Top 5 Astronomical Events of Summer 2020
Today, on September 22, the Earth has passed an equinox, and it’s now officially autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. On this occasion, we’d like to remember five astronomical events of the northern summer that impressed us the most.
You can also watch our video about these events.
Arguably, this summer’s main astronomical event was the grand and unexpected arrival of the comet NEOWISE. It seemed the whole world was breathlessly following the comet getting closer and closer to the Earth since its discovery in March 2020. Not only seasoned astronomy lovers but also ordinary people took photos of the comet’s shining tail and shared them on social media. If you knew where to look (or used the stargazing app Star Walk 2), you could even spot NEOWISE with the naked eye, which is quite rare for such space objects.
On July 23, NEOWISE reached its closest point to the Earth and started moving away from us. It won’t be back for nearly 7,000 years, so if you managed to see it, give yourself a thumbs up!
The Perseid meteor shower is an annual event, but it doesn’t mean it’s not breathtaking every time. The Perseids are probably the most well-known meteor shower due to their high level of activity – at their peak they can produce more than 60 meteors per hour. The meteors are created by a stream of debris left from the comet Swift-Tuttle. When the Earth passes through this stream, the particles ejected by the comet burn up in our atmosphere producing bright streaks of light in the sky. This year, the Perseids provided a spectacular show to those who were away from city lights and were willing to wait a little for the meteors to show up. If you missed the Perseids this year, don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to see them in 2021!
July 2020 was definitely the month of Mars: multiple countries almost simultaneously sent their missions to the Red Planet. One of the most exciting events was the launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover. The rover’s objectives include assessing the planet’s past habitability and collecting samples from Mars’ surface. Perseverance is accompanied by a helicopter drone called Ingenuity, which is planned to be the first of many flying devices on Mars. The Mars 2020 mission is also the first to provide the rover with microphones, so we’re looking forward to finally hearing the sounds of Mars!
The dwarf planet Ceres has been an object of close observation since the Dawn space probe was sent to its orbit in 2015. This August, scientists finally got proof that there’s water on Ceres! They discovered that salt deposits on the dwarf planet’s surface were left by liquid that came from an underground ocean. This fact means that Ceres could have been habitable, and maybe life exists there right now. For more information, you can watch our video about Ceres.
In July 2020, observers from Earth could see the two gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, shine brighter than usual. That happened because both planets reached opposition – alignment with the Earth and the Sun in an approximately straight line. Around opposition, a planet passes its closest point to the Earth and appears at its brightest in the night sky. If you had Star Walk 2 at hand, you could easily find Jupiter and Saturn glowing in the sky above you. With good binoculars, you could see Jupiter’s Galilean moons, and a backyard telescope could show you Saturn’s beautiful rings! If you missed this spectacular astronomical event, you’ll get your chance next year.
This was our review of the most memorable events of summer 2020. What event did you personally enjoy the most? Feel free to share your opinion on social media. We wish you clear skies and happy stargazing this northern autumn!