This Month in Space: January
One month into 2019 and the cosmos are already making headlines! We’re blasting off into the New Year with some of the most exciting space stories to happen so far.
Two Meteorites Strike Super Blood Wolf Moon
Millions of people gazed into the night sky to catch a glimpse of the highly anticipated Super Blood Wolf Moon on Sunday, Jan. 20. The Moon turned a spectacular red color as the Earth’s shadow was cast on its surface, but observers also noticed something odd happen as they watched.
People saw an unexpected flash of light on the lunar surface, which was later determined by astronomers to be the explosive impact of a meteorite colliding with the Moon’s surface. This is believed to be the first recorded meteorite observed during an eclipse.
Moments later, a second flash was observed which indicates a second meteorite struck the lunar surface. The objects are estimated to weigh anywhere from 4 to 20 pounds and be roughly the size of a football.
Typically the brightness of the Moon overpowers the explosions that meteors create when they clash with the surface. However, the eclipse made it so the conditions were perfect for spectators to be able to see the flashes as they happened.
If you missed this Super Blood Wolf Moon, fear not — the next total lunar eclipse will take place in 2022, although we can’t promise you’ll be able to catch back-to-back meteors smashing into the Moon’s surface.
NASA Inspires NBA Star’s New Nike Sneakers
Sneaker fanatics had a new shoe to get excited about this month. Nike’s brand new, NASA-inspired basketball shoes created by five-time NBA All-Star Paul George were the talk of sneaker discussion boards everywhere.
The Nike PG 3 X NASA shoes feature a futuristic grey, orange, and blue design with an American flag patch on the tongue of the shoe. The inspiration for the sneaker stems from Paul George’s childhood obsession with the shuttle program and astronauts.
To make truly authentic space-age kicks, George shadowed an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center as part of his creative process. In addition to having the spacesuit “look” down, the shoes also use lightweight foam and rip-stop collar that give it top notch foot support on the court.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard Launches NASA Experiments
Blue Origin’s privately built New Shepard spacecraft recently launched eight NASA-sponsored research payloads to suborbital space and back. The mission lasted 10 minutes and 15 seconds and reached an altitude of 66 miles, becoming the 10th New Shepard test flight.
The reusable rocket was able to launch the mission and come back down to Earth for a vertical touchdown, the capsule followed behind it with a parachute landing in the West Texas plains.
This was the fourth spaceflight for this distinct New Shepard craft. Founder of Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, states that the spaceflight company aims to fly paying passengers in addition to experiments and research-based payloads in the near future.
Fresh Rainfall and Changing Seasons found on Saturn’s Moon
When you think about rain falling on an alien surface it sounds more like science fiction than it does real life. However, images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft provided evidence of rainfall on the north pole of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
The spacecraft discovered a giant reflective patch that covers 43,330 square miles. According to Rajani Dhingra, a doctoral student in physics at the University of Idaho, the reflective patch resembles a “sunlit wet sidewalk” and was a signal that Titan was experiencing summer.
Titan is the only place beyond Earth known to have bodies of liquid on its surface. However, unlike Earth’s rain, Titan’s rain is composed of liquid hydrocarbons.
Japan Launches Satellite into Space to Create Artificial Meteor Shower
On Jan. 17, Japan made history by launching a mini-satellite that creates artificial meteor showers for spectators to view. The satellite was funded by the Japanese start-up Astro Live Experiences to create meteor showers that last longer than natural meteor showers for entertainment purposes.
“Compared to natural ones, our meteors are more massive and travel through the atmosphere more slowly, which allows them to be observed for a longer time,” said Hiroki Kakihara, an Astro Live Experiences representative.
The satellite can release thousands of meteor showers to create a man-made light show in the sky. The satellite will release its first batch of meteors above Hiroshima to remember the 75th year since the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.
NASA Replaces Boeing Commercial Test Flight Crewmember
NASA officials announced Jan. 22 that it will be replacing astronaut Eric Boe on its Boeing commercial crew test flight. In the official statement, NASA said that Boe was dealing with medical issues that wouldn’t allow him to be able to safely fly on the Starliner this year. NASA announced their original commercial crew in August for both Boeing and SpaceX.
Boe is a veteran of two shuttle flights and served as pilot of the Endeavour and on Discovery’s 39th and final mission in 2011. Boe will be replaced by Mike Fincke, a veteran NASA astronaut that has flown two long-duration missions to the International Space Station.
The crewed test flight is scheduled to launch in mid to late 2019.
Kennedy Space Center Reopens Post Government Shutdown
More than two thousand furloughed NASA employees were able to return to work January 28 after a month-long government shutdown. Although NASA employees were not able to work on day-to-day operations during the shutdown, some were allowed to work on essentials including maintaining the International Space Station and ensuring safe conditions for astronauts currently at the ISS.
NASA and SpaceX report that the government shutdown has not affected their efforts to launch a manned test flight in 2019 and SpaceX’s February launch is still on track. The government shutdown did, however, delay the launch date for Exos Aerospace’s suborbital rocket, moved from Jan. 5 to Feb. 9, and could continue to affect the launch dates for other Space Coast rockets.
Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex has announced that the bus tours that take guests to the Saturn V Center and historic sites will be resuming their full routes and special interest tours will resume Jan. 29.
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