This Month Will Bring 2020’s Biggest Meteor Shower, a Solar Eclipse, and the Best ‘Kissing Planets’ in 794 Years
It might be cold, but it will still be incredible! This winter you will have the opportunity to see a December meteor shower, a solar eclipse, and “kissing planets”. Here’s when and how to see all of them.
December Meteor Shower
The first up of these is the brilliant December meteor shower known as the Gemenids. From the evening of Sunday, December 13 to the early morning of Monday, December 14, the Earth passes through the leftover debris and dust from a passing asteroid. This will cause up to 150 shooting stars per hour. (1)
Not only are the Geminids slower and therefore easier to see, but they come in a variety of colors. (2) These include (2):
- Red Green
Thanks to the time of year, you don’t even have to stay up late to see it. As soon as the sun has set fully and the sky is dark, you will be able to see this beautiful December meteor shower. (1)
That being said, the peak of the shower is at 2 am (1), so if you do want to see it at its fullest you’ll have to wait it out – or go to bed and set an alarm to wake up in time.
The reason why this year’s meteor shower will be so visible is because of the lack of moonlight. The new moon falls on December 14, so leading up to it will only be a waning crescent moon. (1)
To have the best viewing experience, you need to be in a dark sky. If you live in the city, you’ll want to head far out into the countryside to minimize light pollution.
Give yourself about an hour to view the shower: 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt, as well as ample time to see the stars. Meteor showers usually come in spurts in between lulls, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see anything right away.
The Year’s Best Solar Eclipse
If you live in southern Chile and Argentina, then this is an especially great couple of days for you. The best solar eclipse of the year will take place on Monday, December 14. The eclipse will last for two minutes and nine seconds. (2)
The next solar eclipse won’t take place for almost an entire year, on Saturday, December 4, 2021. To see this eclipse you will have to take a trip to Antarctica. (2)
The Best Kissing Planets of the Millennium
2020 may not have been the best year on record, but its winter solstice will be something to see. On Monday, December 21 at the same time as the winter solstice (8:30 am in the northern hemisphere) Jupiter and Saturn will shine bright and close together, almost as if the two planets are kissing. (3)
Jupiter and Saturn pass each other in the sky once every 20 years, however, this year they will be particularly close. The last time they were this close together was in the year 1226. The two planets won’t cross each other again until 2040, but they won’t be nearly as close until 2080. (3)
This is called “the great conjunction” because it is the meeting of the two largest planets in our solar system. (3)
Between then and now, you will be able to see other planetary crossings, such as (3):
- Mars and Uranus in 2021
- Jupiter and Mercury in 2021
The year 2020 has been one where taking time to appreciate the small, subtle parts of life, like a beautiful sunset or a sky full of stars, has been much more important for our happiness. Take this last month of the year to appreciate what Mother Nature has to offer, and perhaps life will bring other joys in 2021.