The year 2014 could see the first 3D printer brought into space, the first fare-paying passengers leave Planet Earth on the Virgin Galactic and the first test mission of a new vehicle called Orion that might one day take humans to Mars. Exciting stuff, bring on 2014! But what else lies in store and what important and significant anniversaries happen in the year that the Winter Olympics takes place in Russia and soccer fanatics will be glued to the World Cup in Brazil? Here is our 2014 Space Odysseys:
2 January – It is the 55th Anniversary of Luna 1. Launched in 1959, Luna 1 became the first space probe to escape Earth’s gravity. Due to a programming error it failed to impact the Moon and remains in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Mars. NASA launched a similar mission two months later (see 3 March).
2-3 January – The Quadrantids Meteor Shower peaks at this time with around 40 meteors per hour visible. A thin crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what could be an excellent show.
4 January – NASA’s Spirit rover landed on Mars ten years ago today!
5 January – Jupiter was at opposition tonight. The giant planet was at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. A medium-sized telescope should be able to show you some of the details in Jupiter’s cloud bands. A good pair of binoculars should allow you to see Jupiter’s four largest moons, appearing as bright dots on either side of the planet.
24 January – NASA’s “Opportunity” rover landed on Mars 10 years ago today!
7 February – 30 years ago (1984) Astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert L. Stewart made the first untethered spacewalk using the Manned Manoeuvring Unit (MMU), a 300-pound nitrogen-propelled backpack.
15 February – Happy 450th Birthday to Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa, Italy in 1564.
26 February – 10 years ago Astronauts Michael Foale and Alexander Y. Kaleri made the first spacewalk outside a space station without a human crewmember inside.
3 March – 55 years ago Pioneer 4 was launched as part of the Pioneer program to make a lunar flyby. It the first US probe to escape from the Earth’s gravity passing within 60 000km of the Moon’s surface. However, Pioneer 4 did not come close enough to trigger its photoelectric sensor.
9 March – Born in Gzhast in the USSR, Yuri Gagarin would have been 80 years old today. Happy Birthday to the first man in space!
27 March – Comet Holmes reachs perihelion today. Discovered by Edwin Holmes in 1892 we will have to wait to see if this comet puts on another stunning performance as it unexpectedly did on its 2007 apparition.
8 April – Mars is at opposition tonight. The Red Planet will be at its closest approach to Earth. This is the best time to view and photograph Mars. A medium-sized telescope will allow you to see some of the dark details on its surface and you may even see one or both of the white polar ice caps.
15 April – A total lunar eclipse happens on this date. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, and Australia.
22-23 April – The Lyrids Meteor Shower is at its peak tonight producing about 20 meteors per hour. The third quarter moon will be problematic this year blocking the less bright meteors from view.
26 April – 500 years ago today Copernicus made his first observation of the ringed planet Saturn.
18 May – Apollo 10 was launched on this date 45 years ago tagged “The mission before THE mission”. On board were astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young Jr and Eugene A. Cernan. They became the first crew to shave in space and the first to transmit colour photographs of the full Earth.
28 May – Two monkeys called “Baker” and “Able” were launched into space returning to earth in good condition 55 years ago on this date.
29 May – 15 years ago the Space Shuttle Discovery completed the first docking with the International Space Station.
7 June – There is a conjunction of the Moon and Mars tonight. The gibbous Moon will be at magnitude -12.2 and Mars will be at -0.8. Look for both objects in the western sky just after sunset.
26 June – After a journey of almost four years the Ulysses spacecraft was the first to reach a polar orbit of the Sun in 1994 (twenty years ago today).
1 July – Cassini-Huygens became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Saturn 10 years ago.
11 July – In 1979 (35 years ago) the American “Skylab” space station enters the atmosphere over Australia and disintegrates after being in orbit for 6 years and 2 months. Ten years before this event David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” is released to coincide with the first lunar landing in 1969.
16 July – Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins was launched 45 years ago today.
20 July – On this date 45 years ago the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle lands on the Moon whilst Columbia orbits the lunar surface. This was the first lunar landing mission, first extravehicular activity on the Moon and first man-made items on lunar surface. Neil Armstrong’s left foot made the first footprint on the lunar surface also.
24 July – Apollo 11 splashes down safely in the Pacific Ocean 45 years ago on this date.
25 July – 30 years ago today Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to perform a spacewalk.
If you would like to mark that anniversary with a cinema trip then Jupiter Ascending could be the film for you. Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings it stars Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum and Sean Bean. It is set in a universe where humans are near the bottom of the evolutionary ladder. According to IMDB.com, “a young destitute human woman is targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe because her very existence threatens to end the Queen’s reign”.
12-13 August – The Perseids Meteor Shower peaks tonight. The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour. It is produced by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. The waning gibbous moon will block out some of the meteors this year, but the Perseids are so bright and numerous that it should still be a good show.
18 August – Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter occurs tonight. The two bright planets will come unusually close to each other, only a quarter of a degree apart, in the early morning sky.
24 August – Today NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will cross the orbit of Neptune after travelling for over eight years. New Horizons is scheduled to reach its mission target, Pluto, in 2015.
The first unmanned flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft is scheduled to be launched this month.
11 October – The year is 1984 and Kathryn D. Sullivan becomes the first American woman to perform a spacewalk on board the Space Shuttle Challenger, 30 years ago today.
19 October – NASA estimates that the comet C/2013 A1 Sliding Spring will pass extremely close to Mars today. The latest calculations suggest the comet will not impact the planet, we will keep you informed on its progress in our Astronotes!
31 October – 50 years ago Theodore Freeman became the first NASA astronaut or trainee to lose their life in action. He was killed in the crash of a T-38 jet.
7 November – “Interstellar” directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway is released in cinemas today. The movie is described on the Internet Movie Database as, “A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage”.
9 November – Carl E. Sagan would have been 80 years old today. Carl was an astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He also wrote the book Contact that was made into a 1997 movie starring Jodie Foster. Happy Birthday Carl.
16 November – 40 years ago on this date marks the anniversary of the first interstellar radio message sent by the Arecibo telescope. The message was aimed towards M41, a cluster of stars around 25,000 light years away.
17-18 November – The Leonids Meteor Shower peaks tonight producing an average of up to 15 meteors per hour. The Leonids are produced by dust grains left behind by Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865.
19 November – 45 years ago Apollo 12’s Conrad and Bean become the third and fourth humans on the Moon.
20 November – Happy 125th Birthday to Edwin P. Hubble. This date also marks the first launch of the Shenzhou spacecraft by the People’s Republic of China in 1999 (15 years ago).
30 November – 60 years ago Ann Elizabeth Hodges becomes the first known woman to have been struck by a meteorite in Alabama, USA.
16 December – Astronomers discovered GJ1214b, the first- known exoplanet on which water could exist five years ago on this date.
24 December – 35 years ago the first Ariane rocket was launched.
26 December – In 1974 the Soviet Salyut 4 space station was launched.
(Article by Sinead Mackle, Education Support Officer)