by Alan Duffy: Get the calendar ready, it’s going to be a big year for the stars…
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 3/4 January thanks to the debris tail from asteroid 2003 EH1. 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 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 missionis undertaking this year.
As it threads underneath the dangerous radiation belts around Jupiter, skimming just 5,000 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.
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 US.
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.