The biggest astronomical event of 2018 has already happened – and it was an elaborate PR stunt by the billionaire Elon Musk. Musk, who owns companies such as SpaceX and Tesla, did the unthinkable by using the most powerful rocket ever created, called as the Falcon Heavy to put a car in space!
Yes, he did that. Earlier this year on February 6th, Musk launched a Tesla Roadster into space, possibly on orbit to Mars. That was an extraordinary thing to do. Imagine that, a car on its way to Mars. That’s the stuff of science fiction, but it’s all too true.
Here’s a view of the StarMan, the mannequin seated in the driving position of the red sports car as it makes its way beyond the Earth’s orbit.
2018 is likely to witness many interesting astronomical events, but nothing as interesting as that.
We are already in March 2018 at the time of this writing, and we have already been witness to the Partial Solar Eclipse on February 15th, which was seen by residents of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.
We have also been witness to the Super Blue Blood Moon as it rose over the Pacific Islands, East Asia and the West Coast of the U.S. on January 31st. That was a Lunar Eclipse during which the Moon turned bright red.
Here’s a look at the other noteworthy celestial spectacles in the rest of 2018 that you can look forward to.
1) Blue Moon
The Moon will be full on March 31st, as it was on March 2nd. This is the second full moon of March and can be seen by people in Central and Eastern Asia. The Moon won’t be blue as such, but that’s the name given to this astronomical event.
2) The First Ever Photograph of a Black Hole
The team of astronomers begin the Event Horizon Telescope project may well have succeeded in photographing the horizon of a black hole. They did so over 5 nights of observation time on the Sagittarius A. The data is still being crunched and we expect the photographs to be released to the public soon, as early as in April 2018.
3) Lyrid Meteor Shower
The Lyrid meteor shower is one of the oldest astronomical events studied by astronomers – in fact, there is a mention of it in the ancient Chinese text Zhuan. It is caused when the Earth passes into the dust left by the comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher) and is named after the constellation Lyra, from where the meteors are believed to come from.
You can expect to witness the Lyrid Meteor Shower from April 16th to April 25th. It is going to be at its peak on April 22nd. It will be visible to everyone living in the Northern hemisphere. If you’re in the extreme north of the Southern hemisphere, you can see it too.
4) Eta Aquariids
The next Halley’s Comet will come in 2061. Don’t expect anything as spectacular this year. But there is a meteor shower called as Eta Aquariids, which comprises of the tiny remnant of the Halley’s Comet, you will witness on May 6th. Those in the Southern hemisphere will be able to witness it.
5) Hayabusa 2 and OSIRIS-REx
JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx are two asteroid landers that are going to meet their targets in 2018. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is going to meet with the asteroid Bennu, considered to be a near-Earth asteroid, in August 2018.
JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 is going to keep its date with another near-Earth asteroid Ryugu in June 2018. That’s exciting! Hayabasu is going to return a sample to in 2020 while OSIRIS-REx will do so in 2023.
6) Lunar Eclipse at Apogee
Expect the second lunar eclipse of the year to occur on July 27th. It is referred to as a central lunar eclipse, a rare event as the Moon will be at an apogee – as far as it can get from the Earth in its orbit.
During this eclipse, the Moon will pass through the center of the Earth’s shadow. Pretty spectacular, don’t you think? The Lunar Eclipse at Apogee will be visible across Australia, Brazil, Central Asia and East Africa.
Perseids is a meteor shower that originates from the constellation of Perseus. It is comprised of the dust from a comet referred to as comet Swift-Tuttle. The dust has been drifting across space for millions of years after having broken from the comet and will burn spectacularly on August 12th and 13th 2018. Those in the Northern Hemisphere will get the best views of this meteor shower.
Orionids is another spectacular meteor shower arising out of the Orion constellation. This shower is caused by the Halley’s Comet. It is the second of the meteor shower caused by the fragments of the Halley’s Comet in 2018, the first being Eta Aquariids. This will occur in the first week of October and will be clearly visible to those in the Northern hemisphere and Southern hemisphere.
9) Pulsar Fireworks
One of the most anticipated astronomical events of the year is the Pulsar Fireworks which happen when a neutron star flies right through a huge star that is about fifteen times the mass of the Sun.
We expect this high energy event any time this year when the pulsar J2032+4127 flies through the outer atmosphere of the MT91 213 at a speed of 300 km/second. The event will occur at a distance of 5,000 light-years and will be captured by NASA through a number of telescopes.
The Geminids are a meteor shower caused by an asteroid 3200 Phaethon, not by a comet. It is expected to be quite spectacular and is the last major astronomical event of 2018. The meteor shower will last from December 7th to December 17th and is certainly worth a watch.
Caution: Kids, whatever you do, never look at the sun directly without proper protection during a Solar Eclipse, like President Trump here. Always wear proper Eclipse glasses.