putting on its best show since 2012 with a very close approach to earth. It’s also reasonably high in the sky.  It really does look red and is very bright – even outshining Jupiter. It is unmistakable in the eastern night sky soon after night fall.  Modest telescopes will reveal dark markings on the Martian surface.  A fleet of space probes has been launched to take advantage of the Red planet’s proximity.
  5. The final two meteor showers of 2020 are the Leonids (17/18 November) and the Geminids 13/ 14 December. The latter is the best of the year and if you only have inclination to see one meteor shower make it this one. Plenty of shooting stars should be visible with the moon largely absent.  Wrap up warm, be patient and ideally go somewhere dark.
  6. Jupiter and Saturn have been close to each other in the sky all year, but on the 21 December they surpass themselves. They will both come within one tenth of a degree separation and easily fit into the field of view of a telescope. Technically this is called a Great Conjunction and the last time the two giants of the solar system appeared so close was 1623!  However, the dynamic duo will be low down in the west so it’s best glimpsed soon after the sun sets and the sky is reasonable dark, say 16.30 GMT.  Be quick as both will be heading below the horizon soon after.   For the record, this conjunction is a line of sight effect.  Saturn is much more distant from the sun than Jupiter.
  7. Always expect the unexpected!  Naked eye comets are rare, but this summer we had a real treat in the form of Comet NEOWISE, seen in the image below, taken from North Yorkshire in the UK. No one knows when the next one will come along to match its vibrant display.  So it pays to be alert.Comet 6.jpg

About Richard Darn

Astronomer and media consultant
This entry was posted in astronomy, outreach, science and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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