2024 is looking like a busy year on the launch front!
- 2024 kicks off with the launch on January 8 of the NASA Peregrine Mission 1 (TO2-AB) which will head to the Moon to investigate Lunar geology, magnetic field and the abundance of hydrogen in the surface rocks. It’s not on the first return to the Lunar surface by NASA since the Apollo program, but also the first launched by a commercial space company.
The Peregrine lander being prepared. (Image via NASA)
- China is planning to launch its Chang’e-6 mission to the Moon in later part of 2024. This is a Lunar sample return mission with the aim of return sample from the far side of the Moon – something we haven’t been able to study before.
- October 2024 sees the launch of the Europa Clipper mission. The is expected to arrive at the giant planet Jupiter in 2030 and study its icy moon Europa. It’s widely expected that a vast salt water ocean lies under Europa’s planet wide crust of ice. This ocean contains more water than all the oceans on Earth combined and is one of the prime sites in the Solar System to search for life.
- The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is putting the final touches to it Martian Moon eXploration, or MMX, planned for launch around September 2024. This will explore the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos. We’re unsure whether these two small moon were formed with their host planet Mars, or are captured asteroids from elsewhere in the Solar System
- VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) is a Lunar Rover, planned for delivery to the Moon sometime late in 2024. It’s designed to investigate the presence of water ice in the south polar regions of the Moon that are permanently in darkness
Illustration of VIPER prospecting for water ice on the surface of the Moon
- ESA’s Hera mission. Back in 2022, NASA’s DART probe impacted the asteroid Dimorphos as part of the development of an Earth planetary defence system to guard about possible major impacts from space. You can read our article about it here. Now DART has completed its mission, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Hera probe due for launch in October 2024 will examine in detail the first test of asteroid deflection as well as performing the first survey of a binary asteroid system.
- Artemis II – taking humans back to the Moon. Probably the most anticipated launch of 2024 will be the Artemis II mission planned for late this year. The Artemis I mission in 2022 took astronauts into low Earth orbit and Artemis II will take humans beyond the Earth’s orbit for the first time since the Apollo 17 in December 1972. Artemis II won’t land on the Moon or even perform a Lunar orbital insert manoeuvre, rather it will simply loop around Moon on free trajectory and return to Earth. (Those with a keen interest in space history will realise this is a similar path that the nearly ill-fated Apollo 13 mission took.) Artemis III is the NASA mission to land humans on the Moon. While was originally planned for 2025, it’s looking like it might take place in 2027.
Total Solar Eclipse 2024
Another major astronomy story in 2024 will be the Total Eclipse of the Sun on the 8th of April 2024.
While not visible here in Australia, it will be a BIG news as the path of the Eclipse crosses over continental North America. In the USA, it will pass over the heads of more than 30 million people.
Path of the recent Annular and upcoming Total Solar Eclipses in North America
We’ll be talking about this major event as it gets closer. If you re having trouble buying Solar filters and equipment at the moment – this is the reason why! Of course this rare event is simply a dress rehearsal for the Total Solar Eclipse which will roll directly over BINTEL in July 2028 🙂 Full detail here.
On the mega telescope front, we’re still a couple of years from “first light” of the ones under construction we mentioned in a previous blog post. The closest to completion is probably Vera C. Rubin Observatory, a massive, ultra wide field 8.4m class telescope being built in Chile. It will be completed in a 2024 with full scale testing to start in January 2025. While there are other 8m and larger telescopes already in operation, the Vera C. Rubin instrument will be able to scan the entire night sky every week in detail that hasn’t been achieved before.
The Vera C. Rubin Observatory under construction in Chile
Part of the reason for imaging all of the sky in such detail is to look for transient astronomical events including GRB (gamma-ray bursts) novae, supernovae, comets and possibly even interstellar objects travelling through the Solar System such as ones found by conventional means in recent years.
On the amateur astronomy side, we’re expecting new developments to smart telescopes after some exciting product releases in 2023. We’d say new imaging cameras and mounts systems are also highly possible. Whatever is released, we’ll be chatting about it for sure!
Planets put on a show – again
Saturn will be at its best in 2024 around the 8th of September, with excellent viewing from around late August to early October. The rings of Saturn will also continue to appear even more edge on as viewed from Earth as the planet approaches its own equinox in 2025.
Saturn taken by Andy Casely and posted to the BINTEL Society Facebook group.
Jupiter will be at its best for 2024 on the 8th of December. Like Saturn, it will be fantastic viewing and an an ideal for imaging for some weeks before and also after this date.
Jupiter taken by Andy Casely and posted to the BINTEL Society Facebook group.
Mars fans will have to wait until January 2025 to see the red planet at its best.
A slim chance, but hey, who knows….
There’s more than a few astronomers who are eagerly awaiting the discovery of biosignatures on exoplanets – indicators in a planet’s atmosphere of biological processes happening on the surface planet or perhaps even taking place in the atmosphere itself. Major searches are underway and the JWST especially can possibly observe and analyse what’s in the atmospheres of planets around other stars. There’s even been some such as UK astronomer and presenter of The Sky at Night, Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Dr Becky Smethurst from Oxford University and famous astronaut Tim Peake who have all stated in the last few days that they feel 2024 will be the year that we announce a discovery along these lines.
It would be major event to state the obvious. We’re certainly not going to exoplanet biosignatures on our “likely to happen in ’24” list, but will be keeping one eye on the news…
5th January 2024