Look Up! December is Full of Stunning Astronomical Events Visible to The Naked Eye. 3

Look Up! December is Full of Stunning Astronomical Events Visible to The Naked Eye.

The last month of the year is going to reward us with some stunning astronomical events. December 2020 is not only rich in meteor showers, but it also has a rare planetary alignment that takes place once every 20 years on average. Here are the top astronomical events you must watch in the chilly month of December.

Also download one of these space apps that will help you in observing these astronomical events.

December 6: Puppid-Velid Meteor Shower

The Puppid-Velid meteor shower will be active from December 1 to December 15, peaking on December 6. Every meteor shower has a radiant associated with it. It’s the point in the sky from where all the meteors appear to originate. A shower’s best displays are produced when the radiant is well up in the sky. A meteor shower is generally named after the constellation in which its radiant lies. The radiant of Puppid-Velids lies between the constellations of Vela and Puppis.

Astronomical Events December 2020

At the peak, all meteors will appear to be traveling outward from this point in the sky at a speed of 40 km/sec. The Puppids/Velids are hard to spot in the Northern Hemisphere. You need to be in the southern part of the Northern Hemisphere to see some glimpse of it (Miami or same latitude and longitude), best from midnight to six o’clock. In the Southern Hemisphere, the meteor shower will be observable right after sunset. But best to wait until 9 p.m. You can see up to 10 bright meteors per hour

December 8: Monocerotid Meteor Shower

Active between November 27 and December 17, the Monocerotid meteor shower will be at its peak on December 8. Since this meteor shower is close to Orion, it is normally easy to spot. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Monoceros constellation is to the east of Betelgeuse.

Monocerotid Meteor Shower December 2020
Courtesy: Stellarium Web

The Monocerotids are easy to watch in the Northern Hemisphere. They produce their best displays about a couple of hours after midnight. They are difficult to spot in the Southern Hemisphere. You can expect up to 2 bright meteor fireballs per hour, flying at 42 km/s.

December 13: Lunar Occultation of Venus

Recently, we had three back to back lunar occultations of Mars every month, from August to October. Before 2020 ends, the Moon will now pass in front of Venus, creating an occultation visible from a small part of the world. Since the Moon is closer to us than any other celestial object, its position, as seen from the ground, varies from place to place. As seen from two points on opposite sides of the Earth, the Moon’s position varies by up to two degrees or four times the full moon’s diameter.

The map below shows the visibility of the occultation across the world. For other parts of the globe, the Moon and Venus will appear adjacent to each other in Libra.

Occultation of Venus December 2020
Credits: Dominic Ford, in-the-sky

December 14: Total Solar Eclipse

The last eclipse of 2020 will be a total solar eclipse visible over Chile, Argentina, and parts of Africa. On December 14, the eclipse will start at 13:34 UTC and end at 18:54 UTC, lasting more than five hours. The totality will be seen from a small part of the eclipse’s region. Other parts will experience a partial solar eclipse as shown in the image below:

Total Solar Eclipse December 2020
Map of the Total Solar Eclipse in December 2020 (Courtesy: in-the-sky)

The table below from in-the-sky shows the percentage of the Sun eclipsed at different locations.

CountryPercentage of
Sun eclipsed
time (UTC)
time (UTC)
French Polynesia63%14:1315:39
Falkland Islands66%15:1617:48
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands54%15:5118:04
Saint Helena89%16:3318:46
South Africa73%16:5117:48

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December 13-14: Geminid Meteor Shower

The best meteor shower of the year will be active between Dec. 6 and 19, reaching its peak on December 13-14. The radiant of the Geminids lies in the constellation of Gemini. Annual meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the stream of debris left in the wake of a comet or an asteroid. The parent body associated with the Geminid meteor shower is Asteroid Phaethon. You can expect up to 120 bright meteors per hour flying at a speed of 34 km/s.

The Geminids are particularly noted for their colors compared to the other meteor showers. 65% white, 26% yellow, and the remaining 9% are blue, red, and green. The Geminid meteor shower is one of the three major meteor showers of a year, the others being the Quadrantids and the Perseids.

Residents of the Northern Hemisphere can watch the shower soon after dusk. They remain active till dawn. However, the best displays of the shower are produced a couple of hours after midnight. This year, the shower’s peak coincides with the New Moon. Hence, there’ll be no moonlight to ruin the show. In the Southern Hemisphere (Sydney), the Geminids don’t appear until about 11 p.m. and then on the horizon.

December 17: Close Approach of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn

The Moon will pass close to the pair of gas giants on December 17. By that date, Jupiter and Saturn will be less than a degree apart as they gear up for the great conjunction on December 21. The Moon, in Capricornus, will be 3 days old. The planets will be in Sagittarius, as shown below. Watch the three celestial bodies in the south-west direction soon after sunset.

Look Up! December is Full of Stunning Astronomical Events Visible to The Naked Eye. 6
Looking south-west after sunset (Credits: Stellarium Web)

December 19: December Leonis Minorid Meteor Shower

The December Leonis Minoris takes place within the boundaries of the constellation of Leo Minor between Dec. 5 and Feb. 4. It peaks on Dec. 20 every year. You may see up to 5 meteors per hour flying at a speed of 64 km/s.

December 21: The Winter Solstice

The Sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Capricorn for the first time this year. The December Solstice marks the first day of winters in the North and the first day of summers in the South. December 21 is the shortest day (longest day) in the north (south). From here on, days will start getting longer in the northern hemisphere, equaling the duration of nights on the Spring Equinox day.

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December 21: The Great Conjunction

If you love sky gazing, I can bet you have been waiting for this day for months. The flagship astronomical event of December 2020, the great conjunction will take place on the day of the winter solstice. Interestingly, we had a major astronomical event on the Summer Solstice day, too: An annular solar eclipse.

Great Conjunction
In a telescope, the two planets will appear together along with their moons (Courtesy: Stellarium Web)

Astronomers use the word conjunction to refer to a close approach of two celestial objects seen from the Earth. The term great conjunction is used for Jupiter and Saturn. On December 21, the solar system’s two gas giants will be one-tenth of a degree apart. In other words, the Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn will almost align.

The great conjunction takes place every 19.6 years on average. But the gap between the planets in the night sky varies. On 21 December 2020, the beasts will be closest to each other in nearly 800 years. Find all the details of this event in this article.

December 22: Ursid Meteor Shower

The last meteor shower of 2020 will peak on December 22. The Ursids takes place within the boundaries of the constellation of Ursa Minor between Dec. 17 and Dec. 25 and peaks on Dec. 22 every year. The source of the meteor shower is believed to be Comet 8P/Tuttle. You can see up to 10 bright meteors per hour at a speed of 33 km/s.

December 30: Full Moon

On December 30, the Moon will reach its full phase for the last time in 2020. December is the month when winter begins for most of the Northern Hemisphere, and hence the Full Moon of December is also called the Cold Moon.

Learn Astrophysics at Home For Free

This year, we published a series of 30 articles under the ‘Basics of Astrophysics’ series. These articles cover everything from astrophysics to the concept of telescopes, EM spectrum, classification of stars, the evolution of stars, black holes, nebulae, galaxies, and the CMB radiation. The series also contains articles on becoming an astrophysicist, best books for astrophysics, and some of the unsolved problems in astrophysics. If you are a beginner, having a curiosity to understand how the universe works, this series is for you! Read all the articles below:

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