Every year, in addition to its almost immutable parade of stars, the sky graces us with a few special events that are not to be missed. And 2020 is certainly the year of the planets!

There are the usual celestial sightings—and then there are those that happen once in a blue moon for which we wait impatiently… In 2020, the sky gives us the opportunity to observe in excellent conditions the planet Mars from the Northern Hemisphere—something that will not happen again until 2035! But that’s not all: all year long, planetary conjunction will occur multiple times, with the last and most certainly not least on the evening of December 21st… though we cannot forget the grand family reunion happening in July!

And what’s more? The Sun and shooting stars should give us some great opportunities to have our eye in the sky… And who knows, perhaps a dazzling comet will bestow us with a surprise visit?

Now it’s time to discover the high points of 2020, the year of the planets!

From mid-February to the end of March: the planets’ gorgeous morning ballet

During a month and a half, don’t forget to look up when you’re having your breakfast! A procession of planets will perform a most exquisite choreography over the southwestern horizon.

Image showing the position of the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn on February 18th, 2020 at 7am (Central European Time).
The position of the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn on February 18th, 2020 at 7am (Central European Time).

And what do we find at the forefront? Mars, the Red Planet! Then comes Jupiter, Saturn, and even Mercury for a short moment. The point of departure: the magnificent alignment on February 18th (above), completed by a waning crescent Moon. The two gas giants then catch up to Mars, which brings forth one conjunction right after another: Mars-Jupiter on March 20th and Mars-Saturn on March 30th and 31st!

Throughout the month of July: giant planets and family reunions in sight

In July, two giant planets will be at opposition, which means they’ll be aligned with Earth and the Sun: Jupiter the 14th and Saturn the 20th. These moments of alignment mean that they’re the closest to us and therefore the best time to observe the planets.

July is also the month where you can complete your planet marathon! On July 23rd and its surrounding days, all the planets in the Solar System will be simultaneously available right before the end of the night. Even Pluto, the demoted planet, will be there! Will you rise to the challenge to see them all? We will do whatever we can to help you make this happen!

In August: the faithful Perseid meteor shower

Perseid shower
The Perseid at its maximum in Germany in 2013. Photo: Markus

Every year, it accompanies our summer nights of reverie: the Perseid meteor shower will once again be something to see in early August! And good news for the early-to-bed, for the Moon will be absent just after twilight. It will therefore be perfectly dark early in the night.

In October: Mars is at the top of its game!

General view of the planet Mars
View of Mars from the Rosetta probe. Photo: ESA

On October 6th, 2020, Mars is at close approach to Earth and on October 13th, it is at opposition. The conditions around this date are therefore the best to observe it: the altitude of the Red Planet from the Northern Hemisphere is fantastic for observation and its apparent diameter will attain almost 23 arcseconds, which is great for highlighting its surface details.

And take advantage of it, for such good conditions (elevation over the horizon and apparent diameter) will not happen again before 2035!

Early December: the Geminids shoots arrows

While the Geminid meteor shower is much less known than Perseid, is just as interesting. 2020 is definitely the year for this extremely active shower (with up to 120 meteors per hour), for it will benefit from excellent observation conditions from December 12th to the 14th due to the absence of the Moon in the night sky. The only drawback? Nights are quite a bit nippier than those for observation of the Perseids in August!

December 21st: Saturn’s and Jupiter’s spectacular conjunction

Depiction of Saturn and Jupiter surrounded by their moons as they will be seen through a telescope with magnification of 31x on December 21st, 2020.
Saturn and Jupiter surrounded by their moons as they will be seen through a telescope with magnification of 31x on December 21st, 2020.

This spectacular celestial conjunction with just 6 arcminutes between Saturn and Jupiter on the evening of December 21st will be visible on the southwestern horizon! While a remarkable sight to the naked eye, this conjunction is likely to be simply fantastic to observe with a telescope—for it is a rare occurrence to see these two planets in the same field of view!

…And throughout the year: the likely revival of solar activity

According to some observations made towards the end of 2019, it appears that the Sun has indeed begun its new solar cycle. As a result, it’s now possible to observe its surface sunspots, which were something relatively rare to see since 2018! In 2020, there will still be just a few, though they will continue to increase until they reach their expected maximum in 2025.

Photo showing sunspots, taken by NASA's SDO satellite
Sunspots photographed by NASA’s SDO satellite in 2017. Credit: SDO – NASA

Observing the Sun is easier to do since it occurs in the middle of the day. But don’t throw caution to the wind—it’s important to always fit your telescope with a special filter to avoid ruining your vision. But once you’re fully equipped, it’s often thrilling to follow its activity day by day, or even hour by hour!

The Stelvision team would like to wish you a very happy 2020 !