Venus is now a brilliant “evening star.” From early January through mid-May, our neighboring planet’s apparent size increases and its phase shrinks from gibbous to crescent, as its distance from Earth decreases from 113 to 31 million miles. In late May, Venus will disappear, and on June 3 it will pass just north of the Sun at a distance of only 27 million miles from us. But Venus will rapidly reappear as a “morning star” by late June and will remain in the morning sky until early 2021. But, before Venus departs our evenings, a special treat is in store on April 3, 2020. Venus will appear right next to the Pleiades or “7 Sisters” star cluster. This will be a dazzling sight, especially with binoculars!
Both Saturn and Jupiter will shine throughout summer nights in 2020. Saturn’s spectacular rings are still tilted at a high angle to our line of sight, affording wonderful views through telescopes!
Did you see Mars when it was so brilliant back in 2018? Well, on October 13, 2020, Mars will again be fairly close to Earth, only 41 million miles away, and almost as bright as in 2018. Better yet, Mars will be farther north during its 2020 close approach than it was in 2018. Consequently, telescopic views of Mars from the Western Slope may be excellent this coming fall.
In 2020, favorable Moon phases will create dark skies during peak times for autumn’s best meteor showers, the Orionids on October 20 and 21, the Leonids on November 16 and 17, and the Geminids on December 13 and 14th.
If you travel to southern Chile or Argentina for December 14, 2020, you’ll miss the Geminid meteor shower in the north. But, you can see a total solar eclipse!
Year 2020 may be saving the best for last. On December 21, at about 5:20 p.m., Jupiter and Saturn will appear separated by only 1/5 of the apparent diameter of the Moon in the southwestern sky. So, both planets will be visible through telescopes in the same field of view, even at moderate magnifications!
Western Slope Skies is produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Art Trevena.
Web links for Astronomy Highlights in 2020: