2023 was a busy year in space and astronomy.
Here’s some of our favourite images and happenings over the last 12 months.
The Sun puts on a show
The Sun’s been in the news globally in 2023. First of all, there was a rare hybrid total Solar Eclipse visible in a remote part of Western Australia in April. This was viewed and photographed by thousands of visitors to the Ningaloo region in WA. We talked about this in a previous post that you can find here. There was a widely-visible partial annular Solar Eclipse in the USA in October. This event will be followed up by a Total Solar Eclipse that will be seen on the 8th of April 20 in parts of Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
While eclipses grab the world’s attention, for astronomers 2023 has seen an increase in the number of Sunspots visible on the Sun as it heads into “Solar Maximum” in 2024, a year earlier than we’d previously thought. 2023 has been a great time to view and photograph the Sun and 2024 will be even better!
The Sun imaged through a ZWO Seestar S50 telescope in December 2023 by Steven Olney and posted to the BINTEL Society Facebook group. Full details here
Gravitational Waves spreading across the Universe – the background hum
In June, a team of Astronomers from across the globe, The NANOGrav collaboration, announced they’d observed a faint sign of a background signal or “hum” of Gravitational Waves that’s spread through the Universe. Gravitational Waves are ripples in space and time caused by the acceleration of massive objects. These move away or “propagate” in all directions from their source at the speed of light. They contain information about the event that caused them and transport energy, in a similar way electromagnetic radiation or light does.
Artist’s impression of an array of pulsars being affected by gravitational waves produced by orbiting super massive black holes in a faraway galaxy (Image credit: Aurore Simonnet for the NANOGrav Collaboration)
This “background hum” was discovered by observing small variations in the timing in some of the Universe’s most reliable clocks – fast spinning stars called pulsars. More on this here.
Hubble captures spokes in Saturn’s ring
The second largest planet in the Solar System has long been known to have “spokes” – dark areas that radiate outwards towards the edges of the ring system. These only last some two or three orbits around the fast rotating planet which has meant they’ve only really been properly photographed by spacecraft like NASA’s Cassini probe to Saturn.
In 2023 the Hubble Space Telescope has been able to image Saturn’s spoke from Earth orbit as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) programme which monitors outer Solar System planets for changes.
Saturn imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope on Oct. 22, 2023. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC))
The largest rocket ever built by humans flew twice in 2023 and blows up both times – a spectacular success!
SpaceX launched and flew their Starship twice in 2023. Both flights ended in the destruction of the rocket shortly afterwards. Despite this RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly), the real world engineering data obtained will lead to improvements to the Starship design and increased reliability. Previous SpaceX rockets such as the Falcon 9 also went through lengthy periods of development and have now successfully reached orbit hundreds of time, with nearly 100 flights in 2023 alone.
Image via @SpaceX
SpaceX’s Starship is not the only rocket designed to carry humans beyond Earth orbit. The Saturn V first did that in December 1968 and the NASA Artemis program plans to return astronauts to Lunar orbit towards the end of 2024. However, SpaceX has plans for Starship far beyond the Earth/Moon system, with their eyes on possible human flights to Mars or even destinations in the Solar System. The progress of Starship in coming years will be keenly watched!
JWST Captures some stunners in 2023
The JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) was well into its second year of operations in 2023 and continued to surprise and delight the world with the beauty of the images it produced. It’s a hard task to select the most stunning, but we through this one of the Ring Nebula (M57) was especially wonderful.
Image via: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Barlow, N. Cox, R. Wesson
The Ring Nebula has been previously imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope and a favourite for amateur astronomers as it’s visible in quite small telescopes. You can read more about this image at the ESA (European Space Agency) site here.
Smart Telescopes become even more affordable
We were delighted in 2022 with the emergence of “Smart Telescopes” – easy to use astrophotography systems – like the Vespera, Stellina and Unistellar telescopes. This kicked into high gear for 2023 with the release of the DWARF II from DWARF Labs and the Seestar S50 from ZWO.
Both of these are complete, all-in-one telescopes that include a camera, computerised mount and more, all controlled via an app over Wi-Fi were suddenly available for well under $1000. They were also so compact and could be tucked under you arm! We admit the struggle to keep up with demand during the course of 2023 has been frustrating, but many hundreds of these clever little devices have found new homes with our BINTEL customers. Interestingly they haven’t just gone to newbie astronomers – a large number of purchases were by experienced amateur or even professional astronomers after an easy to use imaging setup.
All major brands of Smart Telescopes- ZWO Seestar S50, Unistellar eQuinox, DWARF II and Vaonis Vespera – on display at BINTEL
Just how easily these new gizmos have made basic astrophotography is amazing. They’re certainly not a replacement for traditional astrophotography systems, rather a way to simple way to obtain great looking astrophotos without too much complexity. We think Smart Telescopes are going to continue to grow in popularity in 2024 and introduce the wonders of night sky to even more people.
The 5,500 Exoplanet Mark was passed
2023 saw the number of confirmed exoplanets – planets orbiting other stars – pass 5,500 (it’s actually now 5,566 as this is being written). This number was reached just a few decades after the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1992. Many of these are rocky, Earth-like planets orbiting the host star in the “Habitable Zone” where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. It’s staggering to think of the multitude of worlds in our Milky Way galaxy. More on this milestone here.
India lands spacecraft near south pole of the Moon
India joined the USA, Russia and China in successfully landing a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface. The Chandrayaan-3 lander touched down in August of 2023 on the unexplored and rugged south pole region of the Moon. While this a hard place to attempt a landing, it’s though there might oxygen and drinking water for future missions in this region.
Illustration of Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon. Image via ISRO
The Chandrayaan-3 lander failed to respond to mission control signals after going into hibernation mode for a long period of darkness during the Lunar night at it’s landing location and it’s now assumed that the probe is longer responding. It did manged to send back important observations prior to this and Chandrayaan-3 has certainly assisted in the planning of future Lunar spacecraft.
2023 – Year of the Swifty – but not in a good way.
Another Swift was in the news in 2023, but sadly, the Swift Parrot is now at a point where it’s critically endangered. Recent surveys have put the number of these beautiful birds have reached a critical level and urgent action is needed to protect them before they head towards extinction. You can read more about the 2023 Bird of the Year at Birdlife Australia.
Swift Parrot by OzFlash Images
If you want to take action, swing by the this page to add your voice to Australia’s nature laws as they undergo their first major rewrite in many years.
At BINTEL in 2023, we saw a large spike in the number of folks getting into bird watching, and this has been across a wide range of age groups too. Encouraging to see more and more folks wanting to spend more time with the wildlife around us all.
“And the winner is Sidy Ney!”
Sydney was announced as the host city for the 76th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) to be held from the 29 September to 3 October 2025.
This is the world’s largest space and related technology events and often referred to the as the “Olympics of space”, when companies and space experts from all parts of the world gather to discuss and learn about the latest developments in the space industry. With the rapid commercialisation of the space, it’s going to be an amazing event to look forward to. More details here.
We know there’s been many events and developments in the space, nature and astronomy world . Contact us with your favourites and we’ll add to them the list!
PS: Next week – what’s on the radar for 2024.