Last year was filled with planetary discoveries, interstellar travel and other space-related milestones that were equal parts wonderful and strange.
News of mysterious exoplanets potentially harboring life, speculation about UFOs, and the launch of unmanned missions to the far reaches of space defined the year 2023. Fortunately, those left filled with awe and excitement by the vast cosmos surrounding Earth have even more what to look at We hope in the next year.
Here’s a look at five cosmic stories awaiting us in 2024, from a rare eclipse to astronauts’ first return to the Moon in decades.
Recapping the wild year of 2023 in space:UFOs, commercial space flights, rogue tomatoes and more
NASA’s return to the moon
In the coming years, NASA will attempt to send astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo missions ended five decades ago.
But before that happens, the space agency must first send a group of space travelers on a trip around the moon and back. Last year, NASA presented the three Americans and one Canadian who will be part of the Artemis II mission, scheduled to launch in November.
On their 10-day journey spanning 600,000 miles, they will circumnavigate the moon (but never land) to test NASA’s capabilities. Space launch system A rocket and a manned Orion spacecraft are needed for deep space exploration.
The Artemis program represents NASA’s renewed interest in lunar missions. When the day comes when the crew of Artemis III can set foot on the lunar surface, they will be the first Americans to do so since the last Apollo mission in 1972.
Unmanned lunar missions ahead
Even more attempts to send unmanned landers to the moon are scheduled for 2024.
Japan will make the first attempt on January 20 after its small spacecraft called SLIM launched in September and continues to orbit the moon.
While the United States has not attempted to land a vehicle on the surface of the moon since the 1970s, NASA is a client of two private companies attempting to accomplish the feat this year. astrobotica Pittsburgh company, will launch its Peregrine lunar lander on January 8, which could land in February. Houston-based Intuitive Machines launch another lander It was pointed at the south pole of the moon as early as mid-February.
Total solar eclipse over North America
On April 8, a total solar eclipse It will travel in a diagonal trajectory, traversing a wide swath of North America and enveloping millions of people in darkness.
It’s been six years since the moon last completely blocked sunlight from reaching part of the United States, and it will be even longer until it does so again. After this year, this rare celestial event will not occur for another 20 years, NASA says.
The moon’s shadow will first cover Mexico’s Pacific coast in darkness as it travels northeast toward Texas. The path of totality It will cover 11 other US states before ending in Maine and crossing into the Maritime provinces of Canada.
While viewers will want to put on specialized goggles to protect themselves from the sun’s powerful rays, a total eclipse is a rare opportunity to view the event with the naked eye. Just make sure the moon is completely blocking your face from the sun before taking off your glasses.
The era of commercial spaceflight grows
Last year, Virgin Galactic helped usher in commercial spaceflight by regularly conducting Offering trips to the edge of space. to pay civilians.
The company owned by billionaire Richard Branson, as well as competitors like Blue Origin, are expected to continue selling tickets to wealthy customers who crave the experience of a few minutes of weightlessness, along with an unbeatable view of Earth.
Virgin Galactic’s sixth civilian customer mission is expected in January. while Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will likely resume civil flights sometime in 2024 after a successful unmanned scientific mission in December.
Elsewhere, private astronauts continue to travel to the International Space Station to conduct scientific experiments.
Already in January, the first all-European commercial astronaut crew will embark for the ISS as part of a Houston-based company. Axiom’s third mission to the station.
Last August, NASA itself partnered with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to begin offering a commercial crew program transport trained astronauts to the ISS for scientific missions. The eighth crew is destined to launch not before mid-February
Partnering with private industry frees NASA to focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions.
Solar activity:NOAA detects the largest solar flare since 2017
Investigating Jupiter’s moon for signs of life and other cosmic missions
NASA’s largest spacecraft developed for planetary missions will make its long awaited departure later this year to Europa, Jupiter’s moon, which scientists believe may have the right conditions to support life.
While Europa’s exterior is icy, it hides a vast ocean beneath the surface that could harbor signs of life. The Europa Clipper, which launch in octoberhope to find them.
It will not be until 2030 that the uncrewed ship will reach Europe. When it gets there, it won’t land on the surface itself, but will instead make numerous flybys near the surface to scan and study the moon.
NASA also plans to send two spacecraft to Mars sometime in 2024 to orbit and study the red planet, and for its Escape mission, while the European Space Agency will launch its Hera mission in October to fly by a decimated asteroid.
The Hera mission is a follow-up to a 2022 NASA mission in which the space agency successfully crashed a spaceship into an asteroid known as Dimorphs. The previous mission was the first test of the agency’s planetary defense strategy to asteroidsnicknamed the Double Asteroid Redirect Testand now the ESA wants to see up close what it was like.
Eric Lagatta covers the latest news and trends for USA TODAY. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org