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What were some of the most spectacular space events in 2017?


The year is just about to come to a close, so let’s take a look back at the amazing events and news that rocked the worlds of both astronomy and space.

I gave my thoughts as to what were some of the most important events of this year and looked forward to the great events that are expected to occur in 2018.

To many, the most amazing news story in the realm of astronomy was the detection of gravitational waves coming from a region of the sky that produced a very powerful blast of energy, known as a gamma-ray burst.

Gamma-ray bursts are powerful, energetic blasts that are thought to occur in distant galaxies, possibly due to a hyper-nova star collapse and the merger of two neutron stars as they collide.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful and brightest electromagnetic events in the universe. A blast can last for a few milliseconds — or in rare cases, hours.

A gamma-ray burst of even a few seconds can produce more energy than the sun will in its entire 10 billion year lifetime.

As if that is not amazing by itself, astronomers also detected something that we call gravitational waves, which are defined as ripples in the curvature of space time. Those ripples are generated by accelerated masses and move forward at the speed of light as waves.

Astronomers discovered gravitational waves in August and are still trying to come to terms with this new and exciting area of astronomical research.

The gravity wave is known as GW170817 and was found to be located in a galaxy NGC 4993, which is some 130 million light years from Earth.

Another amazing news story of 2017 was the discovery of a system of at least seven planets that may be earth-like and orbiting around a nearby star.

However, the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system may be the most interesting.

The TRAPPIST-1 star is a red dwarf star that lies some 40 light years from earth in the constellation of Aquarius. Larger than the planet Jupiter, it is most interesting that this many potentially habitable planets would be around a star like this.

Closer to home, the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse was one of the most amazing sky events of 2017. Millions of people got to witness this event and our Dr. Sky team enjoyed an amazing view from the cool and clear skies of Rigby, Idaho.

The next major total solar eclipse for the United States will occur on April 8, 2024. And the Dr. Sky team will be planning another expedition — this time to Texas.

In space news, the Cassini spacecraft completed 13 years of observation and research by orbiting Saturn. It was sent to its final resting place on Sept. 15. We learned so much about Saturn from the Cassini mission.

While one spacecraft is retired, another one surfaced around the planet Jupiter. The Juno spacecraft performed some amazing imaging of the largest planet in the solar system. More science will come from Juno in 2018.

And no review of 2017 would be complete without mention of the great technology that has come from the recent space development firms: Space X and Blue Origin. They both created a new way to go to space and have amazing technology that was not even around a few years ago.

Space X will be launching its heavy-booster rocket in 2018 and has a manned mission around the moon slated for as early as 2020.

Here are a few of the major sky events which will be coming your way in 2018.

The year will begin with another great total lunar eclipse. On Jan. 31, around 5:52 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, the moon will begin its journey into the shadow of the Earth.

Observers with clear skies will see the eclipsed moon low in the western sky before sunrise. This is also the second full moon of the month and is known by many as a “Blue Moon.” This will be a most amazing sight to see.

2018 will also be the year of Mars. Mars will come closest to Earth — closer than it has in well over 15 years — in late July, when it will get within 35.8 million miles of the planet.

Meteor showers will abound in 2018 too. We will get some good viewing — without moonlight — for the April Lyrids, the August Perseids and the December Geminids.

All in all, 2017 was a rich year for astronomy and space and 2018 will be another fabulous year.

Happy New Year to all of you, as I look forward to keeping you updated on our amazing Arizona skies from the realms of astronomy, space, aviation and weather next year.

Here is your very own December sky map to help locate many of the objects and events listed above.

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