On August 21st, 2017 we witnessed a phenomenal sight with the total eclipse of the sun. Dominating the media, experts shared best vantage points and points of safety for all who were interested in taking in the experience, captivating the nation.
In fact, this wasn’t the sole event in outer space capturing the attention of the American public. Meteor showers including the recent Geminid Meteors on December 13th attracted views, cameras in hand, determined to capture the event.
We are captivated by the events that occur outside of our own planet, awestruck by the very depth of outer space. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is approximately 13.6 billion years old, a number that is hard to comprehend in and of itself, dwarfing any real-life experience that we may hold. Containing anywhere from 100 – 400 billion stars, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy in our efforts to observe, record and study all that exists around us.
While many of the events that 2018 will likely bring will either be unpredictable, or have yet to be discovered, some events are known to us today. Mark these on your calendar, you don’t want to miss them!
8 Amazing Space Related Events in 2018:
#1 – Meteor Showers
On any given night you may look into the sky and witness a shooting star. This phenomenon occurs when a piece of debris moves through space, leaving a streak of light in their wake. When a whole stream of debris left by a passing comet is moving through space at the same time, that is what we refer to as a meteor shower. An interesting fact to watch for? During a meteor shower, the meteors will all appear to come from one central point, known as the radiant. There will be 10 major meteor showers throughout 2018, although not all will be visible due to strong moonlight during various times of the year. The best 4 for viewing will be: Lyrid on April 22nd, Perseid on August 13th, Southern Taurid on November 5th and Geminid on December 14th.
#2 – Continued Moon Exploration
The quest to better understanding the moon may have taken a giant leap in 1969 with man’s first steps on the moon, however, we are far but done without attempts to gather information. It is unclear whether 2018 will include any human missions with NASA declaring that they are shifting their focus back to moon exploration, but we do know that there are a number of different plans in place to explore the moon’s vast surface. China has been busy making plans with the Chang’e 4’s mission bringing a robotic lander and rover to the moon’s surface, and Chang’e 5 will be the country’s first sample return mission, bringing back lunar soil and rock samples. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has announced that their Chandrayaan-2 mission will include their first ever lunar rover, planned for March 2018. Even Google has its hands in moon exploration with the Lunar XPrize, a competition designed to challenge entrepreneurs, innovators and engineers to discover low-cost methods of space exploration by placing a robotic rover on the moon’s surface, offering a grand prize of $20 million.
#3 – High-Energy Fireworks Expected from the Near Encounter Between a Pulsar and a Nearby Star
NASA has been monitoring the movement of a pulsar with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and are reporting that we can expect quite the show in early 2018. The phenomenon occurs when a pulsar travels too close to a star, creating astrophysical fireworks as it passes through the disk of gas and dust surrounding the star. Ben Stappers, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester explains, “This forewarning of the energetic fireworks expected at closest approach in three years’ time allows us to prepare to study the system across the entire electromagnetic spectrum with the largest telescopes.”
#4 – View the Point of No Return Within a Black Hole
While scientists actually captured this phenomenon over 5 nights in April 2017, the worldwide telescope network captured an incredible amount of data – 1,024 hard drives worth to be exact! Processing centers for the Event Horizon Telescope are located at MIT Haystack and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, were they have been pouring over this information for months in an effort to determine whether or not they were able to capture the Event Horizon of the Sagittarius A*, a black hole at the centre of our galaxy. This is the ‘point of no return’ where the pull of the black hole is so incredibly strong that not even light can escape, a point that has never before been photographed. Experts estimate that the incredible images will be made available in early 2018.
#5 – A Mission is Being sent to Explore Mercury
Planetary probes allow us to gain valuable information about the various planets located in our solar system, providing us with information, photos, and sometimes, even samples of soil from the planet that they visit. A number of different planets have been targeted at this time, slowly extending our understanding of what exists outside of the confines of our own planet.
In 2018 the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have teamed up for BepiColombo, Europe’s first mission to Mercury. The mission will include two separate spacecraft – the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO). Don’t get too excited to see the results of this mission yet, however, as it isn’t expected to reach Mercury until late 2025.
#6 – New Efforts to Understand Mars Using Geophysical Instruments
There desire to better understand the planet Mars will continue in 2018 with a new NASA Discovery Program mission called InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport). Unlike a basic planetary probe, this mission will use a number of different geophysical tools designed to better understand the processes that shaped the planet, and its geological activity today.
On their website, NASA explains that it will use sophisticated tools in order to “measure the planet’s ‘vital signs’: Its ‘pulse’ (seismology), ‘temperature’ (heat flow probe), and ‘reflexes (precision tracking).” This will provide information necessary to understand the formation of the planet as well as its structure and composition today.
#7 – Missions to Research 2 Different Asteroids
Asteroids are small rocky objects left over from the formation of the planets, orbiting the sun. While the individual asteroids themselves may not seem all that exciting in the big picture of space exploration, they have the potential to provide scientists with a wealth of data about the history of the planets and our sun as they were all formed at the same time.
There are currently 2 missions globally that are specifically aiming to reach 2 different asteroids, providing us with a wealth of information and returning to Earth with samples for further study. This includes the Hayabusa2 from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, set to arrive at the asteroid Ryugu in June – July 2018, and NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex including 13 participating scientists with should arrive at the asteroid Bennu in August 2018.
#8 – Lunar and Solar Eclipses
While 2018 won’t bring us anything near as spectacular as the 2017 solar eclipse, there are a number different eclipses that we can check out. A lunar eclipse occurs when the shadow from the Earth blocks the sun’s light that we usually witness reflecting off the moon, creating the impression that the moon is no longer ‘giving off light.’ A solar eclipse, on the other hand, occurs when the moon moves between the sun and the earth, blocking the sun’s rays from our view.
The following lunar and solar eclipses will be viewable in 2018, including the exact date and the locations from which you can see them:
January 31st: Total lunar eclipse – visible from Australia, North America, eastern Asia and the Pacific Ocean
February 15th: Partial solar eclipse – visible from part of Antarctica, Chile and Argentina
July 13th: Partial solar eclipse – visible from Antarctica and the southernmost tip of Australia
July27/28th: Total lunar eclipse – visible from most of Europe, Africa, western and central Asia, and Western Australia
August 11th: Partial solar eclipse – visible from northeast Canada, Greenland, northern Europe and northeast Asia