What's New: January 2020

What's Up in 2020?

What major astronomical events can we look forward to in 2020? For most of us, some of these events may simply be exciting. For some, it may involve preparation or even travel, and we may benefit from knowing about them in well in advance. In any case, this knowledge will reinforce our connection to - and appreciation of - the cosmos.

The first notable event has already been mentioned above. Even as the new year gets underway, the Quadrantid meteors should present us with an excellent display; the Moon won't be in the sky to wash out the fainter meteors with its light. But please note: whereas many showers put on a decent show for many days or weeks in advance, the Quadrantids tend to have a sharp peak that may last no more than 6 hours. This year, the maximum is predicted to occur around 3 am EST on January 4, when you may expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour from a dark-sky location. If the weather is favorable, it may be worth a trip to get beyond the urban sky glow.

On February 18, the waning crescent Moon will occult, or pass in front of, Mars. As seen from Boston, the planet will disappear behind the Moon's illuminated edge around 7:43 am EST, and pop into view from behind the unlit side of the Moon at 9:09 am EST. Yes, this a daylight occultation, but Mars should be bright enough to see even with a small telescope! (Yes, it is possible to see the brighter planets even in a blue sky, provided you know exactly where to look. In this case, the Moon itself can be your guide.)

After sunset on April 3, the brilliant planet Venus will be passing through the beautiful Pleiades star cluster (above). It will far outshine the stars of the "Seven Sisters," but the cluster stars will provide a memorable backdrop. This may be one of those events best seen in binoculars; the wide field of view should bring in many of the cluster stars.

June 21 will present an annular, of "ring of fire," solar eclipse. This is one of those events requiring travel, as the centerline will start in central Africa, pass over the Persian Gulf, India, and Tibet, and will end over eastern China and Taiwan.

This year's Perseid meteor shower, with a peak around August 12, will not be among the best. The Last Quarter Moon will be in the sky, and its presence will reduce the number of fainter meteors visible.

On October 6, the planet Mars will be at its brightest and nearest to Earth. (In fact, it won't get as close to us again until the year 2035!) Mars reaches opposition on the 13th, and will be visible all night.

In the morning hours of December 14, the Geminid meteors will put on an excellent show (no Moon around!). This is one of the best meteor showers of any year. Under dark skies, you may see anywhere from 60 to 120 meteors per hour.
Perhaps the most anticipated event of the year will also occur on December 14: A total solar eclipse will be visible in southern Chile and Argentina. This is one of nature's grandest spectacles, and will definitely be worth the trip to Patagonia!