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When to Watch the Sky in Hawai‘i in 2020

Our list of meteor showers, supermoons and other astronomical highlights to watch from your own backyard.


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april 2020 pink super moon

A glimpse of the Pink Super Moon, taken the night before on April 6, 2020.
Photo: David Croxford

 

Here’s a fun fact: Space is definitely more than 6 feet away. In days of isolation, looking at the sky can make us feel part of a bigger community. Plus, there’s only so much streaming you can watch when you’re staying home.

 

The Bishop Museum lists astronomical highlights for the year in Hawai‘i. Here are the nights to go outside and look up, plus a few days when you might actually want to look down.

 

April 7: The final supermoon of the year

If you missed the first supermoon in March, this is your last opportunity in 2020 to see the moon at its biggest and brightest. The term refers to the moment when the moon is closest to Earth on its elliptical path around our planet, also known as a perigee. It occurs once a month, but this year only twice while the moon is full.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The difference between the moon’s farthest and nearest points is about 26,000 miles. There are also two super new moons this year, in October and November. But you can’t see a new moon—since the sun is only shining on the side of the moon we can’t see—so don’t worry about it.

 

April 21–22: Peak of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

It’s not the most spectacular shower of the year, but we’ll take what we can get. Stay up late Tuesday night, then head outside just after midnight or wake up before 5:45 a.m. Wednesday for the best view of the shower named after the constellation Lyra, the harp. If you miss it, the shower is active April 16 through 25.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The Lyrid meteors are the debris of Comet C/1861 G Thatcher, which completes an orbit of the sun every 415.5 years.

 

May 4–5: Peak of the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

It will likely be challenging to see this shower with a nearly full moon illuminating the sky. Still, if you’re lucky you’ll see a few meteors on sometime this week.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The Eta is one of two showers created by debris from Halley’s Comet.

 

May 26: Lahaina Noon in Honolulu

No need to practice social distancing with your shadow this Tuesday. The sun will be directly overhead at 12:29 p.m. so it should disappear. The same phenomenon will repeat in other parts of Oʻahu at different times and days: 12:28 p.m. on May 27 in Kāneʻohe and 12:30 p.m. on May 28 in Haleʻiwa. Go to bishopmuseum.org and click on Lahaina Noon for the full list of dates and times across the state. 

 

June 20: June Solstice

The official first day of summer is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In Honolulu, we’ll experience 13 hours, 25 minutes and 52 seconds of daylight.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The official solstice happens at 11:43 a.m., the moment the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer.

 

July 13: Jupiter at Opposition

When a planet is in opposition it is in a straight line with the sun and Earth. Why does this matter? That is the night the planet looks the brightest as the maximum amount of sunlight bounces off of it and reflects to Earth. Grab binoculars because you might be able to spot the Galilean moons, the four largest of Jupiter’s 79 known moons.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: Jupiter has the biggest moon in the solar system, Ganymede.

 

July 15: Lahaina Noon in Honolulu

This is the final opportunity to miss your shadow this year. In Honolulu and Kāneʻohe, head outside at 12:38 p.m. on July 15. In Haleʻiwa, see it (or don’t?) one day earlier at 12:38 p.m. on July 14. Go to bishopmuseum.org and click on Lahaina Noon for the full list of dates and times across the state. 

 

July 20: Saturn at Opposition

A week after Jupiter shines it is Saturn’s turn. The planet known for its rings will rise at sunset, be overhead all night and set at dawn.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: Saturn isn’t the only planet with rings, but the second-largest planet in our solar system has the most spectacular and complicated ones. 

 

Aug. 11–12: Peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid Meteor Shower from NASA

The 2016 perseid meteor shower in west virginia .
photo: courtesy of nasa/bill ingalls

 

The moon will provide too much light for best viewing, but one of the most active showers of the year could still be quite a show. The Perseid shower has as many as 100 meteors an hour, known for leaving long trails across the sky. You will have to stay up late. The Perseids will only rise above the horizon after midnight the night of Aug. 11.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The Perseid meteors are debris from Comet 109P/Swift Tuttle which last passed near Earth in 1992.

 

Sept. 22: September Equinox

The official first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere has equal day and night hours.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The equinox is the moment the sun crosses the equator from north to south.

 

Oct. 7– 8: Peak of the Draconid Meteor Shower

If staying up past midnight is not your thing, this is your meteor shower. In Hawai‘i, the constellation Draco sets around that time so best viewing of its namesake showers is after sunset until midnight. Don’t expect Perseid-like shows, but you may be able to spot a few falling stars.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The Draconid usually only has about five meteors per hour. But in 1933 and 1946, when the Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner was at its closest point to the sun, its debris gave viewers thousands every hour.

 

Oct. 20–21: Peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower

If the Draconids let you down, wait a few weeks. The moon will set around 9:52 p.m so visibility should be excellent for this second shower created by debris from Halley’s Comet.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: According to earthsky.org, the meteors in the Orionid are rather faint but they are also extremely fast, plummeting about 41 miles per second.

 

Oct. 31: Blue Moon

Yes, Halloween night will be the only blue moon of the year. That’s the term for the second full moon in the same month.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: Bishop Museum says this will be a micro full moon, a term that describes a full moon at its farthest point from Earth, also known as apogee.

 

Nov. 16–17: Peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower

The moon will get out of the way so you can watch for these meteors after midnight until dawn. The Leonids have impressive showers every 33 years, including what the Bishop Museum calls “the greatest shower over Hawai‘i in recent times” in 2001.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: The Leonids are the debris from Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, a small comet (a mere 2.24 miles across) named after the two men who discovered it: Ernst Tempel in 1865 and Horace Tuttle in 1866. The “P” in the name indicates it is a periodic comet, which completes its orbit around the sun in fewer than 200 years.

 

Dec. 13–14: Peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower

Lucky we live Hawaiʻi because our temperate weather means we can still step outside for this winter shower. On this evening, the new moon phase will mean a moonless night, providing a dark backdrop for the bright and colorful meteors.

 

Dinner table or Facetime chat trivia: Unlike most meteor showers, the Geminids are not a result of comet debris. It is debris from asteroid 3200 Phaethon.

 

Dec. 21: December Solstice

Welcome winter with the shortest day of the year. We’ll have just 10 hours, 50 minutes and 14 seconds of daylight.

 

 

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