2020 is a good year for stargazing here on Hawaii as the big 3 (Quandrantids, Perseids, Geminids) meteor showers all happen close to the new moon, guaranteeing dark skies.
These are the most important 2020 stargazing dates for Hawaii:
If you are in the mood of planning ahead you should reserve the following dates in your calendar for stargazing:
- January 3+4: Quadrantids meteor shower
- April 21: Lyrids meteor shower
- May 5: Eta Aquariids meteor shower
- May 16-26: Lahaina noon (1/2)
- June 20: Summer solstice
- July 15-25: Lahaina noon (2/2)
- August 12: Perseids meteor shower
- October 20/21: Orionids meteor shower
- November 17: Leonids meteor shower
- December 13: Geminids meteor shower
- December 21: Winter solstice
This stargazing calendar will help you plan your nights to make the best of the biggest celestial events of 2020 To make the most of your time we recommend that you read our Meteor shower guide, which is filled to the brim with viewing tips and background information about shooting stars.
Also, don’t forget to have a look at our guide: stargazing on the Big Island. The Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island hosts some of the best telescopes of the world, and a visit to these telescopes is a must if you are into stargazing!
2020 Stargazing Calendar for Hawaii
Stargazing highlights for Hawaii in 2020 are hands down the December Geminids, closely followed by the January Quadrantids and the August Perseids.
January 3rd + 4th: Quadrantids Meteor Shower #
The Quadrantids are one of the 3 biggest meteor showers of the year, and 2020 is a good year to see its shooting stars!
This meteor shower is expected to peak at January 3rd at around 10:20 PM HST (Hawaiian Standard Time), which means that the night of January 3rd and the morning of the 4th will be the best time to look for meteors. The moon will be in its first quarter and set around 01:30 AM on the morning of the 4th.
Taking everything together the early morning of January 4th is the best night to go stargazing. Try to be out between ~ 2 AM and 5:30 AM for the best (darkest) viewing conditions.
The Quadrantids meteor shower is named after an abandoned constellation named Quadrans Muralis. This constellation was invented in 1795 by the astronomer Joseph Jérôme de Lalande to honor the wall-mounted instrument which he used for measuring star positions (a “Quadrant” is an improved astrolabe, and is used to measure angles up to 90°; “muralis” is Latin for wall). The constellation never really “caught on” and its use was quickly abandoned. However, it now is the most well known out-of-date constellation because it gives its name to the Quadrantids meteor shower.
The Quadrantids are special among meteor showers because this shower has a very ‘sharp’ peak intensity. The shower is most active for only a short amount of time (the meteor rates exceed one-half of their highest value for only about 8 hours). This means that the space debris that causes this shower has been left ‘on location’ pretty recently, within the last ±500 years.
April 21: Lyrids Meteor Shower#
2020 is a good year to watch the Lyrids because of its near coincidence with the new moon on April 22nd. This year peak activity of the meteor shower is expected be just before midnight at April 21st 9 PM HST, making the best time to see shooting stars belonging to the Lyrids between 9 PM and midnight.
Fun Facts about the Lyrids meteor shower
The shooting stars of the Lyrids are small parts of space-debris left behind by the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1). They are (arguably) the first documented meteor shower with reports going back possibly up to 2600 years (687 BC, two years after King Sennacherib of Assyria sacked Babylon).
most years you can see between 10 and 20 shooting stars/hour at peak intensity, but there have been years where a true meteor shower took place, and peak rates of 90/hour were reported. The last time this happened was in 1982, but there is also a very interesting report from a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia on April 23rd, 1803. This newspaper described the shower as follows:
…Shooting stars. This electrical phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it.
From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets…
These outburst are quite rare, but the point we want to make is that you never know what to expect with the Lyrids.
May 5: Eta Aquariids Meteor Shower#
The η-Aquariids meteor shower peaks on May 5th but has a broad peak, and shooting stars belonging to this shower can be observed between April 19th up to May 28th.
2020 is an OK year to catch the η-Aquariids meteor shower as the waxing gibbous Moon (full on May 7th) leaves a short but suitable moonless morning observation window. Moonset on the morning of the 5th for example happens at 04:39, while the sun rises at 06:10. Keeping in mind a ~20 minute twilight buffer the best time to watch on the 5th of May is between 04:59 and 05:50 AM.
Eta Aquariids Trivia
Did you know that the Eta Aquariids have a sister meteor shower? The Eta Aquariids meteor shower happens when earth passes through the space-debris left by Halley’s Comet. Because Halley’s comet and our planet orbit the sun in the same plane, there is another point in space where earth crosses the debris from this comet. When this happens, we see the meteor shower the Orionids (and not the Delta Aquariids as people often think).
Halley’s Comet is the most famous short period comet of our solar system, and returns every 75 or 76 years. The last time it flew by was in 1986, the next time will be in 2061. Right now Halley’s Comet is deep in the outer solar system (beyond Neptune!) but you will still be able to see little particles of it burn up into earths atmosphere twice a year during the Eta Aquariids and the Orionids meteor showers.
Each time it swings by the sun, solar heat vaporizes about 6(!) meters of ice and rock from the nucleus. The debris particles, about the size of sand grains, spread along the comet’s orbit, filling it with tiny meteoroids.
May 16-26: Lahaina noon#
Hawai’i is the only tropical state in the USA. This comes with certain perks such as tropical weather and the two times each year when you don’t cast any shadow!
Lahaina noon is a recent (1990) term introduced to give a name to the time of day on which the sun is directly overhead. The term “Lā haina” means “cruel sun” in the Hawaiian language. Lahaina noon is known on the rest of the planet as being at the ‘sub-solar point’, i.e. that point where the sun is standing directly above you and thus you don’t cast any shadow. This is elegantly explained in the following video by vsause (skip to 3:17):
But don’t worry, the sun isn’t that cruel on Hawaii! Unless you are on the hot lava plains without enough water to drink, that is. Better yet, Lahaina moon is a very cool photo opportunity and a time to stop and think about how exactly our earth revolves around the sun. Because of this, Lahaina noon occurs on slightly different times for different places.
On the Hawaiian islands the 20202 Lahaina noon will happen at the following times for these cities:
- Honolulu (O‘ahu): 12:28 PM (May 26th) and 12:37 PM (July 15th)
- Kahului (Maui): 12:22 PM (May 23 + 24) and 2:32 PM (July 17+18th)
- Hilo: 12:16 PM (May 17+18th) and 12:26 PM (July 23+24th)
- Kona: 12:20 PM (May 17th) and 12:30 PM (July 24th)
- Volcano: 12:17 PM (May 16th) and 12:27 PM (July 25th)
- Waimea: 12:19 PM (May 19th) and 12:29 PM (July 22nd)
June 20th: Summer Solstice and Midsummer Night#
Happy Summer Solstice, today is the first day of astronomical summer! The 2020 summer solstice takes place in Hawaii at June 20th at 11:44 am HST.
The Hawaiian term for summer solstice is “Ka māuikiʻikiʻi o ke kauwela” [source].
Midsummer night is the shortest night of the year, and you could try to make your midsummer night a special one. What better excuse is there for a celebration? Many cultures have festivities linked to the summer solstice, so what about organizing your own midsummer night party or pau hana’s?
July 15-25: Lahaina noon (2/2) #
Lahaina noon is the moment when the sun is standing directly above you. This means that the only shadow you cast is directly below you, and that tall vertical objects. such as for example phone poles and beer bottles, won’t cast a shadow at all!
You can read a more elaborate explanation about the Lahaina noon at the may listing of this event(1/2).
On the Hawaiian islands, the 2020 Lahaina noon will happen at the following times for these cities:
- Honolulu, (O‘ahu): 12:37 PM (July 15th)
- Kahului (Maui): 12:32 PM (July 17+18th)
- Hilo (Big Island): 12:26 PM (July 23+24th)
- Kona (Big Island): 12:30 PM (July 24th)
- Volcano (Big Island): 12:27 PM (July 25th)
- Waimea (Big Island): 12:29 PM (July 22nd)
August 12: Perseids Meteor Shower#
2020 is a good year to watch the Perseids. The best time to look for the Perseids is between 10:00 PM August 11th and a quarter past midnight on August the 12th.
The Perseids have a broad peak which on Hawaii will fall between ~10 pm August 11th and 11 am on August 12th, with most expected meteor activity between 3 AM and 6 AM the early morning of August 12th. You should also be able to see shooting stars belonging to the Perseids meteor shower a few nights before and after this night but with lower intensity.
The last quarter Moon on August 11 illuminates the hours most favorable to seeing shooting stars, those after local midnight, so the best viewing dates are from August 12th onward. You can see the moonrise times for Hilo in the following table, make sure to plan your stargazing before the moon rises.
|Date||Moonrise||Moon illumination (%)|
|August 12||00:16 am||40|
|August 13||00:58 am||31|
|August 14||01:45 am||21|
|August 15||02:37 am||13|
|August 16||03:34 am||7|
If you live on another Hawaiian island you can also use the previous table to see what are the best times for stargazing the nights between August 12th and August 16th. To convert these times to your location on Hawaii you should add some minutes depending on how far west you are. For example, 4 minutes for Kona, 7 minutes for Kahului on Maui, and 13 minutes for Honolulu on O’ahu.
The Perseids happen each year as earth passes by a trail of dust, gas and ice left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. This comet was first documented in 1862, and returns to the sun every 130 years (the next time it will be visible from the earth will be in 2122). The earliest recorded sighting of Perseids dates back to 36 AD, when mention was made of “more than 100 meteors” in Chinese annals (source).
The Perseids are also referred to as the “tears of St. Lawrence”, because the festival of this saint is very close (August 10th) to the peak of the Perseids. The story of Laurentius (Lawrence), a Christian deacon, is the following: Laurentius was martyred by the Romans in 258 AD on an iron outdoor stove. It was in the midst of this torture that Laurentius cried out: (source)
I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other.
In honor of this history, one very appropriate midnight-snack to take out is the typically Hawaiian “Huli-Huli” (= turn-turn in Hawaiian) Chicken.
In Polynesia, Perseus was not commonly recognized as a separate constellation; the only people that named it were the people of the Society Islands, who called it Faa-iti, meaning “Little Valley” (more).
October 20/21: Orionids Meteor Shower #
2020 is a good year to look for shooting stars belonging to the Orionids meteor shower.
October’s waxing crescent moon sets at 10:43 PM, well before local midnight for the peak night of October 20/21. As always the best time to see shooting stars is in the early hours before dawn so the later you can wait, the better.
How to best see shooting stars from the Orionids meteor shower
Shooting stars from the Orionids meteor shower are easy to find: just find the Orion constellation, look in its general direction, and relax your gaze.
To find the Orion constellation you should look for the three bright stars in a line that make up the belt of Orion. These stars rise over the Eastern horizon just after sunset and will keep rising towards the east-south-east until they are almost overhead at dawn [how-to guide].
You can read more viewing tips in our meteor shower guide.
The Orionids are the brighter sibling of the Eta Aquarids meteor shower (early May). Both showers are caused by debris left by Halley’s comet.
Halley’s Comet is the most famous short period comet of our solar system, and returns every 75 or 76 years. The last time it flew by was in 1986, the next time will be in 2061. Right now Halley’s Comet is deep in the outer solar system (beyond Neptune!) but you will still be able to see little particles of it burn up into earths atmosphere twice a year during the Eta Aquarids and the Orionids meteor showers.
Each time it swings by the sun, solar heat vaporizes about 6(!) meters of ice and rock from the comet. The debris particles, about the size of sand grains, spread along the comet’s orbit, filling it with tiny meteoroids.
November 17: Leonids Meteor Shower#
With an expected hourly rate of ~15 during the maximum the Leonids are not a very active meteor shower. The peak of this shower seen from Hawaii will be November 17th just after midnight (01:00 AM).
The new moon occurs only a few days before at November 14th so the moonlight won’t interfere with you being able to see (some) shooting stars. Happy stargazing!
December 13: Geminids Meteor Shower#
2020 is a GREAT year to watch this meteor shower.
The Geminids are one of the three yearly “big” meteor showers with peak rates (again, under perfect viewing conditions) of over 100 / hour. The Geminids will peak just after noon on December 13th, and the new moon on December 14th means that the nights will be dark. This makes the early morning *and* the night of December 13th the best time to look for Geminids.
December 21: Winter solstice#
This year the winter solstice will take place on December 21st just after midnight (at 12:02 am HST) Hawaiian time.
The winter solstice represents the shortest day and thus the longest night on the Northern hemisphere. A solstice is an event that occurs twice each year as the Sun reaches its highest or lowest point relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. You can find a good explanation of exactly what a solstice is here.
The Hawaiian term for winter solstice is “Ka māuikiʻikiʻi o ka hoʻoilo” [source].