Meteor shower and rare planetary alignment close out 2020 

Great Conjunction (Photo courtesy Gary Boyle) 

Stargazers in Ontario will get an early Christmas gift this month.

Two major celestial events will be taking place over the next two weeks, one of which only happens every four centuries.

On the night of December 13 into the 14, the Geminid meteor shower will light up the night sky. Backyard Astronomer Gary Boyle described it as one of the best meteor showers of the year.

“It does produce about 120 meteors per hour,” he explained. “That’s about one every 30 seconds and they will produce some fireballs, red fireballs, that can light up the ground. The moon will not [interfere] that night so it should be a fantastic night.”

Boyle said the meteors will be able to be seen throughout the night but will peak around 2 a.m. According to Boyle, the Geminid meteor shower will be able to be seen in all directions of the sky with the naked eye.

“It’s best to get away from your city or town, get away from light. Try and get a wide-open area without any trees or obstruction,” he suggested.

There will also be a once in a lifetime display in the sky on December 21 known as the Grand Conjunction, when Jupiter and Saturn will appear close together in the sky.

Both Jupiter, which is 887 million kilometres away and Saturn, 1.6 billion kilometres away, can currently be seen in the low sky. However, on the evening of December 21, the two planets will get so close together that they will appear to form a “double planet.”

According to Boyle, a typical Jupiter-Saturn conjunction appears every 20 years. However, he said the extremely close proximity this time around is something that only plays out every 397 years.

“It will be so close that the two [planets] will be separated by 1/5 the width of the full moon,” Boyle explained. “Those with telescopes will see both planets in the same field of view along with the seven moons of Saturn and the four moons of Jupiter.”

The Grand Conjunction takes place just after sunset on December 21 and can be seen in the southwestern sky. Although you won’t be able to see as much detail or the planet’s moons, Boyle said Jupiter and Saturn will be able to be seen with the naked eye.

The same night as the Grand Conjunction, the Ursid meteor shower will also take place. Boyle said it will produce around 10 meteors per hour.

“That’s not grand, not compared to the Geminid. But there’s an indication that with this shower there could be two small periods of outbursts, around 10 p.m. and around 1 a.m,” he said. “For about an hour we believe that we’re going to get clumps of debris with many meteors per minute.”