As 2018 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at some of the best space stories of the year and tell you about some really cool upcoming events for 2019.
Earlier this year, we watched as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launched in February sending Elon Musk’s Tesla (piloted by Starman) out into the solar system and we sat in awe as the two booster rockets made it safely back to the launch pad, landing side by side.
Back in August, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe which is currently collecting data from its highly elliptical orbit that brings it within 4 million miles of the sun. Around this same time, OsirisRex reached Bennu where it is collecting samples of the asteroid for return to Earth for detailed study. And just this month, OsirisRex confirmed the existence of water beneath the surface of Bennu.
But that’s not the only place water was found: ice was also detected on the north and south poles of the moon, as well as in the atmosphere of exoplanet HR 8799C.
Sadly, there were also some losses: both the Kepler Telescope, which made many awesome exoplanet discoveries, and the Dawn spacecraft that orbited dwarf planets Vesta and Ceres ran out of fuel, putting an end to their very successful missions. And in October, the Soyuz spacecraft was forced to abort its mission during launch due to booster separation failure.
But despite these setbacks, NASA was still able to keep us on the edge of our seats with the successful landing of InSight on the surface of Mars. This would mark its first landing on the Red Planet’s surface in over six years. And as a shining example of their many decades of space exploration, NASA also announced that the Voyager 2 probe has entered interstellar space.
But perhaps one of the most surprising of all is the announcement by NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine, that they will be working with commercial companies for the purposes of sending humans back to the moon…to stay.
For 2019, you can expect the year to start off with a bang as New Horizons, the spacecraft that brought us those beautifully detailed pictures of Pluto, zips past Ultima Thule, a tiny little rocky body in the Kuiper Belt that’s about the size of New York City. You can watch flyby live on the mission website or on YouTube.
And on January 20th, go outside and look up, because starting at 7:36pm MST sky watchers in both North and South America will be in for a treat as the Wolf Moon turns blood red. You can expect to be outside for a while because totality doesn’t happen until about 10:12pm MST.
So, bundle up and bring your lawn chairs, because you never know what you’ll see if you just keep your eyes to the skies.