8 Space Reasons To Look Up In 2017

Image credit: NASA/Hinode/XRT

Guest Author Alan Duffy, Swinburne University of Technology

It’s been a rough 2016 on Earth so I wanted to share (just some of) my reasons why I think we should celebrate New Years as 2017 is looking incredibly exciting. Everything from meteor showers and eclipses to epic space missions and more, 2017 will be worth looking up for and forward too.

1. Quadrantids Meteor Shower

Kick off the New Year with a meteor shower on the night of 3rd / 4th January thanks to the debris tail from asteroid 2003 EH1. the Earth will plunge through dust and tiny pieces of rubble that then burn up in our atmosphere as shooting stars. These will appear to originate from the North, in the constellation of the Big Dipper / Plough meaning this is best enjoyed by Northern Hemisphere observers. The Moon is only partially illuminated meaning it won’t outshine many of the expected 100 or more shooting stars every hour.

2. Juno explores Jupiter

Exploring one of the Solar System’s most dangerous places is ambitious enough but to do so 37 times seems insane, yet that’s exactly what NASA’s Juno mission is undertaking this year. It entered orbit around Jupiter on the 4th July 2016 and at the close of the year had already started to reveal what lies beneath the clouds that make up the Gas Giant. As it threads underneath the dangerous radiation belts around Jupiter, skimming just 5000 km from the cloud tops, we will have unrivalled closeups of the chemical composition and structure of the planet. Thanks to Junocam those closeups will be as beautiful to view as they are valuable for science.

The Juno mission deserves all the Hollywood theatrics of this NASA trailer as it enters a perilous space that even James Bond would b.

3. SpaceX test launch

In 2016 SpaceX made history by landing their Falcon 9 first stage rocket after it had launched satellites into space. This came to an end when a rocket exploded on the launchpad, a worrying failure for a system that was nearing human crewed flight tests to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Along with other proponents of human exploration and settlement of space I will be nervously watching the resumption of launches in early 2017 to see if the ‘anomaly’ has been fixed. If SpaceX can reuse its rockets rather than discard them in the same was as aircraft are refuel upon reaching a destination airports it could usher in a new era of cheaper space travel.

The good times in 2016 when SpaceX landed on a barge in the ocean seemingly effortlessly. The resumption of test launches in 2017 will be eagerly awaited with crossed-fingers the world over.

4. Great American Eclipse

This Solar Eclipse will be on August 21st and totality (the complete eclipsing of the Sun by the Moon) will be visible in a narrow band stretching across the continental United States of America. In anticipation of the event, NASA has created a super accurate Moon model for the eclipse path. The craggy, cratered surface of the Moon results in stray sun-rays reaching Earth so that the the shadow region (as seen from space) is not the normally modelled oval. Check NASA for the best observing times in your location.

The new and improved Moon model gives an eclipse path that has a more jagged shadow than previous, smoother looking outlines.

Story concludes on next page with the exciting TESS mission…

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