Tomorrow (Jan. 31) stargazers will be treated to an awesome event: A total lunar eclipse will occur during the supermoon Blue Moon. While those on the West Coast of the U.S. will have the best view, the lunar eclipse will be visible from all of North America — the first time since 1866 that space fans on that continent will have the pleasure of seeing this awesome phenomenon.
It goes without saying that the writers and editors at Purch’s Space.com are excited about the lunar eclipse, but for these space-loving journalists, the event is just the first of many to look forward to in 2018. We asked the Space staff to share what other space happenings they can’t wait to see this year and, not surprisingly, their lists are as long as they are varied. From the first flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to the arrival of two asteroid-sampling probes at their rocky destinations — here’s what Space.com writers (and their loyal readers) are excited to see in 2018.
Tariq Malik, Managing Editor
There are so many space events I’m looking forward to in 2018, the biggest of all being the debut flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket – the most powerful U.S. rocket since NASA’s mighty Saturn V. (It doesn’t hurt that Elon Musk is launching his own car on the thing!) I am a spaceship fan, so the first commercial crew spaceship tests by SpaceX (Dragon) and Boeing (Starliner) in late 2018 are high on my list. I’ve sat inside a Starliner prototype, so I hope to complete the set with Dragon this year…
As for the night sky, well, you can’t beat an eclipse and the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018 on Jan. 31. It’s the perfect way to kick off a year of stargazing, and it’s the first Blue Moon Total Lunar Eclipse in North America since 1866! But if you live in the Eastern Hemisphere, keep an eye out for the July 27 Total Lunar Eclipse, which will be an exceptionally long one, according our skywatching columnist Joe Rao. And there’s the comet 46P/Wirtanen, which just might be visible to the naked eye in December — that would make an excellent Christmas present in the night sky!
So those are my picks, but there are so many other things: Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have private spaceship test flights planned, NASA’s INSIGHT Mars lander and TESS planet-hunting missions launch this year, along with Europe’s BepiColumbo mission to Mercury. And so much more!
Steve Spaleta, Senior Video Producer
The giant leap of private space is my top pick. Whether it’s the first powered flight of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, the possible first-ever crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard, Rocket Lab getting into the game with launches from New Zealand or, of course, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch. What’s there not to be excited about?
We’ve been watching and reporting on the private space industry since its infancy. We are really starting to get to the good stuff now!
Calla Cofield, Senior Writer
I’m very excited about the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), currently scheduled for no earlier than March 2018. TESS will scan a huge section of the sky and look for planets around 500,000 star systems that are all relatively close to Earth. The mission will focus on finding rocky planets, which can then be targeted for follow-up studies by bigger telescopes. Those follow-up studies could reveal information about a planet’s atmosphere and its potential habitability. In this way, TESS will essentially be a workhorse to help find the best planets in the nearby galaxy where scientists can begin to look for life, or at the very least learn about the potential for habitability beyond Earth.
The Kepler Space Telescope created a revolution in space science by showing that there are more exoplanets in our galaxy than there are stars; TESS is the first targeted follow-up mission to exploit that new insight. While we likely won’t start to see big results from TESS this year, seeing it get into space is a big step.
Sarah Lewin, Associate Editor
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission launched in 2016 and whipped past Earth again in 2017 to pick up speed en route to its 2018 destination — the asteroid Bennu, and the thing I’m most excited about this year. Once it gets there, OSIRIS-REx will map the asteroid’s surface to find a safe spot, briefly touch the surface and grab up a sample — collecting up to 4.4 lbs in just 5 seconds by blasting nitrogen down onto the surface to kick up dust. Then it’ll head back to Earth by 2023, bringing a time-capsule-like haul of asteroid stuff for scientists to learn about conditions in the early solar system. Talk about there-and-back-again.
Hanneke Weitering, Staff Writer
The next big thing that I can’t wait to see is the first launch of SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket – especially after Elon Musk said that he thinks it’s probably going to crash and burn. Of course, potentially destroying a big expensive rocket shouldn’t be something to look forward to, but it’s going to be really exciting regardless of whether the test flight goes well or ends in a fiery explosion.
BepiColombo is going to Mercury! The European/Japanese spacecraft will be the first mission to study Mercury since NASA’s MESSENGER died there in 2015 (RIP).
Two spacecraft that have been chasing down asteroids will reach their destinations this year. Japan’s Hayabusa 2 will arrive at the asteroid Ryugu in June, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will arrive at the asteroid Bennu in August. Both will be scooping up some asteroid dirt and bringing it back to Earth later (not this year), and that’s pretty damn cool.
Mike Wall, Senior Writer
I’m most excited for the maiden flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, the launch of NASA’s TESS exoplanet-hunting satellite (March-June launch window) and the launch of NASA’s Mars InSight lander. Also exciting? The arrival of two asteroid-sampling probes (NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, Japan’s Hayabusa 2) at their destinations this summer and the launch of China’s Chang’e 4 lander/rover to the moon’s far side in late 2018.