7 times you need to look to the sky in 2020
- Credit: Archant
An amazing set of astronomical events are expected in 2020 and Neil Norman, a Fellow of The Royal Astronomical Society, tells us when we should be looking to the skies over Suffolk in the months ahead.
He said: "Among the many eye-catching astronomical shows coming up, 2020 may be remembered for the close planetary conjunction in December next year of the planets Jupiter and Saturn.
"In addition to this rare event, sky watchers will have a whole feast of treats to look forward to in the months prior. To kick things off, the Orion nebula, an icy comet in the spring that may become a naked eye object. Meteor showers in the autumn and a bright opposition of the planet Mars in October the second best opposition of the planet in the past 10 years.
Here's a brief rundown of these and other events worth marking on your calendar.
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The constellation of Orion is one of the best known in the sky, with its familiar line of three stars making up the belt and below this the three stars making up the sword of the hunter.
Upon inspection of the middle star in the sword you will see with 10x50 binoculars that this 'star' is in fact a glowing area of haze. This is gas, primarily hydrogen that is in the process of forming new stars.
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It lies at a distance from Earth of some 1,344 light years, meaning the light reaching your eyes today began it's journey in the year 676 AD.
The constellation of Orion is visible until April thus giving ample opportunity for viewing.
The planet Venus
After sunset from January onwards you should look towards the western sky to see a brilliantly shinning white 'star', this is the planet Venus and is regarded as Earth's 'Evil Twin' due to its close resemblance to us in size, but with a choking atmosphere of carbon dioxide and runaway greenhouse effect.
Venus is the third brightest astronomical object you can see coming in behind the Sun and Moon.
It will rise in the sky higher each day before gaining its highest declination on April 1 at some 40 degrees high.
No telescope can show details of the planet's surface, but a pair of binoculars will show it to present phases, very much as our Moon does each month.
Comet C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS
This comet was discovered way back on October 2, 2017 with the PanSTARRS telescope located in Hawaii. This year will see it come to perihelion, or its closest approach to the Sun, on May 4, and will be beautifully placed in our skies.
This comet has an orbital period in the order of some 374,251 years, so if you miss it this time around you'll be waiting a very long tine for the next approach!
It moves through Cassiopeia in March, brightening all the time before then moving into Ursa Major in June, when It could be a naked eye object, but failing this, a definite binocular object.
Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseids meteor shower will blaze across our skies in mid-August and 2020 will see the Moon out of the way for much of the display.
Meteors are the result of tiny pieces of dust left behind by comets entering and burning up in our atmosphere.
Each piece is no larger than a grain of sand, but with impact speeds into our atmosphere at over 17,000 mph, the friction causes them to glow and then burn up high above our heads.
The shower is at its best on the night/morning of August 13/14.
Our nearest neighbour in space!
Visible each month and a great object to get children looking up, especially using a pair of binoculars.
Try looking at it before or after full phase when you will see far more details, like shadows over the mountains or in the larger craters.
Opposition of Mars
The planet Mars comes to opposition in 2020, that is to say, it will sit directly opposite the Sun in our sky and will be visible all night.
On October 13 it will be just 62m km from Earth and will be located in the constellation of Pisces and shinning at a very bright magnitude of -2.6.
On October 29, the Moon will be very close by, making for a great photo opportunity.
Jupiter and Saturn conjunction
As the year closes the two giant planets of the Solar System will visually appear very close to each other, this is called a conjunction and will happen on December 21st.
This is a must-see event for those with cameras (although you will see it with the naked eye) because this event is very rare, the last one this close was on July 16, 1623, and will not happen again like this in our lifetime.