The Great Conjunction of Planets – Jupiter and Saturn – December 2020

The planet Saturn

The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter and Saturn have been travelling across the sky together this month but right now they are really putting on a show. You can see them in the western sky, very low, each evening for an hour after sunset. A conjunction will occur every 20 years this century but this one is called a “great conjunction”.

On 21st December 2020, the two planets were approximately 1/10 of a degree apart. They will not appear this close in the sky again until the year 2080.

The last time that these two planets were visible across the earth was on 5th March in the year 1226, when they were even closer compared to what we will see this year.

If you have binoculars or a small telescope you will be able to see both Jupiter and Saturn along with Jupiter’s moons.

If you would like to see the moons of Jupiter, train your telescope on Jupiter that night, and if there are no clouds, three of the four famous Galilean satellites will be visible. The moons of Jupiter that will be visible are Callisto, Io and Europa.

On one side of Jupiter, you’ll see its volcanic moon, Io (closest to Jupiter’s disk) and second-largest moon, Callisto.  On the other side of Jupiter will be Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. As for Europa, it will be in transit, crossing in front of Jupiter, so cannot be seen.

This could be a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to see the Great Conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter. The planets will be visible until the end of January 2021.

In this photo, taken with a cell phone in Australia, the two planets can be clearly seen


Read more about The Planets

NASA Science Live video



Mars Exploration 2020 Launch

Mars

Mars Explorer 2020 Launch

A new Mars Rover named Perseverance will land on the surface of Mars in February 2221, after a seven-month flight through space. 

Attached to the underbelly of the space craft will be a small helicopter named Ingenuity.  Ingenuity will be able to overcome Mars gravity and fly over the surface of Mars like a drone and return visual images.  This will be the first test of powered flight on Mars.

The purpose of the mission will be to investigate key questions about the possible existence of life on Mars.   Perseverance will examine the past Martian environment and look for signs of ancient microbes amongst the intriguing rocks of a crater named Jezero.

The robotic machine will drill into the rocks and collect soil samples using new technology.  After examining the samples, it will set them aside so that a future mission will be able to bring them back to Earth. 

All Earthlings interested in Mars and Martians are invited by NASA to virtually watch the Launch of Perseverance – Click HERE to register. 

The Mars 2020 launch event will commence at 7:50am on Thu, 30 Jul 2020 US EDT. [Thu, Jul 30, 2020, 9:50 PM AEST in Australia]

Read more about Mars missions

SpaceX Launch to the International Space Station

Spacex launch

The Purpose

The SpaceX launch today, known as Demo-2, will once again permit the US to send humans into space.  Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will take off for the International Space Station at 3:22 p.m. EDT May 30, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.  The SpaceX launch can be viewed live on NASA-TV

The rocket launch today will lay the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars, starting with NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.

According to NASA, the Demo-2 mission is intended to demonstrate the ability of SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and back safely. The aim is to get the “Crew Dragon” astronaut carrier certified for more long-term manned missions into space.  

The Launch

The SpaceX rocket will lift off from the Florida launchpad 39A and two astronauts will be aboard the specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket.  The rocket launch will be the second attempt, as the first attempt was aborted due to a potential lightning strike.

The two astronauts, after docking with the International Space Station, will join the crew on the space station.   NASA news of the SpaceX launch can be followed on the NASA website. After launch, the SpaceX mission will be monitored and controlled from the Johnson Space Centre in Houston Texas.

The Mission

The spacecraft has been built by the SpaceX company owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. The rocket launch today will be the first time that such a mission has been attempted by a privately owned company.  

The journey to space will take around 10 minutes. After about two minutes, the rocket will separate into a first-stage and a second-stage. The first stage will return to a SpaceX landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean whilst the second stage will continue the journey with the Crew Dragon capsule on board.  

The capsule will then separate from the second-stage and travel at 17,000 mph before being in position to rendezvous and dock with the Space Station, 24 hours later.

The Return

On conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, leave the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will then be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.

The Future

Earth from Moon

The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the Space Station.

This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place on board the station. 

Read more about the Artemis program

Australia’s Space Exploration Program

Artemis

Dr. Christyl Johnson is NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre’s deputy director for technology and research investments. She manages the research and development portfolio and is responsible for formulating future technology goals and leading an integrated program of investments aligned to meet those goals.

Dr. Christyl Johnson

In a recent visit to Australia, Dr Johnson was asked about Australia’s role in NASA’s resurgent Space Program which includes putting the first woman on the moon as well as manned exploration of the planet Mars.

Returning to the moon will involve “bringing all the best and brightest ideas to the table at the same time.  When you bring all the resources together, there is nothing that’s impossible.”

Australia’s Involvement in exploring space

Australia has been involved since the beginning of the Apollo program and has many opportunities to contribute.

We now have laser communications that will make it possible for large amounts of data to be streamed back from Mars.  As we explore the caves and tunnels on Mars, children on Earth will be able to observe in real time.

How difficult will it be to build a space industry in Australia?

Dr Johnson says that Australia has many start-up companies that will have opportunities to direct their research and productivity towards the space program.

Dr Johnson says that the program will open up “a whole world of possibilities.”

Is Pluto still a planet?

Although Pluto was downgraded by astronomers from planet status in 2006, there is still much debate about the matter. 

Recently , NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared that, in his opinion, Pluto is still a planet.   Bridenstine was speaking at a FIRST Robotics event in Colorado.

“Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet, and you can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again” stated Bridenstine.

Pluto as photographed by New Horizons