This year has started off with perhaps a little more promise than the last, not only did the world not end but a new Mayan calendar has started, mysterious planet Nibiru did not crash into the Earth and nor did we get wiped out with any comets/ aliens/ or stellar winds from a supernova explosion so we are free to get on with things as normal that is until the next doomsday date…
Anyhow, while we wait for our ill fate perhaps bouncing around the internet as we speak 2013 has many exciting events and space anniversaries happening this year.
8,9,10 January: BBC Stargazing Live is back for a third year, fingers crossed for clear skies.
26 Jan: South Korea’s third launch attempt planned. This would attempt to launch the Science and Technology Satellite 2C into orbit. South Korea’s first two attempts failed.
1 February: The second Space Shuttle disaster, Columbia broke up during re-entry after a 17 day mission in 2003. The fault occurred during launch when the left wing was damaged causing the orbiter to overheat on re-entry. All seven crew members, Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Blair, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon and Kalpana Chawla, tragically lost their lives. The crew were only 16 minutes from landing. This encouraged the decision to retire the Shuttle after completion of the International Space Station.
12 February: Progress 50 to be launched to bring water, fuel, and supplies to the ISS.
1 March: Planned launch of 2nd Space X commercial spacecraft to resupplythe Space Station after successful first attempt last year.
8-12 March- Comet c/2011 PANSTARRS, could be at its brightest in the night sky with a magnitude of -0.5. This comet was discovered in June 2011 with the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii. It should be visible with the naked eye perhaps as bright as Mercury or Mars in the night sky. Only time will tell.
28 March: Launch of Soyuz TMA-08M carrying crew members of Expedition 35/36. Chris Hadfield will be first Canadian in charge of the Space Station.
5 April: Providing the first test flight is successful the Cygnus space craft will attempt to rendezvous and berth with the ISS. This craft was developed by Orbital Sciences cooperation alongside NASA to act as resupply vehicle after shuttle retired in 2011.
25 April: Partial Lunar Eclipse visible over Europe and Africa. This eclipse will be visible at moonrise in Armagh.
27 April: Russian Progress M-17M due to undock from the ISS after supplying the space station with new supplies.
28 April: Best viewing time of Saturn, in opposition so visible all night.
29 April: NASA’s IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) satellite due to be launched to study the Sun and learn more about atmospheres of stars.
May: This year the Sun is expected to reach it Solar Maximum, the greatest number of sunspots in its 11 year cycle. Solar eruptions can create beautiful Auroras on Earth. The Earth’s magnetic field protects the Earth from any harmful radiation. Some times however, powerful X-class solar flares can disrupt satellite and radio signals here on Earth. Before anyone starts to worry about the end of the world just yet, this Solar Maximum is below average, the cycle occurs every 11 years so we have lived through a few solar cycles already and precautionary methods of shutting down satellites and having back-up systems for a potential solar storm are in place.
10 May : Annular solar eclipse visible from Northern Australia.
14 May 1973: Launch of first US space station, Skylab. It was launched by an unmanned Saturn V rocket and spent six years orbiting the Earth.
28 May: Venus and Jupiter at conjunction visible after sunset. Mercury will also be close to the pair.
28 May: Expedition 36/37 crew launched onboard Soyuz heading for the International Space Station.
June: China’s space mission Shenzous 10 is scheduled for launch this month. This spacecraft will dock with Tiangong 1.
16 June 1963: Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space flying onboard Vostok 6. During her 71 hour space flight she orbited the Earth 48 times and conducted experiments on how space travel affected the female body. It was 19 years before another female left the Earth.
18 June: This year also marks 30 years since the first American woman went into space. Sally Ride travelled onboard Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-7 in 1983 for 6 days. She returned to space again onboard Challenger in 1984.
23 June: Super Moon visible, the Moon will be 221 822 miles from Earth.
24 July:Russian Progress launch scheduled.
6 August:Curiosity landed on Mars one year ago today.
13 August: Peak of Perseids meteor shower, up to 60 meteors an hour can be observed.
27 August: Neptune at opposition, closest point to Earth.
25 September: Launch of expedition 37/38 to ISS.
29 September: ESA satellite Gaia planned to be launched this month aiming to complete a ‘census’ of a billion stars.
30 September-:3rd Space X mission due to resupply the International Space Station.
3 October: Uranus at Opposition.
15 October: Third planned launch of Space X commercial space flight to the International Space Station to be launched from Cape Canaveral.
18 October: Penumbral Lunar eclipse greatest at 23.50 UT, visible from most of the world except Australia.
3 November: Hybrid solar eclipse visible in central Africa and across the Atlantic.
November: India’s planned unmanned mission to Mars unveiled at last year’s 65 year anniversary of independence from Britain speech by Prime Minister Singh. If successful, India would be they first country in Asia to reach Mars.
25 November: Expedition 38/39 to head to the ISS.
28 November: Perhaps one of the most talked about astronomy events of 2013, the prospect of witnessing the ‘Comet of the Century’; potentially spotting a comet so bright it could be visible in the daytime. One this date the comet will be less than 2million km from the Sun and could have a magnitude of -16, which is brighter than a full moon. This comet is called c/2012 S1 or ISON, as it was discovered by the International Scientific Optical Network in Russia. If all the hype turns out to be correct this comet could be visible until at least the end of the year and set to be even more spectacular than Hale-Bopp in 1997. However, in reality this comet may disintegrate when passing the Sun. Back in 1973 Comet Kohoutek was also billed to be the ‘Comet of the Century’ but only reached a magnitude of -3. It was still visible to the naked eye but wasn’t as bright as all had hoped. Kohoutek partially broke up when passing the Sun. ISON will be closer to the Sun than Kohoutek so only time will tell if it will follow a similar fate or if it really will live up expectations.
2 December- 20 years from the first mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts onboard Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-61 mission spent 5 days fixing the Hubble’s blurry vision helping Hubble deliver some stunning images and make some new discoveries.
11 December: The European Robotic Arm will be delivered to the International Space Station onboard a Russian Proton rocket.
December: If Comet ISON survives its approach around the Sun, then this month promises to deliver some spectacular comet viewing in the Northern Hemisphere.
So many exciting events happening in 2013, many other countries are expanding into the realms of space, commercial space flight is thriving, we’ll hopefully have some beautiful objects to look for in the night sky and many historic achievements to be remembered. Happy 2013!
(Article by Martina Redpath, Education Support Officer)