Backyard Stargazer – A new year for old stars

By Frances Parnell

2020 is going to be a spectacular year for planet watching!

Francis Parnell, the Backyard Stargazer of Darlington

Jupiter and Saturn are close together in May; in December they’ll have the closest conjunction they’ve had in centuries! Also, Venus passes through the Pleiades, an open star cluster in Taurus, the Bull.

That will be a great event to observe in binoculars or a small telescope! We’ll even have two full Moons in October, the second being a Blue Moon.

Looking southwest on the 1st, dazzling Venus is about 25 degrees above the horizon at sunset and sets 2 hours 45 minutes later. By month’s end, it’s 34 degrees high and sets 3 hours 30 minutes later.

On the 5th at 2:48 a.m., Earth is at Perihelion, its closest point to the Sun all year, at 91,398,199 miles. We’re 3 percent closer to the Sun than at Aphelion in July at 94.5 million miles.

At dusk on the 7th, the waxing gibbous Moon is between the horns of Taurus, the Bull. Aldebaran, the bright red eye of the bull, is about 4 degrees to the right.

At dawn on the 22nd, a very thin lunar crescent rises in the southeast with Jupiter trailing it about 6 degrees. Catch the pair before the Sun drowns them out.

Looking west on the 27th, Venus is 6 degrees north of the slim waxing crescent Moon. The next night the Moon is approximately the same distance to the upper left of Venus.

FAST FACT: In the future, if spacecraft have their own atomic clocks onboard, it will cut in half the time it takes to determine its position. Based on lab tests, the Deep Space Atomic Clock is so accurate it loses only 1 second in 10 million years. That’s 50 times more accurate than the current GPS satellite’s clocks.

The stars belong to everyone, so let’s “Keep looking up!”

Author: Stephan Drew

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