Looking up: 2020 was a great year for astronomy

2020 brought us supermoons, meteors and a Christmas Star


SAN ANTONIOThis was a year unlike any other. Find more stories wrapping up 2020 here.

We all know 2020 had its drawbacks but some pretty cool things happened this year, too.

Astronomical phenomena offered the ultimate in social-distancing events and was a good reminder to look up for some perspective during dark times.

Here are seven of 2020′s bright spots (see what we did there?):

Four supermoons in a row

A supermoon isn’t that uncommon, it basically means the moon looks larger than it typically does because the full moon occurs when the moon is at the closest point to earth in its orbit. But it is uncommon to have four supermoons in a row.

In February, we saw a Super Snow Moon, named by northeastern Native American tribes because of February’s heavy snow. In March, we saw a Super Worm Moon, named for the earthworms and grubs that emerge after the winter season. April’s supermoon was said to be the biggest and brightest of the year. And in May, we saw the supermoon known as the Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon, Milk Moon or Vesak Festival Moon, according to NASA.

This is how much bigger and brighter the moon looks when it's a super moon

Lunar eclipse on the 4th of July

There was more than fireworks lighting up the sky on this year’s Fourth of July. We also had a full moon. It was the first full moon of the summer, known as the Buck Moon. There was also a partial penumbral lunar eclipse, which means while the moon was nearly opposite the Sun, its northern edge passed through the shadow of the Earth.

Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, oh my!

August was a great month for stargazing, or in this case, planet peeping. Jupiter and Saturn were bright spots in the sky in August with Mars becoming very visible later in the month. In mid-October, The Red Planet was brighter than it has been in two years when Mars and Earth were the closest together in their orbits.

The planets Saturn, center-left, and Jupiter, center-right, are shown between a wind turbine and Milky Way just after midnight, Monday, July 27, 2020, near Vantage, Wash. Star-gazers who are out searching for the Comet Neowise before it fades from view can direct their gaze to the skies opposite the comet for good views of the two planets. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Perseid meteor shower in August

Skies were clear in San Antonio during the mid-August peak of the annual Perseid meteor showers. Though the comet last passed by Earth in 1992, and won’t again until 2126, each year Earth passes through the dust and debris (rich in fireballs) it leaves behind.

Blue moon on Halloween

We’ve all heard the saying, “once in a blue moon.” We use it to signify something that doesn’t happen all that often, and we definitely experienced that in 2020. We saw an actual blue moon --- which is the second full moon in a single month -- on Halloween. It made for an extra special holiday, especially because the phenomenon only occurs seven times every 19 years, according to NASA. The next blue moon is not expected until August of 2021.

A blue moon — the second full moon in the same month — rises on Halloween, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, as seen from Graham, Wash. Saturday marked the first time since 1944 that a blue moon has been visible in all time zones on Halloween. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Geminids in a moonless sky

The Geminids meteor shower is one of the most reliable meteor showers each year and 2020 will be a great year to see them because the event peaks during a nearly new moon. That means skies will be darker with no moonlight to interfere. The Geminids meteor shower will begin Dec. 4 and last through Dec. 17 as Earth works its way through a trail of debris that was left behind by asteroid 3200 Phaethon, or what NASA said could actually be a “burnt-out comet.”

Christmas Star

From Earth’s viewpoint, Jupiter and Saturn are getting very close to one another and will look like a double planet when they appear to nearly collide on Dec. 21 — the date of the winter solstice — forming a rare phenomenon known as a “Christmas star.”

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About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.