2020 Highlights & News
2019 has proven to be a great year in terms of astronomical firsts and discoveries. From the first ever photo of a black hole, the Chinese lander being the first ever to successfully land on the far side of the Moon and new unexplained spikes in both Methane and Oxygen from Mars, the year brought with it much excitement and intrigue.
2020 promises to contain more of the same. Here are some of the highlights to look out during the course of the year:
Every year the Earth ploughs through the debris trails of comets and asteroids as it continues its relentless passage around the Sun. Each year, at the same time, this cosmic dust crashes into our atmosphere at breakneck speed, disintegrating in a spectacular fireworks display above our heads.
Showers are named after their ‘Radiant’, the constellation in the sky from which they seem to originate. However, shooting stars can be seen in any area of the sky during the shower. Generally speaking, all showers are best viewed in the early hours of the morning and offer wonderful opportunities for some phenomenal long exposure photography.
In terms of Moon phase and predicted impacts per hour, the best 4 showers to watch out for are shown below.
Due to their differing distances to the Sun and their associated orbits around it, the planets can be found at vastly different distances from Earth at a given time. For example, Jupiter’s distance can vary by as much as 300 million kms!
When a planet is at its closest to Earth, it is said to be in ‘Opposition’.At its furthest, a planet is in ‘Conjunction’.The planet will seem brighter in the sky, and views through telescopes will be at their best. For astro-photography enthusiasts, this is the best time to photograph the planets to maximise surface detail.
2020 sees all the visible exterior planets reach opposition:
Mars: October 13th
Jupiter: July 14th
Saturn: July 20th
Jupiter & Saturn Conjunction
On December 21st, Jupiter and Saturn will appear so close together in the sky that they will look like 1 giant double planet! This will be an incredible view through even amateur telescopes and a highlight of the year for sure! Unfortunately, the conjunction will only be visible for an hour or so after sunset in the west but the days leading up to 21st will potentially still allow both planets to be visible in a telescope’s viewfinder!
Launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover
Assuming all goes according to plan in the final testing stages, NASA plans to launch its 2020 Rover in July of this year. Its primary goals will include searching for evidence of microbial life on the Red Planet, as well as ascertaining the feasibility of altering Mar’s atmosphere for future human visits. It will also carry a small drone that will fly over the Martian crust recording surface detail like never before!
The European Space Agency and China also intend to launch rovers to Mars during the year and the UAE will also launch their first orbiter to measure Martian atmosphere. As our exploration of Mars continues, so does it the possibility of a manned trip in the near future.
Space-Ex and its Satellites…
Last year saw Space-Ex launch over 100 Starlink satellites as it builds a fleet of potentially 10’s of thousands of satellites to facilitate its new ‘broadband megaconstellation’ that will beam internet connectivity from space. With just under 5000 satellites already orbiting Earth as of the end of 2019, this could spell the end of dark skies and astro-photography opportunities as they whizz around the planet leaving ghostly trails on long exposures. Such is the concern, that Space-Ex is trying to develop a non-reflected paint to alleviate this concerning byproduct of their venture…
OSIRIS-Rex to Sample Bennu
Since its arrival in December 2018, NASA’s OSISRIS-Rex spacecraft has been mapping this asteroid and studying its surface emissions. In July of 2020, the craft is expected to touchdown and scoop up some of the dust and rocks on the surface and return it to Earth so that it can be analysed.
Due to the depleting natural resources on Earth, the mining of asteroids is becoming a very real possibility and this research will offer a wonderful incite in to the composition of asteroids as well as the viability of future missions.
There will no doubt be many more breakthroughs and surprises in store for 2020 Celestial Events SA will continue to try and keep you up to date in the highlights as they happen!