This Month in Space: October
It seems like October flew by in the blink of an eye. However, this month brought carved pumpkins, sweater weather, and most importantly tons of notable space exploration events to Florida’s Space Coast. Strap in and get ready to read all about the exciting outer space happenings that took place in the month of October.
Halloween-Themed Dwarf Planet Discovered
At the furthest edge of our solar system, a recently discovered dwarf planet lurks in the shadows. Dubbed “the Goblin” (formally known as 2015 TG38), this dwarf planet is almost twice as far from the sun as Pluto. The Goblin gets its name because it was discovered around Halloween of 2015 and its discovery was coincidentally announced around Halloween of 2018.
The Goblin provides further clues to support the existence of an oft-hypothesized but not yet observed “Planet Nine.” The Goblin and two other dwarf planet’s orbits elongate dramatically in one direction, with the Goblin’s elongating almost 70 times as far away from the Sun as Pluto. This dramatic stretch leads scientist to believe that a “Planet Nine” affects the dwarf planet’s orbits by pulling them with its gravitational pull.
Skull-Shaped Rock Flies by Earth Near Halloween
Asteroid 2015 TB145, an asteroid that appears to be shaped like a human skull in certain light conditions, passed by Earth just in time for the spooky season. The asteroid began its flyby path in late October and reached its closest spot to Earth in early November.
The coal black skull-shaped asteroid is believed to have once been a comet that lost all of its volatile compounds throughout its many orbits around the sun. Scientists from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia say that the asteroid measures between 625 meters and 700, making it a relatively small asteroid.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is Designing a Large Lunar Lander
Jeff Bezos recently announced that his private spaceflight company, Blue Origin, is in the process of designing a lunar lander. The lander, named Blue Moon, currently has a projected launch date of 2023.
Blue Origin is one of the major companies with launch facilities on Florida’s Space Coast that are revolutionizing the commercial space travel industry. A statement from Bezos indicated that the project stems from a belief that “The next logical step in this [Blue Origin’s] path is a return to the Moon.”
In the years to come, Blue Origin hopes to not only launch New Glenn, an orbital launch vehicle, into low-Earth orbit, they also hope to use their lunar lander in their effort to bring payloads to the Moon and eventually create a lunar colony.
Lockheed Martin Unveils its Lunar Lander Concept
Lockheed Martin revealed its lunar lander concept just a day after Blue Origin revealed that they were also in the works of designing a lunar lander.
As part of an initiative by NASA to develop technologies to pair with the next-generation space station, Lockheed Martin has unveiled the design for the reusable lunar lander that will hopefully ferry astronauts between the new space station and the moon.
The lander is going to use liquid hydrogen and oxygen as propellants to transport a crew of up to four astronauts to and from the lunar surface. The lander is said to be able to sustain the astronauts on the Moon’s surface for up to two weeks.
NASA is hoping that with the information gathered from the two-week exploration periods will give researchers more insight into what technology will be needed on an eventual Mars Base Camp lander.
Atlas 5 Rocket Lifts Off From Cape Canaveral
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off October 17 from Cape Canaveral carrying an Air Force communications satellite to a geostationary orbit.
The $1.8 billion Advanced Extremely High Frequency AEHF-4 communications satellite will provide secure, nuclear-survivable, anti-jam communications to the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Voyager 2 is Getting Close to Interstellar Space
Space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched two weeks apart in 1977 on a mission to explore the outer confines of our solar system and beyond. Voyager 1 made its way out beyond our solar system six years ago and now it appears that Voyager 2 will soon be joining it.
Scientists believe that Voyager 2 is close to leaving the confines of the solar system because it is approximately 11 billion miles away from Earth and has seen a five percent increase in the cosmic rays that originate outside of our solar system being picked up by its cosmic ray detectors.
Although they were only launched two weeks apart, Voyager 2 became caught up in Neptune’s gravitational pull, which slowed the probe and delayed its trip through the heliosphere by six years. Voyager 2 is set to be the second man-made object to reach interstellar space.
Learn more about the types of rockets found on Florida’s Space Coast on our Explore Rockets page.