What’s up? (In space!) Winter 2020

Welcome to the third installment of What’s Up? (In space!), a seasonal look at what’s ahead in the world of space developments, projects, and people.

Deck the hulls
As we approach a holiday season that will be quite unlike any other we’ve experienced, let’s spare a thought for the team on the ISS as they celebrate so far away from their families. Turns out it’s not uncommon for astronauts to celebrate the festive season away from Earth. The first Christmas message from space was listened to by an estimated 1 billion people! Nowadays, the ISS team get to chat with their families and don the inevitable Santa hats.

Want to add a touch of space to your own celebrations? Check out the movie Dogstar: Christmas in Space for some animated canine space fun. All the world’s dogs are lost in space and have to be rescued in time for Christmas. Got to be a winner 🙂

Extremely close encounters
This year’s winter solstice will be marked by the meeting of two astronomical heavy-weights: Jupiter and Saturn. This “Great Conjunction,” as its known, only happens once every twenty years, and the 2020 version will be even more spectacular than usual. By December 21, the two planets will be separated by just one-tenth of a degree, the closest they’ve been since 1623! In practical terms, this means that stargazers can observe them both at the same time through a telescope. Momentous stuff.

Some real Perseverance
Meanwhile, as the rest of us celebrate, poor old Perseverance continues its lonely expedition to Mars. Mark your calendars for February 18, when the rover is scheduled to touch down after its epic journey, begun last July. Want to track its progress? Visit NASA’s Mars 2020 page where you can see real-time statistics and what percentage of the journey has been completed.

The Moon rocks!
Mars doesn’t get all the glory though. There’s plenty of moon-related activity in the news, thanks to the Chinese. By mid-December, samples of lunar material should be on their way back to Earth, courtesy of the Chang’e 5 mission, capable of digging 2 meters below ground level. Amazingly, this will be the first time since 1976 and the Soviet Luna 24 mission that this has been achieved. Want to find out more? The Planetary Society has an excellent overview.

Space winners
A shout-to my favorite local neutrino observatory. Their SENSEI (Sub-electron- noise SkipperCCD Experimental Instrument) experiment to detect dark matter was one of the winners of this year’s New Horizons in Physics prizes.

And congratulations to Jan who won an ebook copy of Kwelengsen Storm in my World Space Week contest back in October. She nominated Ilan Ramon as her favorite astronaut. Read Ramon’s sad, but inspiring story here.

As we wrap up the year, international investment and activity in space developments is flying high, and pending changes at NASA bode well for the future. Exciting times for everyone already in space and those of us who would love to get there one day 🙂 Now where did I put my Santa space helmet…

Which space developments are you most excited about right now? Would you like to celebrate Christmas in space? Let me know in the comments!

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