2020: A cosmic timeline
Taryn Zard, Staff writer
This year has been a wild one to say the least. Cosmically speaking, that statement also rings true. But through the chaos that seems to be going on, we can pause and perhaps find some inspiration and peace if we take the time to look to the night sky.
2020 has been full of interesting and even unusual events. Starting on Jan. 4th, the annual Quadrantids meteoroids kicked off the year with one of the brightest and most active showers with over 100 meteors per hour visible at its peak viewing time. On Feb. 18th, Mars was unusually visible peeking out from behind the moon.
The end of March brought news of a surprise astronomical guest with the discovery of the Neowise comet. The comet in question was visible to the naked eye from July through the end of August. Then in April, Venus was shining at a -4.5-lantern brightness right next to the Pleiades star cluster. Presently, it has been shown that the brightness pattern and highly visible position in the night sky of the “seven sisters” seems to happen every eight years.
April held the biggest full moon of the year, known as a supermoon. The closeness of the moon brought dramatic ranges in low and high ocean tides. A “supermoon” is the common moniker for the perigean moon; that is, when a full moon appears to be excessively large because it is in its closest orbit to Earth.
April also allowed for scientists to observe the comet ATLAS disintegrate into over two dozen pieces, which was very interesting for them to study as typically when comets fragment, they are too dim to observe properly. ATLAS was discovered Dec. 2019 by the University of Hawai’i Manoa and was one of a kind, being the first Trojan asteroid known to have sprouted the tail of a comet.
On June 21st, there was an annular solar eclipse, but this time people in North America were not able to view it. The eclipse was, however, visible in Africa, China, Taiwan, Northern India, and parts of the Pacific Ocean. On Aug. 12th, the Perseid meteor shower put on a grand show with a meteor visible for a minute during peak viewing times. The Perseid meteor shower is often called the “Old Faithful” of showers as it seems to always put on a dependably brilliant show. In October, Mars was the closest to Earth that it had been in many years, making it appear even brighter than Jupiter in the sky.
On Oct. 15th, students were informed that Saint Martin’s very own Andrea Kunder, Ph.D., assistant physics professor, had received a research grant to further research the three-dimensional aspect of 5,000 of the Milky Way’s oldest stars.
November will kick things off with an asteroid heading close to the Earth right before election day. Don’t worry though, as even though it will pass close to Earth, its size means that most of it would burn up going through the earth’s atmosphere but with the way 2020 has been, it seems almost fitting to hear that an asteroid is coming towards the earth. On the 15th the new moon will take place very close to its perigee (the point on its orbit closest to the Earth). Then, on the 17th and 18th of Nov. the Leonid Meteor shower will occur with about 15 meteors per minute visible.
Coming up in December is the Geminids meteor shower that will be visible Dec. 13th to 14th, with the best visibility occurring around 2 a.m., but some visibility starts as early as 10 p.m. This year should be exceptionally good for viewing as the moon is new that day, so it will not cast any interfering light. A new moon is when the sun and moon align.
On Dec. 14th, there will be another solar eclipse, but unfortunately, this one also will not be visible in North America. Then, to close out the year, on Dec. 21st, Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction with each other. This will be the closest these two planets will have been since 1623 and will be visible together in the same lens of a telescope.
Astronomically speaking, 2020 has been a year full of wondrous and amazing things. Some events were no surprise and occur annually, but even if they happen annually, they can look vastly different from year to year depending on where you are located, how bright the moon is and if there are a lot of clouds or good visibility.
Those wanting to stargaze can also get some insight and guidance from certain apps like SkyView or Star Walk on their phone or tablet as well as websites like www.theskylive.com that will tell them exactly what to look for in the sky that night based on the device’s location. The various apps will allow people to point their device at the sky, and then the app will have information on what people are looking at.