By Dirk Lorenzen
2020 will be the year of Mars. The red planet will approach Earth in early October to within 62 million kilometers. Four space agencies are set to take advantage of this close encounter and send spacecraft to Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch its ExoMars rover on a Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome. ExoMars is set to land on the surface, dig into the soil and look for traces of past life. They will be looking for possible living microbes about half a meter below the Martian surface. Above it, harmful cosmic radiation makes life as we know it impossible.
Next in line is NASA, which is preparing Mars 2020, a rover that will land on the surface as well. It is supposed to look for organic molecules, chemical stuff that contains carbon. It will also try to get the oxygen out of the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. This could be critical proof for future manned missions.
Most exciting: Mars 2020 is slated to collect and store samples from the Martian soil for a mission - yet to be planned in detail - that will bring them back to Earth about ten years from now.
Two New Players in the Mars Game: China and UAE
After its successful lunar missions, China is aiming for Mars too. It looks to begin a mission consisting of an orbiter that will fly around Mars for years and a lander with a rover. If their missions succeed, China and Europe will join Russia and the U.S. in landing a spacecraft safely on Mars.
The United Arab Emirates are also planing their first interplanetary mission. The Hope spacecraft will launch with a Japanese rocket and is supposed to orbit the red planet. UAE is looking to gain experience in deep space, and as the name suggests, the team hopes to successfully navigate the spacecraft into Mars' orbit.
China's Next Step in Lunar Exploration
China will most likely launch its Chang'e 5 mission some time in 2020. Early last year, Chang'e 4 landed on the far side of the moon, a feat no other space nation has achieved so far. Chang'e 5 will land on the moon's near side, analyze surface material and bring samples back to Earth. If China manages to do that, for the first time since the mid-70s, samples from the Moon will make it into labs on Earth. Back then, three Soviet Luna missions collected lunar dust.
German Technology on Its Way to the Moon
If everything goes extremely smoothly, the Orion spaceship will launch its maiden voyage in late 2020. Orion, built on the basis of a unique cooperation between NASA and ESA by U.S. and European companies, will spend about four weeks in space. The goal of this Artemis-1 mission, the first within the new lunar exploration framework of the U.S., is to be in lunar orbit for some days and check out all systems.
However, on this first trip, no humans will be on board. But two dummies from the German Aerospace Center DLR equipped with thousands of sensors are going to collect information about the flight conditions. The Orion spaceship consists of two parts: The crew capsule is provided by NASA. The service module with engines, navigation and attitude control systems, fuel, water and air are supplied by Airbus in Bremen, Germany.
Four Lunar Eclipses, Four Disappointments
The Moon is an exciting body in terms of space flight activities. It is a great sight in the sky as well. However, the lunar eclipses of 2020 won't be much for the naked eye. Four times the Moon will cross the Earth's penumbra. During a penumbral eclipse, however, the Moon is still a full circle. But some areas are slightly dimmer than others and appear in a more brown or gray color.
On Jan. 10, the Moon's southern hemisphere will be in the penumbra, visible from 18:00 to 20:00 UTC. On June 5, the same will happen from 18:30 until 20:30 UTC. On July 5, observers will note from 03:00 until 04:00 UTC that the northern hemisphere of the Moon is in Earth's penumbral shadow as well as on Nov. 30 from 09:00 until 10:30 UTC. These eclipses are visible everywhere on Earth where the Moon is above the horizon.
Two Solar Eclipses
2020 is a much better year in terms of solar eclipses. On June 21, less than a day after the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, there is an annular solar eclipse. The Moon will be in front of the Sun, but it won't be big enough to block the sunlight entirely. It will be akin to a 1-Euro-coin sitting on top of a 2-Euro-coin.
Observers in a long but very narrow zone will experience the annular eclipse: This zone extends for more than 14.000 kilometers, but it is only about 20 kilometers wide. It passes through Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, Saudi-Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Northern India, Southern China, Taiwan all the way into the Pacific Ocean to an area south of Guam.
Globally, the eclipse starts at 03:46 and ends at 09:34 UTC. On a given location, the eclipse lasts at best slightly more than two hours. Observers in most parts of Africa and Asia as well as in the northernmost regions of Australia will experience a partial eclipse.
Black Sun Over Chile and Argentina
The 2020 highlight in the sky will be the total solar eclipse on Dec. 14. Again, in a very long zone that is about 90 kilometers wide, the New Moon will block the Sun completely. For at best 2 minutes and 10 seconds, the day will turn into night.
During totality the brightest stars in the sky light up and the black lunar disk is surrounded by the bright and beautiful corona, the Sun's atmosphere. Unfortunately the zone of totality runs almost exclusively over the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.
Totality starts at 14:33 UTC in the South Pacific and it ends at 17:54 UTC off the Namibian coast. But eclipse chasers can count their lucky stars, because the greatest eclipse occurs over land. Between 16:00 and 16:25 UTC, the Moon's shadow will cross the southern parts of Chile and Argentina. The partial phase of this eclipse is visible in most areas of the southern Pacific, South America, Antarctica, Namibia and South Africa.
Attention! Looking into the Sun without special eclipse filters (regular sun glasses are no protection!) is extremely dangerous. In the worst case, the observer can lose his or her eye sight.
Solar Orbiter: ESA's Spacecraft for the Sun
On Feb. 5 the Solar Orbiter is scheduled to lift off from Cape Caneveral. This joint ESA/NASA mission is set to study the energetic particles constantly emitted by the Sun, to take pictures in X-ray, ultraviolet and visible light. It is set to study the Sun's surface and atmosphere.
It will provide a unique viewing angle as its orbital inclination will increase to about 33 degrees against the Sun's equator over the 10-year span of the mission. The Solar Orbiter will be in a unique position to observe the poles of the Sun, which are out of reach for telescopes on Earth. The spacecraft will get as close to the Sun as 42 million kilometers, well within the orbit of Mercury.
The Year of the Three Planets
Mars, the favorite object for space flight engineers in 2020, will be visible in the sky throughout the year. Until June, Mars shows up in the morning sky. By July it will rise before midnight and from September until December the bright reddish spot in the constellation Pisces is visible all night long. Jupiter, the biggest planet in the solar system, will be visible brilliantly from May until the end of the year.
On July 14, it is in its best position. Jupiter is in the constellation Sagittarius as well as the ring planet Saturn which is brightest on July 20. Jupiter and Saturn are the gems of the long winter nights in the southern hemisphere.
On Dec. 21, Jupiter gets very close to Saturn as the bigger and faster planet passes the slower ring planet. Such encounters of Saturn and Jupiter happen only once in 20 years!
Venus, our inner neighbor in the solar system, is a bright evening star until mid May. Then it will disappear and reemerge in mid June in the morning sky.
New U.S. Space Ships for the Station?
2020 could see a shift in paradigm for U.S. space flight activities. SpaceX and Boeing want to bring humans to the International Space Station and back to Earth. So far, both companies only deliver cargo. However, there have been significant delays in developing the Crew Dragon and the Starliner spaceships. If all goes well, the first manned flights of these capsules could occur in the second quarter of this year. For the first time since the shuttle fleet was retired in 2011, NASA astronauts would launch from US territory into space.
Ariane-6, Europe's New Rocket
Forty years ago, on Christmas Eve 1979, Europe's rocket Ariane took off for the very first time. Ariane has logged more than 250 flights since then. The current Ariane-5 is set to be phased out over the next years.
Late this year, Ariane-6 is scheduled to go on its maiden voyage into Earth's orbit. The new version of Europe's work horse for space activities is much cheaper, versatile and flexible, yet it's equally powerful in terms of payload capacity as its predecessor.
ESA and the European industry are facing strong competition from new commercial players like SpaceX in the U.S. and were forced to come up with a newly developed rocket.
2020: 30 Years of Hubble and Lots of Shooting Stars
On April 24, the Hubble Space Telescope will be in orbit for 30 years. A car on Earth as old as Hubble is considered antique. But the space telescope is still in perfect shape, doing first class science and sending mesmerizing pictures of planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies to Earth, reaching out to billions of people.
Stargazers are looking forward to this year's meteor showers. Last year, all three major showers were spoiled by the light of a full Moon. This year is different. While the Perseids in August will be slightly affected by the Moon, the Leonids in November and the Geminids in December will light up in a perfect dark sky. But remember: There can be a bright meteor in the sky at any time. Just look up - and be patient.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By Dan Nosowitz
You'd think if you just supply plants with the right temperature, some sunshine and some water, you could farm pretty much anywhere—even the moon.
It turns out moon-farming is much more complicated than that, with hazards coming in from all sides. Yet despite all the challenges, representatives working on the Chinese moon lander Chang'e-4 announced this week that they had successfully sprouted a plant on the moon for the first time ever.
The moon gets plenty of sunlight, at least in some areas, but without the protection of an atmosphere like Earth's, that sunlight does more harm than good, at least to plants. Cosmic radiation and solar flares can fry a plant before it has a chance to grow. That's why the University of Arizona's moon-farm simulator, at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, grows plants underground, with only artificial lighting.
Chang'e-4's mission included an attempt at a self-contained biosystem, with seeds, nutrients, water, yeast and fruit fly eggs, to be composed into a hydroponic circulation setup. According to Nature, which spoke to the chief designer of the experiment, the project succeeded in sprouting cotton plants, with future plans for both potatoes and Arabidopsis. (The latter is a relative of kale that's commonly used for experiments.) The China National Space Administration posted pictures of the sprouting cotton, dated January 7th, last week.
According to Inkstone News, a publication dedicated to China-focused stories, the experiment actually ended when the plants died, during a 12-day-long lunar night that shortly followed the cotton's sprouting. Inkstone says that the Chang'e-4 hadn't brought enough power to maintain the rigid temperature controls for long.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Shannon Schmoll
During the early hours of Jan. 31, there will be a full moon, a total lunar eclipse, a blue moon and a supermoon—all at the same time. None of these things is really all that unusual by itself. What is rare is that they're happening all together on one day.
What Makes the Moon Look Full?
Like the earth, half the moon is illuminated by the sun at any one time. The moon orbits around the earth and as a result we see different amounts of the lit-up side.
The phases of the moon visible from Earth are related to its revolution around our planet. Orion 8, CC BY-SA
A full moon is when we see its entire lit-up side. This occurs every 29.5 days, when the moon is directly opposite the sun relative to the earth. Jan. 31 will be our next full moon in the lunar cycle.
What's a Lunar Eclipse?
The moon's orbit is tilted by about 5 degrees relative to the earth's orbit. So, most of the time the moon ends up a little above or below the path Earth follows as it revolves around the sun. But twice in each lunar cycle, the moon does cross into our planet's orbital plane.
A lunar eclipse happens when the moon is completely in the Earth's shadow. Tomruen, CC BY-SA
If that crossing corresponds to a full moon, the moon will pass into the earth's shadow, resulting in a total lunar eclipse. Since the moon needs to be behind the earth, relative to the sun, a lunar eclipse can only happen on a full moon.
To see the phenomenon, you need to be on the night side of the earth; this eclipse will be visible mostly in Asia, Australia, the Pacific and North America. But don't worry if you miss it—lunar eclipses happen on average a couple times a year. The next one visible in North America will be on Jan. 21, 2019.
A Blue Moon That Looks Red
When a lunar eclipse happens, the moon appears to darken as it moves into the earth's shadow, called the umbra. When the moon is all the way in shadow it doesn't go completely dark; instead, it looks red due to a process called Rayleigh scattering. The gas molecules of Earth's atmosphere scatter bluer wavelengths of light from the sun, while redder wavelengths pass straight through.
This is why we have blue skies and red sunrises and sunsets. When the sun is high in the sky, red light passes straight through to the ground while blue light is scattered in every direction, making it more likely to hit your eye when you look around. During a sunset, the angle of the sun is lower in the sky and that red light instead passes directly into your eyes while the blue light is scattered away from your line of sight.
A super blood moon tinted red by scattered light GSFC, CC BY
In the case of a lunar eclipse, the sunlight that makes it around Earth passes through our atmosphere and is refracted toward the moon. Blue light is filtered out, leaving the moon looking reddish during an eclipse.
On top of it all, the Jan. 31 full moon is also a considered a blue moon. There are two different definitions of blue moon. The first is any time a second full moon occurs in a single month. Since there are 29.5 days between two full moons, we usually only end up with one per month. With most months longer than 29.5 days, it occasionally works out that we have two full moons. We already had one on the first of this month and our second will be Jan. 31, making it a blue moon. With this definition our next blue moon is in March, leaving February with no full moon this year.
The second definition of a blue moon states it's the third moon in a season in which there are four moons, which happens about every 2.7 years. We'll only have three this winter, so the Jan. 31 full moon won't be blue by this definition. Stargazers will need to wait until May 18, 2019, for a blue moon that fits this older, original definition.
A Supersized Supermoon
Finally, to add the cherry on top, this will also be a supermoon. The moon's orbit is not perfectly circular, meaning its distance from Earth varies as it goes through one cycle. The closest point in its orbit is called the perigee. A full moon that happens near perigee is called a supermoon by some.
This happened with our full moon earlier this month on Jan. 1 and will again on Jan. 31.
Its proximity makes it seem a little bit bigger and brighter than usual, but that's the extent of its effects on Earth. The distinction is usually hard to notice unless you're looking at two pictures side by side.
Appearance of an 'average' moon versus a supermoon Marcoaliaslama, CC BY-SA
There are long traditions of giving different moons names. This being a bigger, brighter, reddish-looking blue moon, perhaps we should call the next full moon the super purple moon. The moon will not actually appear purple, nor will have it a cape—but Jan. 31 is a great time to gaze up and enjoy the night sky.
Why Eclipses Were Seen as Omens in the Ancient World https://t.co/T8MPtAhd85 @TheScienceGuy @guardianscience— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502575808.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
The lunar mission will be undertaken by Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Moon Express, Inc., an aerospace startup founded in 2010 by space entrepreneurs Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, Naveen Jain and Dr. Barney Pell.
The landmark approval was given to Moon Express after meetings with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the White House, the State Department NASA and other federal agencies.
The company plans to send a 20-pound, unmanned spacecraft beyond Earth's orbit to the surface of the moon in 2017. If everything goes to plan, Moon Express will become only the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon following the U.S., USSR and China, as
Jain enthusiastically described the ambitious moon-landing project to the Wall Street Journal:
If the maiden trip proves successful, the company plans to mine and retrieve rare elements and metals from the moon in future missions.
"This breakthrough U.S. policy decision provides authorization to Moon Express for a maiden flight of its robotic spacecraft onto the Moon's surface, beginning a new era of ongoing commercial lunar exploration and discovery, unlocking the immense potential of the Moon's valuable resources," the venture's press release states.
Unsurprisingly, this unprecedented commercial space mission opened up a can of interstellar worms—space regulation is under jurisdiction of the United Nations. As TechCrunch described, Moon Express bought its lunar craft from Rocket Lab on October 2015 before it even had government permission to launch it. The company also did not have the approval to keep what they find on the moon.
But then in November, President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law that allows private companies to keep any resources taken from outer space.
Still, the company did not have clearance to make the trip. To get around this regulatory hurdle, according to TechCrunch, "Jain explained that representatives from multiple federal agencies, including the State Department and the NSA worked together to determine that the FAA, which is already responsible for granting launch licenses to rocket companies, should be the official point of contact for this type of activity."
Moon Express tried to address three critical provisions of the Outer Space Treaty. First, nations must continually supervise all of the space missions that happen within their borders. Moon Express told the FAA it would frequently update the agency with information on the 2017 trip, so that the government could oversee it. The second rule is not messing with other nations' spacecraft or space operations. On the Moon, that mostly means respecting the Apollo sites, and Moon Express assured the government that it wouldn't disturb these areas. "Don't do wheelies over Neil's footprint," joked Richards.
Finally, Moon Express had to show the State Department it would abide by the Outer Space Treaty's provision that is meant to prevent people from contaminating other worlds, called planetary protection. If companies like Moon Express want to land on a body in outer space, they have to be careful not to spread too many bacteria on the surface. Fortunately the Moon doesn't host life, so Moon Express doesn't have to worry too much about contamination. In its voluntary disclosures to the federal government, Moon Express gave the FAA all its data about how it would adhere to the rules of planetary protection.
"The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth's orbit," Richards said. "We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth's eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth's economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity."
Thrilled to announce formal USG approval for our Moon Express 2017 mission https://t.co/4YxItqdbfm https://t.co/bHNp38fv7g— Moon Express (@Moon Express)1470232562.0
"The sky is not the limit for Moon Express—it is the launchpad. This breakthrough ruling is another giant leap for humanity. Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children," Jain said in the release. "In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals, and Moon rocks back to Earth. In 15 years, the Moon will be an important part of Earth's economy, and potentially our second home. Imagine that."
The company has a long-term mission of exploring and developing lunar resources for the benefit of humanity and a short-term mission of providing lunar transportation and services for government and commercial customers.
Moon Express hopes to win $30 million from the Google Lunar X-Prize to fuel their lunar mission.
An actual race on the Moon is going to take place in 2017. Seriously! (@GLXP #GLXP) https://t.co/txc2MwVWMG @IFLScience— XPRIZE (@XPRIZE)1469066414.0
A National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite captured the moon moving past the sunlit side of the Earth for the second time in a year.
Photo credit: NASA
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured the images while orbiting 1 million miles away from Earth. Sitting between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR's primary mission is to monitor solar wind for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as EurekAlert noted.
"For the second time in the life of DSCOVR, the moon moved between the spacecraft and Earth," Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said. "The project recorded this event on July 5 with the same cadence and spatial resolution as the first 'lunar photobomb' of last year."
A camera onboard the satellite, Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), is always focused on the sunlit side of Earth to provide observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in Earth's atmosphere, EurekAlert reported. But for this moment, the camera focused on the moon.
Far side of the moon captured by @NASA EPIC camera aboard @NOAA's DSCOVR satellite on 7/5/16 https://t.co/kDuw1lfL4q https://t.co/AjHoqRdqZf— NOAA Satellites (@NOAA Satellites)1468333524.0
The images seen in the gif above were taken between 11:50 p.m. on July 4 and 3:18 a.m. on July 5. The moon is moving over the Indian and Pacific oceans.
EPIC recorded the first occurrence of the moon "photobomb" between 3:50 and 8:45 p.m. on July 16, 2015.
DSCOVR has also captured eclipses on camera, according to the satellite's website.
The satellite mission is a partnership between NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force.