Since it’s the season of looking ahead, making plans, and setting goals, here are the astronomical events worth observing in 2020.
Venus, the “Evening Star,” will dominate the western sky after sundown until late May.
Two planets will pass behind the moon in Idaho skies in 2020: Mars on the morning of February 18th, and Venus on the afternoon of December 12th. The moon brushes by Venus on June 19th, and Mars on Aug. 9, Sept. 5, and Oct. 2. Earth and Mars are quite close on Oct. 6.
Of the dozen annual meteor showers scattered throughout the year, only four are noticeably more prolific than the sporadic meteors seen on any dark, clear night. In 2020, both August’s Perseids and December’s Geminids will be washed out by a bright moon. The strongest showers on moonless nights include the brief-but-intense Quadrantids (peaking at 2 a.m. on Jan. 4) and the Eta Aquariids (peaking at 2 a.m. on May 6).
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The only total eclipse on Earth this year, lunar or solar, won’t occur until Dec. 14, when a total solar eclipse will zip across southern Chile and Argentina. Idahoans’ only eclipse will be the subtle shading of a penumbral lunar eclipse in the early predawn hours of Nov. 30.
The sun, still deep in the minimum of its eleven-year sunspot cycle, should start waking up in 2020, although probably only in the second half of the year. As of this writing, none of the rare sunspots in recent months have borne the magnetic polarity of the new cycle, signifying that it has yet to commence.
Close planetary meet-ups include Mercury and Venus on May 21, and a once-in-twenty-years “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn on Dec. 21 (the closest since the 17th century).
Next column: Space exploration highlights in 2020.