Observations: Predictions

What might and will happen in 2020.

Hello Everyday Astronomer,

I’ve never done a predictions post before so this is something new. What I have learned in my thousand years of watching the press is that the best predictions are the outrageous ones and when they come to pass, the predictor gets glory for a few minutes, and when they don’t, nobody cares.

My predictions are not that complicated. I’m aiming for easy glory for me when they come true 😁.

Climate Change

Things will get worse. Those with the power to do something will continue to ignore it. The rest of us will get increasingly frustrated. This prediction will definitely happen.

If you want to know what I am doing to contribute to reducing emissions, sign up for Tiny Actions

Betelgeuse will not go super nova

I would love this to happen. People who know about exploding stars predict that if it explodes it will be visible even in the daytime. Right now it is dimming, and everyone is excited. It is a variable star, so dimming is routine. Stars do their thing on galactic timescales, that is, over millions and billions of years. Expecting one of our favourites to put on a show for us on our puny human timescale is hopeful, but it’s not likely to happen, but I still hope it does.

Starlink will mess up the sky

It’s controversial to not be a fan of Elon Musk. Arrogance is not a characteristic that I admire. He’s rich, he’s made electric cars, and he has an impressive rocket launch program. Good on him. But some of his ideas are bad.

Starlink is on the list of very bad ideas. Making the internet available to poor nations reeks of the colonialism that has ended so badly for so many. It is also one of those “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” thing. 12,000 tiny satellites in the sky will do two things:

  1. Really mess with ground based professional astronomy.

  2. Really mess with amateur astronomy.

  3. Really mess with astrophotography.

  4. Risk a space junk disaster.

My prediction for 2020: more launches of Starlink satellites will generate a lot of anger in the astronomy community, and Elon Musk will tell us all that it isn’t as bad as they think, and we should all build space telescopes instead.

Amazing things will be discovered

In December 2019, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered something with the nickname of “Sugar-puff”. It’s a young planet with the density of cotton candy, or fairy floss. These planets are close to their sun, with a puffed out atmosphere that will likely dissipate with time.

The universe if full of incredible unexpected things. In 2020 smart people will discover new and amazing things.

Astrophotography will continue to astound us

Every time I check my twitter feed someone has shared a new and incredible photo of a far away object. Astrophotography is well and truly in the hands of amateurs now, and people are taking stunning images. Here are a couple of my favourite photographers/sites:

  • Seán Doran. Seán takes data from space missions and processes them into extraordinary images and videos.

  • Astronomy Photo of the Day. APOD chooses a new image everyday to amaze us.

  • Mark Gee from NZ creates incredible time-lapses of the night sky from very dark places.

  • Peter Dunsby shares his images on Instagram.

  • Sara Wagner makes stunning images from her observatory in Spain.

  • Dylan O’Donnell from Byron Bay in Australia shares his knowledge and his images as public domain so I can share one with you here. You may recognise this as the Orion Nebula.

Please remember to credit the creator of any work that you share online. These people work hard and use their talents to create beautiful things for us to enjoy. If it is worth sharing, then they deserve the credit.

Astronomical Events for 2020

These predictions are based on science and will definitely happen. Whether you will be able to see them or not requires a weather prediction and I won’t make any promises there.

Here are 5 of the best events for 2020. Even if you can’t travel to see the events not visible from your place there will be plenty of coverage online.

1. Moon Occults Mars

Some parts of the world saw the Saturn pass behind the Moon last year and this year is the turn of Mars. This is called an occultation and because the Moon is so close to Earth, these events are not visible from everywhere on Earth.

In the early morning of February 18 the crescent moon will be rising and cover the bright planet Mars.

This will be visible from the western part of North America, Central America, Cuba, Haiti and the very northern part of South America. If you are in the eastern part of North America this will happen in daylight so it will not be visible.

If you can see it it will be awesome.

2. Venus in April

Venus is putting on a magnificent show this year. It is visible later than usual in the evening. For much of April it will be in Pleiades. With a good telescope and a wide field eyepiece you will see it’s beautiful crescent and the blue-white stars of Pleiades. This may be worth going to a dark site to see.

As usual, when Venus is in the evening sky, the New Moon and Venus will put on a beautiful show for naked eye viewers in the early months of 2020.

3. Eclipses. Annular in June and Total in December.

An Annular eclipse is when the Moon covers the face of the Sun, but not quite. This happens because the Moon is at the more distant part of its orbit, and not quite the same angular size as the Sun. This results in the part of the Sun still being visible. Along the path of the eclipse you will see a ring around the dark silhouette of the Moon.

This will be visible from parts of Africa, Middle East, Pakistan, northern India, southern China, Taiwan, the Philippine Sea and Pacific Ocean. The best view will be from northern India, even then the eclipse will only last 38 seconds. 

In December there is a total eclipse. This is visible from the lower part of South America and a little bit of southern Africa. The best spot is in remote Argentina where the eclipse will last nearly 2 minutes and 10 seconds. 

4. Mars in October

Mars is going to have an amazing year. It is at opposition on October 13 and it will be big and bright (relatively speaking). It will have a magnitude of -2.6 and will be even brighter than Jupiter. Only the Moon and Venus are brighter than Mars will be in October 2020.

The opportunity to see features on Mars through a good telescope will be the best you can get. The naked-eye view will be something to remember, especially if you watch it over the months before and after and see it become brighter and then dimmer.

5. Jupiter, meet Saturn

Conjunctions are one of the fun things about being an amateur astronomer. They are often naked-eye visible. They occur with objects that move around the sky, either with each other, or with stationary objects such as stars or star clusters.

On December 21 Jupiter and Saturn will be together in the sky, closer to each other in the sky than the width of the Moon, in fact just one fifth of this distance. With a good telescope and eyepiece you will see them both in the same view. They haven’t been this close since 1623.

This will be an opportunity to get some great images. Look out for some spectacular images online.


So there you have it: some of my predictions which may, or may not actually happen, and 5 that definitely will. I don’t mind if you trust science more than you trust me with these things.

I hope you are enjoying Observations. Please let me know what you think. You can reply to this email, though the return address is a bit scary! It will get to me. You can also join The Everyday Astronomers Community for free to discuss your thoughts with others.

Lisa Harvey
Founder and Host of Everyday Astronomers

How to find me.

'Tis the season

For buying a cheap telescope.

Hello Everyday Astronomer,

Welcome to the second edition of Observations. I am really happy with the response to the first issue. Changing things can be risky, but this change has worked out well so far. I’d love your feedback, just reply to the email if you want to share your thoughts with me.

Last year I was at an astronomy event. Actually we were trying to break the record for the number of people observing the sky at one time. We actually smashed the record. The previous record was 7960. Collectively all over Australia over 40,000 people watched the Moon through a telescope for 10 minutes straight.

We could buy a little telescopes for five bucks. They were tiny and pretty terrible, but you could find the Moon and look at it a bit magnified.

At the observatory in southern Sydney there were hundreds of people, some with their own magnificent kit, others like me, with their $5 event telescopes.

One young boy and his grandfather were sitting on a blanket next to us. The boy had his cheap department store telescope with tripod and dicky little mount. He was struggling to set it up. The scope kept slipping out of the mount, and seemed to want to point only to the ground. Tempted as I was to offer my sage advice, he refused help from Grandad so I thought it best to let him solve the problem by himself. I’m not sure that he actually got any observing done.

I didn’t know the kid’s situation, or his experience with his telescope, but I did see that he was getting increasingly frustrated. He badly wanted to observe, to take part in the event. All I could do was hope that his passion for observing survived his fight with his telescope.

And this is the risk. A good experience with astronomy is the best way to get hooked on stargazing and start discovering the universe. Potential passion can be extinguished by a bad experience.

Buying a telescope as a gift

If you are buying someone special their first telescope as a Christmas gift there are some thing to consider to help make the purchase the first step to a great experience.

My first tip goes with everything technical. If it is held together with bolts and screws, has gears, levers, moving mechanical parts or electronics, buy the best you can afford.

I know budgets are tight, and it is easy to overspend on a gift purchases. The problem is that quality of cheap department store telescopes can discourage someone quickly.

Pay attention to the tripod and mount. If it is difficult to setup, use, and maintain a steady view throughout an observing session then it will be frustrating and more quickly abandoned to gather dust. Mounts can be complicated and they are often quickly loosened, or slip in position, even after tightened. Better mounts have a strong hold when tightened, and some traction to help move small distances as you follow an object. You'll often loose, or unstable mounts on very cheap equipment.

A tripod should be adjustable and not easy to wobble. the more solid the better, but that will increase your cost. Try creating stability with a bag of sand or rocks hanging between the legs. It's not a perfect solution but it can stabilise a weak tripod enough for a better experience. 

Remember that for younger humans, they want to see things, and not muck around with equipment. Viewing an object through an eyepiece is a skill and your young giftee may not register what they are seeing, or find it difficult to align with the eyepiece. Help them set up the equipment to their height, the fewer obstacles they have to viewing the more likely they will stick with it.

Don’t mistake magnification for high quality view. At the cheap end of equipment higher magnification is often achieved by poor quality lenses and a long barlow lens. Neither of these will offer a satisfying experience. Even on my high quality eqipment I mostly use the lesser power eyepieces. The high power eye pieces such as the 9.4mm gives me a bumpy, narrow, dim view of objects. My favourite eyepieces is my 26mm. Clarity is much more important than magnification.

One thing that will make a big difference is to offer your own experience to support the gift. Your own relationship with the giftee will guide you on how to do this best, but a telescope without the context of how the night sky works and what there is to see. 

Trying to figure out how equipment works in the dark isn’t going to be a promising start to a life-long hobby. Spend some time helping your giftee to set up the telescope in the light, and encourage them to read the manual.

Don’t mistake magnification for high quality view. At the cheap end of equipment higher magnification is often achieved by poor quality lenses and a long barlow lens. Neither of these will offer a satisfying experience. Even on my high quality eqipment I mostly use the lesser power eyepieces. The high power eye pieces such as the 9.4mm gives me a bumpy, narrow, dim view of objects. My favourite eyepieces is my 26mm. Clarity is much more important than magnification.

One thing that will make a big difference is to offer your own experience to support the gift. Your own relationship with the giftee will guide you on how to do this best, but a telescope without the context of how the night sky works and what there is to see.

Trying to figure out how equipment works in the dark isn’t going to be a promising start to a life-long hobby. Spend some time helping your giftee to set up the telescope in the light, and encourage them to read the manual.

If you have a decent budget, take your giftee to a telescope shop and let them discover the perfect telescope for themselves. Help them do some research, take them to a few events to look through telescopes. This way they can figure out the best telescope for them.

It’s also useful to set expectations. No visual observing will give you astrophotography views. Everything you see will be small. Deep sky objects will be faint and fuzzy, and fainter and fuzzier through low grade equipment. This time of magnificent images shared on Instagram are perhaps setting expectations a bit high. For me it is the experience of seeing these things with my own eyes.

Start with the Moon. This is an easy target. It is easy to find, and provides some great WOW factor through a telescope. it needs fewer adjustments as the sky moves. It also has enough features to hold a new astronomer's interest for a while.

If it’s not the right time for a telescope, or your budget does not reach that far, there are other options such as membership to a local astronomy club or an online course.

Remember though, a telescope is not enough to spark an interest if there is nothing there. Not everyone will become a stargazer.

If I could, I’d buy everyone a telescope and help them discover the universe. It’s a gift of way more than a piece of technology, it’s a doorway, a space ship, a time tunnel.

Watch a launch

I’ve never seen a rocket launch in person. It’s on my bucket list. Thanks to the internet we can watch launches live. While you don’t get the sound and fury, you get a close up view and you can enjoy it with a cup of tea.

Here are some launches for your enjoyment of the holidays.

  • NASA is launching a test of the Starliner on Friday 20th. You can watch online.

  • SpaceX are launching more Starlink satellites scheduled on December 30. They stream launches through their YouTube Channel.

Best Wishes for your Season

Christmas, Hanuka, just another Wednesday, whatever and however you celebrate I wish you and your family the best. I wish you clear skies, calm days, good food and a chance to relax and find the best in the moment.

This is only the second edition of Observations, and I thank you for reading through to the end. I look forward to sharing astronomical observations with you in the New Year.

I’ll be taking a little break over the holiday period. Expect the next edition of Observations in mid-January.

Lisa Harvey
Founder and Host of Everyday Astronomers

How to find me.

This is new.

The first issue of Observations from Everyday Astronomers

Hello Everyday Astronomer,

Welcome to Observations. This is the “Our Wide Sky Astronomy Update” regenerated into something new. I warned you about this in the last update 🙂.

A few times a month you’ll get this in your in-box. It will be an astronomy update, but it will also will be more risky, more controversial, more diverse in topics, and more fun. I will put more of me into it and I hope that will make it more interesting for you.

There will always be some astronomy. Always.

Thanks for being part of this new newsletter. I’m starting off with a dire subject, something literally very close to home for me.

Please stick with me for a few issues. Over the next few issues I’ll be ironing out the bumps. I hope you’ll let me know what you think.

Lisa Harvey,
Founder and Host of Everyday Astronomers.

#climateemergency. It’s personal.

When I was a teenager I won an art prize for a poster I created. It was lots of tall chimneys with billowing smoke and in big block letters it said “Stop Pollution Now!”. I don’t know what became of that poster but it has stuck with me as a memory for a very long time.

Now the fight has higher stakes, and is manifesting once more as air pollution.

Over the past few weeks Eastern Australia has been burning. We always get bushfires. From December to March. With one devastating fire that takes lives and many properties and even towns, every few seasons.

But now it is a lot worse. We have had fires here since October. Already this fire season at least 2.7m hectares (6.7m acres) of land and bush has burned, including national parks and world heritage areas and 720 houses. This is about the size of Haiti and there are nearly 100 countries with area smaller than this. And December has just beginning.

The smoke from the fires burning to the west of Sydney have oppressed us for weeks. During the worst of it I wear a facemask at work to protect my lungs. Yesterday air quality in Sydney reached 11 times hazardous levels.

This is what the Moon looked like on December 5 from by backyard. It has looked the same most nights since. No processing, the colour courtesy of bushfire smoke:

Walking home from work one day last week I was seeing ash and burned leaves fall from the sky. I collected them just from my backyard the next day. I live 70km (43.5miles) from the nearest fireground.

This is a manifestation of climate change. It’s happening year after year. A decade ago this kind of bushfire activity was an anomaly. We now have higher than average temperatures, record breaking temperatures and average temperatures, and a drought that is worse than anyone has seen. This is not normal, and it is devastating to our forests, our wildlife and our communities. And it is real and personal. We feel it, breath it, smell it.

When people are losing their homes and their livelihoods, when fire volunteers are collapsing with exhaustion, it doesn’t seem right to complain that I can’t see the stars due to bushfire smoke. As someone whose house is far from risk, it also doesn’t seem right to stay quiet.

I’m a positive person, but this Climate Emergency is the most anxious I’ve been about things affecting humanity. I was growing up during the cold war with threat of nuclear annihilation, and I had a lot more of my future to worry about. This feels worse.

I do what I can to reduce my carbon emissions and I vote like the future depends on it. My contribution is tiny, but is it something within my control. It is only governments and markets that can make the real structural change needed to keep us safe. I need to do more to try to make my elected officials understand. Perpetual lack of action is disheartening.

I’m not sure that I should have started my new newsletter with doom. Don’t worry, readers. My focus is on astronomy, but because of the terrible air quality in Sydney, this has been front and centre, and in my lungs and my eyes. I can’t be silent about it.

Summer/Winter

It’s solstice time. The days are longest or shortest, depending on where you live. Here our days are long and hot. In the northern hemisphere you are in the middle of winter.

The official solstice is Sunday, 22 December 2019 at 04:19 UTC. This is the moment the path of the Sun meets the latitude of the tropic of Capricorn. At this time at latitude 23.44°south the shadows at noon will be smallest and the day will be the longest day of the year.

It’s interesting to look at daylight hours around the world. Reykjavik in Iceland has 4:41 hours of daylight and Ushuaia at the southern end of South America has 17:20 hours. In Sydney we get 14:24:46 hours of daylight.

How many hours of daylight can you expect at your location? I used Time and Date to get the figures above.

Did you know that the summer solstice is referred to as the Estival Solstice and the winter solstice is the Hibernal Solstice? These terms depend on the hemisphere for context. You can also use the terms northern solstice and southern solstice for clarity.

What’s up in the sky right now?

Venus will be a bright jewel in our western sky until June 2020. I love this season of Venus. It is so easy to pop outside and find the brightest small thing in the sky. Over the coming months Venus will be very busy:

Venus will have several encounters with the New or Waxing crescent Moon. Venus, a slim Moon and Earthshine make a beautiful sight after sunset. Here are some dates:

  • January 28th. Venus will be 4.4° from the New Moon.

  • May 23rd. Venus will be 3.7° from the New Moon

  • June 19th Venus 0.7° from the Moon. This is really close!

On March 24 Venus will be at “Greatest Elongation”. This means it is, from our perspective, as far from the Sun as it gets in the western sky. It will be bright and you’ll see a half phase of Venus if you have a chance to look through a telescope.

Watch Venus through a telescope over the coming months and you will see it change shape as it approaches Greatest Elongation and then beyond.

How to find me.

Observations. Everyday Astronomy.

Discover your universe.

Welcome to Observations by me, Lisa Harvey.

I’ve never been a typical girl.

A microscope, and a chemistry set, and a well read set of encyclopedias were my toys, as well as a sewing machine. I climbed trees, rode bikes and walked along railway tracks.

Back then girls didn’t usually become scientists, or pilots, or pretty much anything I was interested in. I went into technology before there was email, or the WWW and when we used to write letters to each other. And when it was mostly just for men.

I programmed, I taught, I consulted, I managed data centres and worked with room-size mainframes. I made a business, to consulted some more, and built websites and created jobs. I worked with the highest levels of government and created things that helped people change the world.

I studied Geography, but astronomy was always my passion.

And writing.

So now I write about astronomy. Amateur astronomy, not the professional kind.

I do that here, and in the Everyday Astronomers Community.

You’ll find me on Twitter @astroeveryday

I’m also creating beginner astronomy courses, starting with Getting Started with Astronomy.

Observations is about how to observe, what to observe, and some of my thoughts about the sky, space exploration, and life on Earth.

I took that photo in a very remote place on the Nullabor Plain in Western Australia. There are few words to describe the sky I saw there. A sky like this you remember as a feeling, as being breathless as you look up, as your vision drifting out to barely believable depths above.

In Observations you’ll find some geography, maybe some trains, definitely planes, geography, science fiction, and possibly something controversial or crafty. There will always something about the night sky.

Fortnightly, mostly. Sign up now so you don’t miss the first issue.

In the meantime, tell your friends!

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