From bright planets and shooting stars to eclipses and supermoons

By Jamie Carter
December 27, 2019
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Haitong Yu/Getty Images

There's always something special going on in the night sky, from eclipses to meteor showers (and everything in between), and 2020 will have plenty of celestial highlights. As 2020 begins, a bright Venus will rise even higher in the night sky, and as it does, it will form a beautiful close pair with the crescent moon, star clusters, and planets. Add a couple of dramatic solar eclipses and plenty of supermoons and shooting stars, and 2020 certainly won’t disappoint stargazers and skywatchers.

Use this 2020 astronomical calendar so you don’t miss a single celestial event this year.

January 3-4: Quadrantid Meteor Shower

2019 was a pretty awful year for shooting stars, but 2020 is only a few days old when a reliable meteor shower strikes. Expect about 40 shooting stars per hour after midnight early on January 4.

January 10: Full Wolf Moon Eclipse

The first full moon of the year occurs at 2:21 p.m. EST and 11:21 a.m. PST, and traditionally, it’s called a “Wolf Moon”. Although North Americans won’t notice, the moon will move into Earth’s outer “penumbral” shadow, causing a faint lunar eclipse. It’s more of a “grey moon” than a “blood moon,” and it’s only viewable from Europe, Africa, and Asia.

February 9, March 9, April 8, and May 7: Supermoons

A supermoon occurs when our moon is relatively close to Earth on its elliptical orbit, so it appears slightly larger and brighter in the night sky. There are four supermoons in 2020, starting with February’s “Super Snow Moon” and ending with May’s “Super Flower Moon.” To see and appreciate a supermoon, you have to watch it as it rises in the east or sets in the west.

April 21-22: Lyrid Meteor Shower

There are few more exciting celestial sites than a sky full of shooting stars. However, bright moonlight ruins many meteor showers. One of the few displays of 2020 destined to occur under dark, moonless night skies is April’s Lyrids shower, which produces about 20 shooting stars at its peak.

June 21: “Ring of Fire” Solar Eclipse

The opposite of a supermoon is a micromoon, and it happens when our moon is further away than usual, so it looks smaller in the sky. When a micromoon crosses precisely in front of the sun, it doesn’t block enough light to cause a total solar eclipse, so instead it creates an “annular” solar eclipse that looks like a “ring of fire”. That’s what will happen on June 21, 2020 when a new moon will block 99% of the sun as seen from the famous rock-cut monolithic churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia. Expect eclipse-chasers to gather there, as well as in Oman and Tibet, for the best views.

July 5, 2020: Thunder Moon Eclipse

When the sun and moon are lined up for a solar eclipse, they’re also going to be nicely aligned for a lunar eclipse two weeks before and after. Precisely two weeks after June’s “ring of fire” eclipse comes another “penumbral” lunar eclipse, which this time is visible in North America as well as in South America and Africa. It’s the perfect night to take a photograph of the full moon, something that’s normally very tricky.

October 31: Blue Hunter's Moon

When there are two full moons inside one calendar month (made possible by the lunar month lasting only 29 days), the second is called a “blue moon”. That happens only once in 2020, a year that contains 13 full moons in total.

November 29-30, 2020: Frosty Moon Eclipse

The full moon will lose its luster for a fourth and final time in 2020 exactly two weeks before a total solar eclipse. This penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible from North and South America, Australia, and East Asia.

December 14: Geminids and a Total Solar Eclipse

Why not finish 2020 with the most majestic sight of all, a total solar eclipse? Although you will have to travel to either the Chilean Lake District or Patagonia in Argentina, it’s going to be worth the journey. As well as a two-minute totality and brief darkness during the day, just 10 hours before is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, when 120+ multicolored meteors will rain down on sleep-starved eclipse-chasers below.

December 21: Great Solstice Conjunction

Every 20 years, the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn look very close to each other in Earth’s sky. On the date of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the two giant planets will appear to be just 0.06º apart in the western sky just after sunset. The result will be an entrancing “double planet,” something that won’t happen again until 2040.