Google doodle celebrates lunar new year as astronaut photographs Beijing from space

Google celebrated the start of the 2020 lunar new year with an adorable Google Doodle. (Image credit: Google Doodle)

The Year of the Rat has officially begun and Google is celebrating the start of the lunar new year with an adorable doodle of a cartoon rodent. A NASA astronaut even snapped a stunning photo of Beijing from space. 

Today (Jan. 25) marks the start of a new lunar year, which relies on the phases of the moon on its monthly trip around the Earth and not the Gregorian calendar that starts on Jan. 1. The new moon of January 2020 occurred on Friday (Jan. 24).

"Today’s animated Doodle commemorates one of the most significant cultural holidays for Asian communities, the observance of the Lunar New Year," Google Doodle designers said in a statement. "It depicts the story of the grand race that earned the rat its premier spot in the calendar."

Moon myths and facts for the lunar new year

China's capital city of Beijing glitters at night in this photo by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir taken on Jan. 24, 2020, the night before the start of the lunar new year, as seen from the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA/Jessica Meir via via Twitter.)

As if to celebrate the lunar new year in space, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir snapped a picture of China's capital city Beijing as it looked at night from the International Space Station on Friday (Jan. 24).

"If a spider had a penchant for right angles, its web might look like this," Meir wrote on Twitter while sharing the photo. "So much going on in this glowing view of the capital city of China! Goodnight Beijing!"

There are 12 animals on the lunar new year zodiac: a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This space reporter was born in 1977, the Year of the Snake, while my daughter (born in 2008) arrived in the Year of the Rat.

The Year of the Rat and animals of the lunar new year zodiac star in Google's Lunar New Year 2020 Google Doodle. (Image credit: Google Doodles)

"According to ancient legend, an emperor challenged different animals to race through the land to determine their order in the zodiac," Google Doodle makers said. "Due to his size, the rat knew it could not cross a river on his own, so he hitched a ride on the ox's back. But, just before reaching the opposite shore over a river, the rat then cleverly leapt off — winning first place in the race and thus the zodiac calendar!"

That's a smart rat.

Related: January new moon 2020: See Venus, Jupiter and more

The lunar new year is a major holiday for many cultures and nations, notably China and other Asian nations. 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.