Space calendar 2020: NASA missions, SpaceX launches, meteor showers and more

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We’re in the final stretch of 2020, and we’re all looking forward to saying goodbye to it for good, I’m sure. But as much as we want to bid farewell to 2020, there are still a few events on the science and space calendar that should get you excited. There’s a total solar eclipse coming in December, and SpaceX is constantly launching Falcon 9 rockets full of Starlink satellites.

Speaking of, Elon Musk’s spaceflight company has already ticked off one big milestone this year. In May, the SpaceX and NASA crewed demo mission took astronauts to the International Space Station, the first time a commercial company has done so. Three Mars missions launched from across the globe in July, and the very first hop of the SpaceX Starship SN5 prototype was completed — a very early step on the way to Mars. And we may have even seen the invisible for the first time: a black hole collision in deep space.

With so much news and an ongoing pandemic, we know it can be hard to keep up with the biggest achievements in science — and we want to help.

CNET has launched its very own space calendar covering all the big rocket launches, mesmerizing meteor showers, epic eclipses and even an assortment of scientific milestones to keep our readers in the know. You’ll be able to sync our always-updating calendar with your own Google calendar (or another provider with this link) so you never miss a thing. Each calendar event will link you directly to a story or a stream and all you have to do is add it to your cal now.

We want to hear from you, too. If there’s anything you think warrants a mention, let us know. You can email or tweet me with any glaring omissions.

Below are the major milestones we’ve seen in the second half of 2020, and what’s still to come in the remainder of the year — you can find all the launches in our Google Calendar. Follow along for more updates! 

July 20-22: The Hope Mars orbiter launches

MBRSC

Hope is the first interplanetary mission led by an Arab, Muslim-majority country. When the United Arab Emirates’ satellite reaches Mars in 2021, it’ll be the first probe to offer a full picture of the Martian atmosphere, providing a holistic view of how Mars’ climate varies throughout the year. And if successful, it could change everything we know about the red planet.

Back here on Earth, it may achieve something even more important: providing hope to a younger generation, bringing more women into STEM and promoting collaboration between nations. 

Hope’s launch was postponed on July 14 due to inclement weather at the launch site in Japan, but the probe departed Earth on July 20.

July 23: China’s Tianwen-1 launches

CNSA

Tianwen-1 means “questions to Heaven” in Chinese and is a three-vehicle mission to Mars by the country — its first attempt at landing a rover on the red planet. The orbiter, lander and rover are designed to probe Mars atmosphere and look for signs of life on the surface. in 2019, China had great success landing on and exploring the moon

China didn’t give us the most comprehensive live launch access, but we do know Tianwen-1 is now on its way to Mars, and its daring mission will enter the next, and incredibly daring, phase in February 2021.

July 27: Delta Aquariids peak

Getty Images

This meteor shower began around mid-July and peaked toward the end of the month as the Earth passed through the debris left behind by a couple of sun-grazing comets. The southern hemisphere typically gets the best view, but those in northern latitudes had a chance to see the Delta Aquariids until mid-August. The peak occurred around July 27 and July 28 — be sure to brush up on how to catch a meteor shower before then.

July 30: NASA’s Perseverance rover launches

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance rover is a science laboratory on wheels, and it’s headed to Mars to assess whether the red planet once supported life. It will also carry Ingenuity, a helicopter, in its belly — and if all goes to plan, the chopper will be the first vehicle to fly on another planet.

We put together a huge guide for the mission, so here’s everything you need to know about the Perseverance rover and its mission to Mars.

Aug. 2: Crew Dragon gets back to Earth

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is shown here minutes before docking with the International Space Station.

NASA; Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The Demo-2 mission sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in May. After spending around two months at the station, the pair undocked the Crew Dragon capsule and in early August returned safely to Earth, landing in the ocean — the first time a spacecraft had done so for the US since 1975.

Aug. 11-12: Perseids meteor shower peaks

Another Perseid captured above the Tucson foothills by photographer Eliot Herman. 

Eliot Herman

One of the more impressive meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, happens in August. As the Earth passes through the tail of the giant comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, our skies flash with streaks of blazing light. In 2020, the Perseids were expected to peak on Aug. 11 and 12, with the moon a little less than half full.

October: The 2020 Nobel Prizes

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 for discovering the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic tool.

Nobel Media/Niklas Elmehed

The most prestigious prizes in science were revealed in October celebrating incredible achievements in black hole science, genetic engineering and discovery of the hepatitis C virus. You can read our coverage here:

Oct. 20: NASA’s Osiris-Rex tries to sample asteroid Bennu

This artist’s interpretation shows what Osiris-Rex might look like when it reaches Bennu.

NASA

After Hayabusa-2, an intrepid asteroid-chaser operated by Japan’s space agency, smashed and grabbed rock from the asteroid Ryugu in 2019, NASA took its own turn. Osiris-rex (for “origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security, regolith explorer”) has been chasing its own asteroid — Bennu, which may hit Earth in the next century — and scoped out a spot to steal some asteroid soil. 

The sampling took place as scheduled on Oct. 20. NASA scientists revealed the activity was even more successful than planned, and the sampler head is overflowing with rock

You can learn everything you need to know about the mission here.

Oct. 22: Orionids peak

Getty/Vitchien Petchmai

The Orionid meteor shower occurs through October and November, but peaked around Oct. 22. The shooting “stars” are actually debris left over from Halley’s comet and zip across the sky as Earth passes through its dust trail. The debris burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, leaving a brief trail of gas. (Again, make sure you have the skills to check out these meteor showers.)

Want to catch the meteor shower? We have a great guide right here.

Nov. 2: 20 years of ISS occupation

NASA/Joel Kowsky

The International Space Station is turning 20! 

On Nov. 2, 2000, the first long-term residents of the station docked: NASA’s William Shepherd and two Russian cosmonauts, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. The space station has been instrumental for studying the effects of microgravity and how long-duration spaceflight may affect the human body. It also has a great toilet!

The low Earth orbit laboratory is expected to continue operation for another 10 years, but NASA and the European Space Agency are gearing up for a new space laboratory — the Gateway — which is designed to help ferry astronauts from the Earth to the surface of the moon. Because it all starts with the moon.

Mid-November: The SpaceX Crew-1 mission

The Crew-1 mission logo pays homage to the NASA programs before it.

NASA/SpaceX

After a successful first demonstration mission to the International Space Station in May, and an equally impressive return in August, SpaceX is ready to send astronauts to the station again in the first operational flight of the Crew Dragon capsule. The mission was scheduled for no earlier than Oct. 23 and will double the amount of passengers from the first flight. Four crew members, three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Falcon 9.

We’ll have the livestream link right here so you can follow along as it gets closer to the date. Check out the Space Calendar on Google for more.

Dec. 6: Hayabusa2 returns to Earth with asteroid sample

JAXA

After a cosmic pickpocketing in 2019, Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft will zip past the Earth and throw out a canister containing a soil sample that it blasted from asteroid Ryugu. Like a newspaper delivery kid, the sample will be thrown and hopefully land in Australia’s backyard — somewhere in the desert — on Dec. 6.

Dec. 14: A total solar eclipse blocks out the sun in South America

ESA/CESAR

Total solar eclipses are one of the most fascinating and epic cosmic phenomena we get to experience on Earth. The moon passes in front of the sun, obscuring it from view and instantly turning day to night. There is only one total solar eclipse in 2020, and it will mostly be visible in parts of Chile and Argentina. We’ll make sure you see all the best image from the day though. And, if somehow travel is allowed again in 2020 and you want to head to South America to see it for yourself — check out our guide.

Dec. 21: Jupiter and Saturn meet in the sky

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)

Not literally, of course. The two planets will be in conjunction at the end of 2020, an event that only occurs once every 20 years. When the two most massive planets in our solar system meet like this it is known as a “great conjunction” and the last one occurred in 2000. If you need help spotting events in the sky, we’ve got you covered with these great stargazing apps for spotting constellations.

This page is constantly updated.





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