Worldwide icon-chevron-right The unmissable celestial events happening in 2020
Full moon
Photograph: Danette C / Shutterstock.com

The unmissable celestial events happening in 2020

Look skywards to spot the full moons, shooting stars and eclipses gracing our skies this year

By Ellie Walker-Arnott
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We know what’s going on on the ground in our cities, but do we know what’s happening in the sky above us? From full moons that light up a dark night’s sky to meteor showers and lunar eclipses, celestial activity is something the world seems increasingly interested in right now.

To help you spot spooting stars, see a ‘blue moon’ or tell your penumbral from your annular eclipses, we’ve pulled together a list of the upcoming astronomical events we’re excited about. In 2020, stargazing is the new going out. 

Celestial calendar 2020

September 22: September equinox

What is it? There are two equinoxes each year, the March equinox and September equinox. They fall when the length of day and night are nearly equal. In the northern hemisphere the September equinox is known as the autumn equinox and heralds the start of the new season, while in the southern hemisphere it’s seen as the beginning of spring. 

Super moon over New York
Super moon over New York
Photograph: Shutterstock

October 1: ‘Harvest’ full micro moon

What is it? The full moon closest to the northern hemisphere’s autumn equinox is known as the ‘harvest moon’. It's usually in September but this year it falls on the first day of October. This full moon is also a micro moon – the opposite of a super moon –which means it happens when the moon is at its furthest point away from the Earth. That makes it smaller and a little less bright. 

Where can you see it? Everywhere. 

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Draconid meteor shower
Draconid meteor shower
Photograph: Shutterstock

October 7: Draconid meteor shower

What is it? An annual meteor shower, so called because the shooting stars appear to originate from near a constellation called Draco the Dragon. The meteors come from debris left by comet Giacobini-Zinner.

Where can you see it? Everywhere, but the shooting stars are easier to spot in the northern hemisphere. This shower peaks on the evening of October 7 but try October 6 and 8 too. 

Orionid meteor shower
Orionid meteor shower
Photograph: Shutterstock

October 21-22: Orionid meteor shower

What is it? An annual meteor shower created by the trail left by Halley’s Comet. The shooting stars appear to originate from the Orion constellation in the sky. 

Where can you see it? Everywhere. If you miss the peak, it’s also worth looking for these shooting stars between October 15 and 29. 

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Super worm moon
Super worm moon
Photograph: Shutterstock

October 31: ‘Blue’ full micro moon

What is it? A full moon is called a ‘blue moon’ when it’s the second full moon in one month. It doesn’t happen very often, hence the phrase ‘once in a blue moon’. This is the second to fall in October and so gets that name. This full moon is also a micro moon – the opposite of a super moon –which means it happens when the moon is at its furthest point away from the Earth. That makes it smaller and a little less bright. 

Where can you see it? Everywhere. 

Leonid meteor shower
Leonid meteor shower
Photograph: Shutterstock

November 17-18: Leonid meteor shower

What is it? A meteor shower known for its fast, bright meteors. Seeming to radiate from the Leo constellation, the shooting stars actually come from the Tempel-Tuttle comet. 

Where can you see it? Everywhere. They are best seen just before dawn, and, though they peak in mid-November, it’s worth looking out for the meteors any time from November 5-29. 

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November 29-30: Penumbral lunar eclipse

What is it? When the outer shadow of Earth falls over the moon, turning it a shade darker.  

Where can you see it? Most of Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia and the Pacifics. 

Full moon
Full moon
Photograph: Shutterstock

November 30: ‘Beaver’ full moon

What is it? November’s full moon is called ‘beaver moon’ because in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is associated with beavers making their winter dams. It’s also been called a ‘frost’ and a ‘mourning’ moon, for the last full moon before the December solstice (winter solstice in the northern hemisphere).

Where can you see it? Everywhere. 

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Geminid meteor shower
Geminid meteor shower
Photograph: Shutterstock

December 14-15: Geminid meteor shower

What is it? You can expect to see over 100 bright shooting stars an hour at the Germinids’ peak. The meteor shower appears to come from the Gemini constellation, hence the name, but they actually originate from 3200 Phaethon, a rock comet.

Where can you see it? Everywhere, though the shooting stars will be clearer in the northern hemisphere. 

December 21: December solstice

What is it? In the northern hemisphere, the December solstice, or the winter solstice, marks the shortest day of the year. In the southern hemisphere, the same day marks midsummer, or the longest day of the year. 

 

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Total solar eclipse
Total solar eclipse
Photograph: Shutterstock

December 14: Total solar eclipse

What is it? Solar eclipses happen when the sun, the moon and the Earth are aligned. An eclipse is when the moon moves in front of the sun, temporarily blocking the sun’s light and leaving the Earth in shadow.

Where can you see it? The total eclipse will be best seen in Chile and Argentina. Other parts of southern South America, Africa and Antarctica will see a partial solar eclipse. 

Orionid Meteor Shower
Orionid Meteor Shower
Photograph: Shutterstock

December 21-22: Ursid meteor shower

What is it? A meteor shower caused by debris from the 8P/Tuttle comet. This is quite a sparse one – you can expect around 10 shooting stars an hour. 

Where can you see it? Northern hemisphere. 

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super worm moon over London and The Shard
super worm moon over London and The Shard
Photograph: Shutterstock

December 30: ‘Cold’ full moon

What is it? Associated, in the northern hemisphere, with the middle of winter, this December full moon is known as the ‘cold’ moon, or the ‘long night’ moon, thanks to its proximity to the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. 

Where can you see it? Everywhere. 

Where to stargaze?

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