Please do look up: Here’s what to look forward to in space for 2022

There’s been a lot of hubbub surrounding Don’t Look Up, a recent Netflix movie about a planet-killing comet heading towards Earth, but 2022 is actually a great year to turn your eyes to the sky.

There will be missions to Mars and the moon, a dance of planets and eclipses to enjoy. And better yet, no giant comet that threatens to destroy life as we know it on Earth.

Here are just some of 2022’s space-related events to keep an eye on.

A January meteor shower

The start of any new year begins with a meteor shower, the Quadrantids.

This shower — which is produced as Earth moves through debris left over by the passing asteroid 2003 EH — is currently underway, having begun on Dec. 26. While it runs until Jan. 16, its most active peak is on the night of Jan. 2–3. 

The shower has the ability to produce more than 100 meteors per hour at its height, however the active window only lasts about six hours, which is brief compared to two of the other most active showers, the Perseids and the Geminids. 

Try out this interactive map showing how Earth passes through the meteor shower:

Due to this, it’s more likely that, under dark skies (get away from those city lights!), you may see about 25 meteors per hour. The good news is that, during the peak, the moon will not be visible, so you may be able to see some faint meteors. But if not, the Quadrantids also often produce bright fireballs. 

If you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky on the peak night, just go out and look up. But definitely bundle up and prepare to be cold. 

A return to the moon 

Humans last set foot on the moon almost 50 years ago, in December 1972. But NASA has plans to head back, with international support from the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, to name but two organizations. And the first phase is scheduled to take place in 2022.

The new program is called Artemis, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. It will return humans to the moon, including the first woman. But the whole program will be done in stages, with Artemis 1 — an uncrewed flight around the moon — planned to launch some time in the spring, after some delays. 

The new Orion capsule — together with the European Service Module that will provide electricity and water to astronauts — will sit atop the mighty Space Launch System (SLS), NASA’s most powerful rocket. 

The Artemis 1 Space Launch System (SLS) is seen here in NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 20, 2021. Artemis 1 will be the first integrated test of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. (NASA/Frank Michaux)

Once launched, it will orbit Earth before heading to the moon. The trip will take a few days. Once the spacecraft arrives, it will remain in orbit for several more days before heading back to Earth. All the while, engineers and scientists will monitor the spacecraft’s performance, gathering information in preparation for Artemis 2, the first crewed flight that will orbit the moon, scheduled for May 2024. And yes, there will be a Canadian astronaut on board that mission.

While it may not be a crewed endeavour, you won’t want to miss the launch of the most powerful rocket since the Saturn 5 that first took humans to the moon.

The Russians are also planning to head to the moon, with their Luna 25 spacecraft. It’s also not a crewed mission, but the lander will be the country’s first return to the moon since 1976. The spacecraft will land on the moon’s southern polar region where it will collect data on ice permanently frozen below the surface.

Luna 25 is planned to launch sometime in the spring.

Another visitor to Mars

Russia and the European Space Agency are also planning a mission to the red planet with ExoMars 2022.

Scheduled to launch in September, the spacecraft will join its counterpart — the Trace Gas Orbiter, which launched in 2016 — in trying to answer the question of whether Mars ever harboured life.

Artist’s impression of European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover (foreground) and Russia’s science platform (background) on Mars. (European Space Agency)

The mission contains a rover, called Rosalind Franklin (named after the prominent scientist whose work helped discover the structure of DNA) as well as a Russian platform that will serve as the base, called Kazachok. 

The rover will roam the planet’s surface searching for potential signs of life, as well as collect samples. 

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch on Sept. 20 with a landing date of June 10, 2023.

Launch of SpaceX’s spaceship

Another thing to watch for will be the launch of SN20, SpaceX’s monster spaceship that CEO Elon Musk hopes will one day ferry people to Mars.

The first successful launch and landing of a Starship was SN15 on May 21, 2021 where it reached 10 kilometres in altitude.

But this test will be a big one. Not only will it sit atop the company’s Super Heavy rocket, it will also attempt to complete an orbit of Earth, splashing down near Hawaii. 

Starship and the Super Heavy booster is seen stacked for the first time in Boca Chica, Tex. on Aug. 6, 2021. (SpaceX)

All together, when Starship is stacked (the Starship and the booster), it will measure 120 metres, taller than the Saturn 5 rocket that took humans to the moon. When you take into account the stand the pair will sit on, that makes it even taller, roughly 145 metres tall, or about as tall as a 40-storey building.

The launch is scheduled for some time in March.

Dance of the planets

It’s always fun to pick out planets in the night sky, and throughout the year the planets will be parading across the stars.

Every so often, though, planets end up particularly close to one another (only in the sky; they still remain millions of kilometres apart from one another in space).

In the early morning of March 25, we get a trio of planets low in the eastern sky before sunrise: Venus, Mars and Saturn. Venus will be unmistakable as the brightest planet, with Saturn to its lower left and Mars to its right. You might want to use a pair of binoculars to seek them out.

On the morning of June 24, all the planets visible to the naked eye will be stretched across the sky. (Stellarium)

 

The real treat comes on June 24, when all the planets visible to the naked-eye will be lined up in the early morning. The fun part is, they will be in order: Mercury (lowest on the horizon), Venus (the brightest), Mars, Jupiter and then Saturn.

You’ll have to get up particularly early that morning — just before sunrise — to see them. 

Lunar and solar eclipses

2022 will be a good year for eclipses. 

On the night of May 15–16, there will be a total lunar eclipse that will be visible across the country, though not necessarily in its entirety.  

The entire eclipse will be visible east of Manitoba, while west of the province will see it already underway during moonrise.

The moon is seen here during a total lunar eclipse. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/The Associated Press)

 

On Nov. 8, there’s another total lunar eclipse. This time it’s the West that will see the entire eclipse, particularly British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. East of those locations, the moon will set while the eclipse is underway. 

There won’t be a solar eclipse visible in the country, though there will be a partial solar eclipse on April 30 that will only be visible in the southeast Pacific Ocean and southern South America. Another partial solar eclipse will take place on Oct. 25, and will be visible across Europe, northeast Africa, the Middle East and parts of western Asia. 

Two of the best meteor showers

While the year begins with a decent meteor shower, it also ends with one.

But first, there’s the annual Perseid meteor shower, which runs from July 14 to Sept. 1. This is the most popular shower of the year, as the weather tends to be favourable and the number of visible meteors are fairly high.

The best night for viewing meteors will be on the peak night of Aug. 11–12, according to the American Meteor Society (Royal Museums Greenwich pegs the peak on the night of Aug. 12–13, however).

Unfortunately, there will be a full moon which means only the brightest meteors will be seen. 

A composite image shows several Perseids streaking through the sky. (Submitted by Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com)

And finally, there are the Geminids, which run from Nov. 19 to Dec. 24. 

This shower is actually more active than the Perseids, but the cold and often cloudy weather is what typically pushes the annual shower into the number two spot when it comes to the best.

The peak night of the shower will be on the night of Dec. 13–14, but the moon will be almost full. 

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