A winter solstice, a meteor shower, Jupiter and Saturn go to your night sky

Although it was a terrible year in many ways, 2020 had some impressive astronomical events. Remember Comet NEOWISE? Or when Betelgeuse faded into the night sky? These were just some of the most important heavenly moments as we stumbled around the sun in these 366 days (it was also a leap year).

So now, just 10 short days before the year comes to the conclusion that many people will enjoy, we will be treated to no less than three astronomical appearances on the same day: a great alignment of the largest planets in our solar system, the winter solstice and a meteor shower at the top.

Some call her the Christmas star. But there are really two gas giants – Jupiter and Saturn, the most powerful worlds in our solar system – that seem to line up in the night sky.

According to NASA, the two planets will be at a tenth degree angle, or the thickness of a coin kept at arm’s length.

All you need to enjoy it are your eyes and the cloudless night sky; no fancy telescopes or binoculars are needed – although they will help if you want to choose Saturn’s rings or some of Jupiter’s heavier moons.

Read more about how to enjoy this “great combination” here:

The good news is that the days are getting longer.

Bad: If the sunset reaches you early, it will be a short month.

It already feels like winter in much of the northern hemisphere, especially after last week’s nor’easter. But the winter solstice is something like the official start of the season, as this side of the planet tilts just as far from the sun as it reaches during its annual journey around the star.

The solstice means more time to enjoy the night sky. It is also a wonderful time to reflect on the gradual progress of our planet in one way or another as it spins. Other worlds in our solar system have much more extreme solstices than we experience, and perhaps life as we know it would be impossible without the special inclination of our planet.

The earth goes through numerous meteor showers as it travels around the sun. Some may be truly dizzying. But many are too weak to be seen without specialized equipment.

However, with the Ursids, which peak from Monday night until dawn on Tuesday, you could have a decent opportunity. These are remnants of a comet, 8P / Tuttle, and are not known because they support the most spectacular show in the night sky, compared to other showers, such as the recent Geminids.

But if you enjoy courting Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky, stay awake a little later and try to notice a fireball or two. Robert Lunsford of the International Meteorological Organization, which forecasts annual meteor shower activity, wrote in a post last week that Ursids may be more active in 2020 than in previous years.