This Year in Space

by Daniel Galef

March 9 '16
March 14 '16
March 23 '16
May 9 '16
July 4 '16
August 12 '16
Sept '16
Sept '16
Sept 16 '16
Sept 1 '16

Total solar eclipse

What: The moon will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun, completely obscuring it and casting a dark shadow.

Where: The event will be visible from much of the Pacific Ocean, as well as most of Asia and Australia (who will only see a partial eclipse).

March 9, 2016

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

What: A probe designed to search for trace amounts of methane and other gases that are signs of organic activity. It will be launched by the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos.

Where: Mars

March 14, 2016 The launch was originally planned for January 7, but was delayed due to technical reasons.

First partial lunar eclipse

What: As the moon will pass through the Earth’s penumbra, but not its umbra (i.e., if you were standing on the moon, you would see the Earth block part of the sun, but not all of it), the event is not a total eclipse, but will be striking, and visible from Canada.

Where: Visible to the naked eye from most of the world except Europe and Africa.

March 23, 2016

Transit of Mercury

What: A planetary transit occurs when a planet passes directly between the Earth and the Sun, and shows up as a black dot on heliograph plates (like a solar eclipse, it is harmful to observe with the naked eye).

Where: Visible (with a sun telescope) from any point on Earth except the Far East and Australia.

May 9, 2016

Juno Meets Jupiter

What: The Juno spacecraft is a NASA research probe which will offer new data on Jupiter’s history and makeup using microwave radiation as a sort of lower-frequency radar.

Where: The orbit around Jupiter

The probe is scheduled to arrive on July 4, 2016. It was launched in August of 2011 and is expected to provide useful information well into 2017.

Perseid meteor shower

What: One of the most striking and visible meteor showers, easily viewable because of its frequency (about a meteor per minute) and brightness. The spectacle occurs when the Earth passes through the debris trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which orbits the sun every 133 years, and the meteoroids burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The meteors have been referred to as “The Tears of Saint Lawrence.”

Where: Anywhere, but ideally in a grassy park, at night, far from city light pollution.

When: August 12–13, 2016

Annular solar eclipse

What: Solar eclipses usually come in pairs due to interactions between orbits. About 177 days after an eclipse on the southern intersection of the orbit will be another eclipse on the northern intersection. This will not be a total eclipse, but rather an annular (ring-like) one, as the sun will still be visible as a bright ring around the edges of the moon.

Where: Visible from almost anywhere in Africa.

September 1, 2016

Second partial lunar eclipse

Visible from anywhere except the Americas.

September 16, 2016

China builds FAST

What: The behemoth Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), when completed, will be the largest and most precise radio telescope in the world. It is similar to the famous Arecibo Observatory in design, but will greatly surpass the South American telescope in ability.

Where: The Tai Wo Taipa depression, a karst depression—a type of large natural basin—in Guizhou Province, China.

Slated to be complete by September 2016 (construction began in 2011).

NASA sends probe to collect samples from asteroid

What: The OSIRIS-REx craft (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is a part of the New Frontiers Program, and its mission is to collect rock samples from the 495 meter in diameter asteroid 101955 Bennu, discovered in 1999. Bennu is cited as one of the most potentially dangerous asteroids likely to strike Earth in the near future.

Where: In an irregular, Earth-crossing orbit well outside the more populous asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Launch set for September 2016. If on schedule, the craft will return to Earth with the samples in 2023 after reaching Bennu in 2019.