Moon missions, meteors, a solar eclipse and more: Reasons to keep your eyes on the skies in 2024 

This yr, outer area goes to be a busy place.

We have the launch of the Europa Clipper, which can orbit one in every of Jupiter’s enigmatic moons and examine whether or not it might harbour circumstances appropriate for all times; we might cheer on the primary Canadian to orbit the moon; and we’re getting a complete photo voltaic eclipse that will likely be seen throughout japanese Canada.

Listed below are just a few thrilling occasions to sit up for in 2024.

Meteor showers

As all the time, the yr begins off with the annual Quadrantid meteor bathe, which is fairly spectacular, albeit short-lived.

At its peak, and below best circumstances, the bathe can produce upward of 100 or extra meteors an hour in a dark-sky website. 

Although the bathe runs from Dec. 27 to Jan. 10, the height happens on the evening of Jan. 3. 

It solely lasts 12 hours — and it is anticipated to have some celestial competitors, based on Peter Brown, Canada Analysis Chair in meteor astronomy and a professor at Western College in London, Ont.

“The Quadrantids have a peak which is beneficial for North America [around 4 a.m. ET], however the final quarter moon will intervene,” Brown mentioned in an electronic mail. “However, it’s such a robust and sharp bathe that it’s value trying out in 2024, however with modest expectations given the dangerous lunar circumstances.”

An added bonus is that the Quadrantids have a tendency to supply brilliant fireballs, growing the possibilities of seeing one thing spectacular.

The following alternative to see a equally spectacular meteor bathe will not come till August, when the Perseids arrive.

This bathe is commonly described as the perfect of the yr, and with good cause. It is the summer season, the evening skies are usually clear and the climate is hotter, making for a cushty evening of viewing below the celebrities. 

Streaks of light are seen against a starry sky.
This composite picture from 2021 reveals a number of Perseid meteors streaking in opposition to the evening sky, together with some fireflies, on the precise, from japanese Ontario. (Malcolm Park)

“The Perseids have higher lunar circumstances, and this yr there are a number of previous trails which can be encountered … so the evening of Aug 11-12 is likely to be notably attention-grabbing to observe this yr,” Brown mentioned. ” Nevertheless, the charges will not be tremendous excessive — possibly just a few tens of per cent above regular ranges if these filaments are encountered in that point.”

This tends to be a reliable bathe, succesful in best circumstances of manufacturing 100 meteors an hour at its peak, which falls on the evening of Aug. 11. And the nice information about this yr’s bathe is that there will likely be no moon to intervene with capturing a few of the fainter meteors. 

Lastly, there may be the Geminid meteor bathe

This occasion can produce near 150 meteors an hour. Whereas the bathe runs from Dec. 4-17, the height happens on the evening of Dec. 13.

Whereas this bathe is as or extra reliable than the Perseids, the draw back is that winter nights may be chilly and cloudy. Nevertheless, the meteors that streak throughout the sky may be very brilliant, generally forsaking lengthy trains. 

However wait, there’s extra … probably.

“Past these three, the opposite bathe to observe [that] could present uncommon exercise subsequent yr is the Eta Aquariids,” Brown mentioned. This spring bathe will likely be greatest seen early within the month of Might.

“Although usually not straightforward to see from Canada, the brand new moon on Might 8 and the expectation of upper charges and brilliant meteors for just a few nights across the most, would make it value checking issues out within the early morning hours of Might 4-6,” he mentioned.

Photo voltaic eclipse

That is the story of the yr on the subject of astronomical occasions. 

On April 8, a complete photo voltaic eclipse will stretch throughout the Pacific Ocean into Mexico, then into the US starting in Texas, earlier than persevering with into japanese Canada.

“A complete eclipse of the solar is probably the most awe-inspiring and elegant astronomical occasion seen to the bare eye,” mentioned Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astronomer and the company’s lead eclipse skilled. “It’s one thing everybody ought to see at the least as soon as of their life.”

In Ontario, Toronto and Ottawa will solely attain 99.9 and 99.8 per cent of totality, respectively. Nevertheless, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Kingston will expertise full totality. 

Espenak additionally famous that the primary place to expertise totality will likely be at Level Pelee Nationwide Park, the southernmost level of mainland Canada.

Sherbrooke, Que., Fredericton, and Summerside, P.E.I, will likely be just a few of different cities that have full totality.

“The whole photo voltaic eclipse of April 8, 2024, is the final alternative for Canadians to 1 till Aug. 23, 2044 — 20 years from now,” Espenak added.

Totality will likely be fairly the sight. Not solely will viewers have the ability to see the solar’s corona, however Jupiter and Venus will all of the sudden seem within the darkened sky. 

And, as an added bonus, there’ll probably be a comet — 12p/Pons-Brooks — within the sky close to Jupiter.

Astronomical organizations and universities positioned within the eclipse path will probably set up occasions which can be open to the general public. It is also a good suggestion to get your fingers on verified, secure eclipse glasses, which may be discovered at science and astronomy shops or from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Missions to moons

It is all about moons in 2024. 

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Company (JAXA) plans to ship a mission to the 2 moons of Mars — Phobos and Deimos. 

There has by no means been a profitable mission to those small moons, that are believed to be captured asteroids. 

JAXA’s mission, the Martian Moons eXploration, will examine these moons to find out whether or not they have been certainly asteroids, or fragments that got here collectively after one thing impacted Mars, as our moon is believed to have fashioned.

It should additionally accumulate a pattern from Phobos and return it to Earth by 2029.

A white and brown crescent with stripes is seen against the backdrop of space.
NASA plans on sending a spacecraft to Europa, one in every of Jupiter’s many moons. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute/Reuters)

There’s additionally an thrilling mission deliberate to Europa, one of many largest of Jupiter’s 95 recognized moons.

Europa is of explicit curiosity to astrobiologists. There may be proof that beneath its icy crust lies an unlimited salty, liquid ocean with the potential to harbour life. 

NASA’s Europa Clipper is about to blast off in October 2024 and can arrive within the Jovian system in 2030. As soon as there, it’s going to orbit Europa 50 instances, looking for indicators that it has the important thing elements to assist life — water, important chemical constructing blocks and power.

A brownish, cratered moon — Phobos — is seen against the black backdrop of space.
Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, was photographed in 2008 by a high-resolution imaging digicam onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/College of Arizona)

China is anticipated to launch its Chang’e 6 sample-return to the moon someday in 2024.

This will likely be its second sample-return mission following the success of Chang’e 5 in 2020. This time, the mission goals to gather samples from the far aspect of the moon. 

The mission is anticipated to final 53 days.

The opposite massive story of the yr is the launch of Artemis II to the moon.

This mission is a follow-up to the primary launch of NASA’s new House Launch System rocket with its Orion capsule, Artemis I. That uncrewed, 25.5–day mission orbited the moon in a check of its techniques. 

However Artemis II can have 4 astronauts on board, together with Canada’s Jeremy Hansen.

Hansen will likely be a mission specialist working alongside three NASA astronauts — commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover and mission specialist Christina Koch. This would be the farthest any Canadian astronaut has travelled in area.

WATCH | Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen appears forward to his moon mission:

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen appears forward to his moon mission

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen sits down with CBC’s Nicole Mortillaro to speak about being chosen for the Artemis II mission, what this implies for Canada and what he is most wanting ahead to experiencing through the mission.

The 4 will conduct a 10-day flight check that can orbit the moon.

The mission is scheduled to launch in November, although it might be pushed into 2025.

Starship and a return to asteroids

If you happen to’ve been keeping track of area missions, you will bear in mind NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Check (DART) in 2021. On this mission, a spacecraft slammed right into a small asteroid known as Dimorphos, which is a part of a binary asteroid (two asteroids) that included a much bigger one named Didymos. 

A silver and black rocket is seen sitting on a launch pad near the ocean.
SpaceX’s 120-metre tall Starship sits at its launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, in April 2023, earlier than its first built-in check flight. (SpaceX)

Why slam one thing into an asteroid? It was to see if a spacecraft is ready to nudge an asteroid on a collision course with Earth out of its orbit. And it was successful. 

As a part of a follow-up, the European House Company will launch its Hera mission to the pair of asteroids in October, the place it will carry out a post-impact survey of Dimorphos. It should arrive in 2026.

And eventually, you’ll be able to rely on extra SpaceX flights of its large Starship. The 120-metre tall spaceship is a key a part of  founder Elon Musk’s purpose of taking people to Mars.

However extra importantly, it is a part of NASA’s Artemis III mission, which can see astronauts as soon as once more stepping foot on the moon.


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