Keep your eye on the sky: Astronomical highlights of 2020 – The Cincinnati Enquirer

Posted: December 24, 2019 at 10:49 am

Dean Regas, Special to Cincinnati Enquirer Published 11:53 a.m. ET Dec. 23, 2019 | Updated 12:02 p.m. ET Dec. 23, 2019

The planet Venus, left, and the crescent moon form a striking pair in the sky.(Photo: AP file)

In 2019, astronomers captured the first picture of a black hole, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landingand Mercury crossed in front of the sun for the last time until 2032.What out-of-this-world occurrences will be happening in the universe next year?Here are the cant-miss astronomical events of 2020.

Maybe youve seen it already: the planet Venus is blazing in the southwestern sky just after dark.Venus shines brighter than any other star and may even make you think a UFO is about to land its that suspiciously bright.

Venus will be visible just after sunset every night until May and the best nights to catch this planet are when the crescent moon stands nearby.These Venus-moon conjunctions will occur on the evenings of Jan.27 and 28, Feb.27, March 27 and 28, April 26, and finish up on May 23 and 24.No telescope needed: These picturesque pairings of the Moon and Venus amid the afterglow of sunset are best observed with the naked eye.

Pluto as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft, which carried a small portion of the ashes of discoverer Clyde Tombaugh.(Photo: Associated Press)

On Feb.18, 1930, American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh made a momentous discovery.By comparing two pictures taken at different times, he saw a tiny dot move through space.That was Pluto, and Tombaughs discovery turns 90 this year.Pluto was considered a planet until 2006 when it was infamously demoted to dwarf planet status, but in 2015, the unmanned New Horizons spacecraft flew by this tiny, icy world and gave Pluto fans close up images from the far reaches of the solar system.

Fun fact: The average temperature on Mars is minus 81-degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA. The average temperature on earth is 57-degrees.(Photo: Andrei Lacatusu)

The Red Planet is back in 2020.Mars, always a crowd favorite, returns to the evening sky in the fall when it will appear as a bright, orange beacon in the night sky.The night of closest approach will be Oct.6, but you will have plenty of time to get to know Mars. It will shine brightly every night from September 2020 to early 2021.

There will be a full moon on Halloween night in 2020.(Photo: The Enquirer/Michael E. Keating)

Perhaps the biggest astronomical story of 2020 will occur on Halloween night.Not only is Oct.31 a Saturday this year, but it will also be the night of a full moon.But wait, theres more. Since this will be the second full moon of October (there will be one on Oct. 1), it will also be considered a Blue Moon.The moon wont actually turn blue, but for backyard stargazers and trick-or-treaters this will make a great backdrop to the holiday and is sure to fuel internet superstitions.

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There will be a whopping four lunar eclipses and two solar eclipses in 2020, but none of them are good for viewers in the United States or Canada.The lunar eclipses on Jan.10, June 5, July 5and Nov.30 are all penumbral eclipses, meaning the moon enters a fainter shadow of the Earth and is not noticeable to the average viewer.The solar eclipse on June 21 is only visible from the Eastern Hemisphere and the total solar eclipse on Dec.14 is only visible from Chile and Argentina.So plan some trips and chase eclipses all year long.

Head to Cincinnati Observatory in 2020 for a new look at the night.(Photo: Leigh Taylor, Enquirer/Leigh Taylor)

The two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible all summer and fall of 2020.Although they are hundreds of millions of miles apart, each night, they will appear closer together in our skies. The best alignment will be on Dec.21, when Jupiter and Saturn will seem so close together in the sky that they will almost touch. This Jupiter-Saturn conjunction only happens every 20 years, but this is an exceptionally close pairing. If you aim a telescope at them that evening, it may be the only time in your life where you can see the surface of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn at the same time.

Heres hoping for a lot of clear skies in 2020 so you dont miss even one exciting event in the sky.

Dean Regas is the Astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory, and author of the books 100 Things to See in the Night Sky and Facts from Space! He can be reached at dean@cincinnatiobservatory.org

Where: Cincinnati Observatory

What: Three-night astronomy course. Perfect for beginners who want to learn more about observing the night sky.

When: Tuesday, Jan.7, 14, and 21, from 7-9 p.m.

Admission: $50 per person for the series, $40 per Observatory member

Information: Reservations required by calling 513-321-5186 or online at http://www.cincinnatiobservatory.org.

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Keep your eye on the sky: Astronomical highlights of 2020 - The Cincinnati Enquirer

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