Review of the year of astronomy 2021 – Barriere Star Journal

By Gary Boyle

The backyard astronomer

Looking back to 2021, there have been many great space stories in the news, including two lunar eclipses in May and November. Coincidentally, two more total lunar eclipses will occur in May and November 2022. We were also entertained by three large meteor showers in January, August, and December, but the moon suffered major interference. The Northern Lights were prominent last month, especially in western Canada, painting the skies green.

The endless list of exoplanets continues to grow with a total of 4,884 confirmed worlds and 8,288 other candidates. This research continues via terrestrial and space telescopes. So, the next time you look at those sparkling dots of light, you’re looking at the mini solar systems of at least one planet orbiting its mother star. After all, the sun is only one of 300 billion stars in the Milky Way.

It was around the same time last year that the Japanese mission Hayabusa managed to restore soil samples from the asteroid Itokawa. The sample shows that the water and organic matter that come from the asteroid itself have evolved chemically over time. Astronomers and scientists have long believed that the building blocks of organic compounds necessary for the creation of life began in the solar system and were delivered to young earth via meteorites. Missions like this shed new light on this theory. Meteorites and comets contain small amounts of water. Impacts over millions of years have most likely provided water to the earth.

Similar to the list of exoplanets, 70 other rogue planets have been detected floating in space. They are “excluded” from their solar system by an event such as the explosion of the star thus launching it on a path to nowhere. Or some could have been overpowered by larger planets in their solar system and pulled out of their system, because of the light and (possibly) heat of their sun.

Until now, the sun has been studied by terrestrial telescopes and orbiting satellites. The amount of information learned is exceptional, but the missing key was a physical exam. Never before had a spacecraft touched the sun until the launch of the Parker solar probe in 2018. Over the years, the spacecraft performed multiple maneuvers as it approached the sun. In December of this year, the probe hit the upper atmosphere of the solar corona which is only visible from Earth during a total solar eclipse when the moon blocks out blinding light. Over the next few years it will move closer to our star and by 2025 it will be traveling at an unprecedented speed of 690,000 kilometers per hour or 192 kilometers per second. Its 11.4-centimeter-thick heat shield combines it to operate at around 29 degrees Celsius and not fry the electronics.

The latest addition to the Martian fleet came with the deployment of the SUV-sized Perseverance and Ingenuity helicopter, anchored below. The two blades of the small helicopter rotate in opposite directions to help lift the thin Martian atmosphere. To date, he has logged 30 minutes in a series of short flights. This is the first time that such a vehicle has been used on the Red Planet.

Private companies have proven they have the right equipment to launch into space, not just NASA. Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin helped 90-year-old William Shatner and retired NFL Michael Strahan touch the space beyond the 100 Karman line. But Elon Musk took space travel a step further by transporting astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station via the SpaceX Dragon freighter. It’s the same Dragon capsule that was almost used as an emergency evacuation vehicle. The International Space Station was subjected to a field of dangerous debris from a deliberately destroyed satellite. The danger has practically passed, but there have been moments of anxiety.

Space is dangerous. In addition to solar radiation from the sun and cosmic rays from the cosmos, more than 23,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than a softball are tracked. Half a million pieces are the size of a marble or more with about 100 million pieces of debris – about a millimeter and a little larger. All moving at 28,000 km / h or nearly 8 km / sec.

In September 2022, the DART mission will arrive on the 800-meter-wide asteroid Didymos to deflect a small 160-meter-wide Dimorphos moon. This is a test to see if a potential asteroid coming towards Earth can be deflected slightly, changing course and missing our planet. This particular asteroid is only a test subject and is by no means on a collision course with our home planet.

The much anticipated James Webb Space Telescope (successor to the Hubble Space Telescope) was launched on Christmas Day. It has a much larger mirror system and will study nascent galaxies in the near infrared, allowing us to see through the gas and dust of early galaxies. The sun visor is the size of a tennis court and will shield the telescope from the heat of the sun and block light from the earth and the moon. It will operate at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth where the space temperature is -223 degrees Celsius. JWST will be able to return to the beginning of the universe some 13.8 billion years ago. One of his many projects will be to see if black holes helped create galaxies or if they came after. He will also look for signs of resemblance in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets.

Clear sky.

Known as “The Backyard Astronomer”, Gary Boyle is an astronomical educator, guest speaker and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as well as the past president of the Ottawa Center of the CARS. He has been interviewed on over 50 Canadian radio stations as well as on television across Canada and the United States. In recognition of his public awareness of astronomy, the International Astronomical Union honored him with the name Asteroid (22406) Garyboyle. Follow him on Twitter: @astroeducator, Facebook and his website:


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