A look back in the time machine of what was 2017 reveals some really far out astronomy events while space exploration simply blew your mind!
From the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21st to the 17th blast off the year from Earth by SpaceX rockets, the 17th year of the 21st Century continued to push mankind deeper into outer space.
With the total solar eclipse and intentional destruction of NASA’s Saturn orbiter Cassini being the #1 and #2 events of the year, the other eight could be jumbled in any order of importance. Relive the Top 10 Astro/Space events of 2017:
Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21st Without a doubt, this was the most publicized astronomical event in the history of the world. Clear, hot weather across most of the United States allowed tens of millions to enjoy the two-hour celestial motion of the Moon covering the Sun. For those millions along the path of totality slicing across America’s heartland, the 2 minutes 40-some seconds of day turning into night is a forever memory.
Cassini’s Grand Finale NASA has an amazing track record of interplanetary spacecraft lasting well beyond their life expectancy, and Cassini is no exception. Launched in 1997, it began orbiting around Saturn in 2003 a six and one-half year journey, the $3 billion Cassini revolutionized everything we know about this gas giant, it’s incredible ring system and family of 60-plus moons. The spacecraft had 27 participating nations; acquired 635 gigabytes of science data during 294 orbits of Saturn; sent back 453,018 photos; inspired 3,948 published science papers; and wowed earthlings with photos of our planet as a tiny dot in space.
Interstellar Asteroid Interloper Late 2017 saw the first celestial body from another solar system cross though the Sun system. Called “Oumuamua” (pronounced “A-moo-a-moo-a” or “distant visitor” in Hawaiian) this was quite an eye opener to astronomers. The small size of a quarter-mile long and just 100 feet thick makes it a strange, cigar shaped rock whose trajectory came from the direction of bright star Vega. Battered and eroded by hundreds of millions of years of cosmic radiation, Oumuamua was checked out by the Search for Intelligent Life astronomers, and it was proved to not be an alien spacecraft. It’s long gone and never to be seen again.
NOBEL PRIZE FOR GRAVITY WAVES
The 2017 Nobel Prize in physics went to three Americans who detected gravity waves, a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago. Two colliding Black Holes created a ripple in the fabric of space, recorded by special detectors in America. Think of a rock dropped in the middle of a still, Atlantic Ocean and a microscopic ripple being detected 2,000 miles away.
EXOSOLAR SYSTEM HAS EARTH-LIKE PLANETS
It’s a cool, “brown dwarf” star not much bigger than Jupiter called Trappist-1, but his has eight planets orbiting it the sizes of Earth and Mars, four of them in the sweet spot to support liquid water and atmospheres. Too dim for naked eyes to see and 40 Light Years away in Aquarius, the Trappist-1 planets are now the subject of intense study by all the world’s great telescopes to see if they can sniff out evidence of biologic activity.
BACK TO THE MOON, AND THEN MARS
So says President Donald Trump as he signed documents releasing funds for a study to return to the Moon in 5-7 years and learn how to make the longer trip to Mars. You might yawn, as Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II have all said American should reach for the Moon. It was President Obama’s dismantling of the Constellation Moon program that has created a private competition for space travel, making it a good chance that a private firm, and not a government will be the next to put boot prints on the Moon.
DAWN MISSION ENDING
Few people know NASA’s interplanetary spacecraft Dawn and its unprecedented exploration of asteroid Vesta (orbiting from July 2011 to Sept. 2012) and dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is larger than Earth’s Moon, and has been orbited by Dawn since March 2015. Discovered is a once active world with white salt deposits on the surface where lakes and rivers once existed. Running out of fuel, Dawn will be crashed into Ceres for a final closeup this small world with a slight atmosphere and lots of historical secrets.
JUNO EYES JUPITER’S EYE
Understanding what makes Jupiter tick may answer many questions about how the Solar System was formed, and NASA’s Juno spacecraft is doing just that. Orbiting close and traveling a fast 30,000 mph since July 2016, Juno has instruments to look deep into Jupiter’s thick cloud layers and cameras to send back the best photos so far. The Great Red Spot has been photographed from just 3,000 miles away, looking like a giant eyeball staring off the planet. At one-tenth the size of the Sun, Jupiter is so huge that everything in the Solar System can fit inside of it and still have one-third empty space.
“STATION” OCCUPIED 17 YEARS
The International Space Station has been continuously occupied by humans for 17 years without a gap. Built largely with 35 hard-hat missions by the Space Shuttle (retired in 2011), the three-person Russian Soyuz has been the only way to get there for six years. Astronauts call it “Station,” and the science conducted 250 miles above is contributing to the war on cancer, computer technology, astrophysics, growing space food and long duration problems for spacefliers.
SPACE X INCREDIBLE YEAR
Launching 17 successful Falcon 9 rockets and returning 14 first stages (and some faring covers) for reuse, the space company of billionaire Elon Musk hit stride in 2017, making money off paying commercial and government satellites, and resupplying the International Space Station. And in 2018 there are 40 Falcon 9 launches on the manifest, not including the launch of Falcon Heavy—three, nine-engine rockets strapped together for enough thrust to go to the Moon.
Looking to 2018…The big highlight will be a close approach by Mars, climaxing on July 27 when the Red Planet will shine brightly just 40 million miles away—close enough to see the surface in a small, backyard telescope!