A celestial commotion's a-brewin'—Here's when to spot meteor showers, supermoons, and planets in 2020.
Here are all the stargazing events we're looking forward to this year!
Since our moon orbits the earth in an elliptical, there are some times when a full or new moon happens right as the moon is closest to the earth. Moon enthusiasts have creatively called the occasion a "supermoon" since it appears larger and brighter in the night sky. There are four supermoons in 2020: February 9, March 9, April 7, and May 7. If you only catch one, the April 7 will be brightest and biggest.
A comparison of the moon at its closest and its farthest, courtesy of NASA.
Catch one of these meteor showers and wish on as many shooting stars as you can spot. The trick with meteor showers is catching them when the moon isn't very full. Less light in the sky means those streaking cosmic debris will be all the brighter.
A good meteor shower to catch (if the weather is clear) will be the Lyrid Meteor Shower that peaks from April 21 to 22, since the moon will be almost gone then. The most popular and vibrant shower is the Perseids, but that one doesn't peak until August 11-12.
An exposure of the 2015 Perseid meteor shower, courtesy of NASA.
Spy with your own eye—a planet!
When other planets in our solar system rise in the night sky to the east, opposite the sun setting in the west, you can often spot them with your naked eye. The orbits don't always line up, so it can be rare to see. For 2020, here are the best dates to spot some planets:
- Neptune — September 11
- Mars — October 13
- Uranus — October 31
- Jupiter — July 14
- Pluto — July 15
- Saturn — July 20
Planets can be tricky to spot. Sometimes they just look like slightly brighter stars, but if you have a telescope, you can make out colors or details. See if you can spot Saturn's rings or Jupiter's largest moons.
If you have a clear view of the horizon and some luck, you might be able to spot Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter all in the early morning sky in July.
For more details on where to look in the sky, Space.com has a great write-up here.
The moon, Venus, and Jupiter shine in the night sky above the Very Large Telescope, courtesy of ESO.
Resources for You
There are tons of ways to supplement your 2020 celestial viewing, both online and in-person. A pair of binoculars or a simple telescope can help you make out a planet or supermoon in higher detail, and finding a nice dark spot really brings the night sky to life.
To explore the night sky with experts and more powerful telescopes (weather-permitting), just google "observatories" in your city. Often, science museums and universities hold regular star-gazing events a few times a month.
And finally, here are some interactive websites to check out:
Good luck! Let us know with a comment what celestial events you're most excited for in 2020. Do you remember the last time you wished on a star?