Here are the space and astronomy events to put on your calendar for the year ahead.
Idaho’s first total lunar eclipse since October 2014 is Sunday night, Jan. 20 from 7:36 p.m. to 12:48 a.m., but the most dramatic phases run from 8:34 to 11:51 p.m. More details at herrett.csi.edu/astronomy/20190120_total_lunar_eclipse.asp.
Due to its modest power and great distance, the New Horizons probe will spend all of this year and next downloading images and data from its recent flyby of snowman-shaped Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule. The sharpest images, possibly showing features as small as 30 meters (100 feet), should arrive in mid-February.
The LIGO gravitational wave observatories begin their next data run this spring, with expectations that the latest sensitivity enhancements may increase the rate of detection of black hole and neutron star mergers from a few per year to several per week. Given the dramatic discoveries that have come with the 11 detections to date, we can only wonder what new insights will be revealed.
Supercomputer processing of data collected by a worldwide array of radio telescopes in 2017 continues, and may finally yield the first-ever image of the event horizon of our galaxy’s central black hole this year.
Both SpaceX and Boeing are aiming for crewed flights of their vehicles this year (assuming successful uncrewed tests), possibly as early as June, finally ending the U.S.A.’s reliance on Russia for travel to and from space.
Finally, for only the fourth time (of fourteen) this century, Mercury passes directly between the earth and sun on Nov. 11. The transit begins before dawn, so the sun will rise with Mercury already silhouetted on its face. Mercury’s small size means that solar-filtered binoculars or telescope will be required to watch the three-and-a-half-hour event.
Next column: Spotting Uranus in binoculars.