Top 5 Astronomy Events To Watch For: December 2020
December is typically a cold, dark month and while that may be a drag for some, for astronomers it often means prime viewing conditions! This December gifts us with a ton of amazing sky-gazing events – including the greatest Saturn-Jupiter Conjunction since 1623! The timing couldn’t be better as we’re spending more time off work and with our families for the holidays. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere – this is for you. Gather your loved ones, pull out some lawn chairs, your telescope or binoculars, and enjoy the show!
Geminid Meteor Shower
The King of Meteor Showers happens annually from December 7-17. This prolific shower will be the largest among many that will happen this month. At its peak, you will likely be able to see 120 multicolored meteors an hour shooting across the night sky at 79,000 mph! To witness this massive number of meteors, your optimal viewing time will be the late-night of the 13th and early morning of the 14th around (2 am local time).
This shower radiates from the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the Gemini The Twins Constellation. However, you don’t have to locate a particular point to witness the meteors – they will appear from anywhere in the night sky.
Close Approach of the Moon, Saturn, & Jupiter
Leading up to the great Saturn-Jupiter Conjunction on December 21, Saturn and Jupiter are growing closer all through the month. On the night of December 16, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon will be only 2°56′ of each other in the night sky and will offer a stunning view around 2 am EST.
On December 21, 2 of the largest planets in our solar system will align to be only 0.1 degree (1/5 of the moon diameter) apart. This remarkable Jupiter-Saturn conjunction happens roughly every 20 years - the last one we had was in 2000. However, they haven’t been this close in proximity since 1623! Though Galileo had invented the telescope 14 years earlier at that point, the conjunction happened in the early evening and it’s unlikely many people witnessed it. The closest observable conjunction before that was in the year 1226!
This is truly the event of a lifetime! We won’t have a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction this close again until 2080.
Although you’ll be able to witness it with the naked eye, a small telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings, its moon Titan, and Jupiter’s moons Ganymede, lo, Callisto, and Europa all in the same view.
Ursids Meteor Shower
Though smaller than the great Geminid Shower, the Ursids are still fabulous. It runs annually from December 17-25 though you’ll be able to catch it at its peak, producing 5-10 meteors per hour on the night of Dec 21st. To get your best view you’ll want to get away from city lights. A dark, clear night will show you meteors radiating from the constellation Ursa Minor.
On December 30th the moon will have a fully illuminated face. While the clear winter night can provide epic lunar views from the naked eye, the best time to view the moon through a telescope is actually in the first quarter (six to nine days past the new moon). When the moon is not fully lit, shadows will provide a sense of depth and detail that you can’t perceive on the night of a full moon. If getting a clear picture of the moon is your goal, the best viewing time will be December 21/22.
What events will you be watching out for this December? Let us know in the comments below!
If you liked this article, please be sure to subscribe to our newsletter below for more astronomy-related content!