2024: Looking Up with Eager Anticipation

By Scott Spangler on January 8th, 2024

If you keep up with current events, 2024 has the potential for global grimness. All that’s needed is for China to make a move on Taiwan to fan conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East into World War III, and the US political polarization to devolve into a zero-sum civil war. Ignoring these very real possibilities will not make them disappear, but we can mitigate their contributions to emotional angst by looking up and forward to more gratifying events that are planned for 2024.

And we won’t have to wait long. What’s being called the “Great North American Eclipse” will commence on April 8, when the moon orbits between it and the sun. The moon’s shadow will start in Mexico, cross the river into Texas, and march through Arkansas, Missouri, and into Southern Illinois. It then darkens Indiana, Ohio, western New York, and leaves the continent at Canada’s east coast. Those of us north of this path will only be partially in the dark, but now is the time to Google ways to watch the eclipse safely.

Before our moon casts its shadow on North America, on January 19 it will be the intended landing site for a small experimental spacecraft, SLIM, that Japan launched last September. Just before SLIM attempts its landing, Astrobotic, one of the two private companies hired by NASA will launch its lander, Peregrine, for its lunar landing site near the Ocean of Storms on January 8. The other company, Intuitive Machines, will launch its lunar lander sometime in February. China is also planning another moon mission, Chang’e-6, its fourth, to land on the far side of the moon in May, with the goal of returning rocks and dust for further study.

Looking at our solar system, NASA has several exploratory missions planned. The Europa Clipper is off to Jupiter’s moon in October. But you need patience for this one because the Clipper won’t reach Europa until 2030. It will not attempt to land, but its sensors will attempt to penetrate its icy atmosphere as it orbits above it. Below this icy veil, scientists think there might be an ocean that might support life. The Clipper hopes to ferret out every possible bit of data to answer that hypothesis.

In the realm of possibilities, SpaceX might attempt the next step with its Starship, and Boeing and NASA might finally launch its patient crew of Starliner astronauts to the International Space Station, but there’s a deadline on this destination because NASA plans on deorbiting the ISS in 2030, about the time the Europa Clipper arrives at Jupiter. Both are something to look forward to. –Scott Spangler, Editor


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