NASA’s Mega Rocket, Meteor Showers, Metal Asteroids and More

In 2022, NASA will crash a vending machine-sized spacecraft into a space rock the size of a Great Egyptian Pyramid. It’s an unprecedented test to see if they can push an asteroid off its natural path.

This extraterrestrial expedition, called the DART mission, is one of many intriguing, if not thrilling, space events unfolding in 2022. Below is a lunar mega-rocket launch, stargazing opportunities, and new missions to curious objects in our solar system.

This space calendar will be updated throughout 2022. Look for.

Lyrids meteor shower peak: April 21-22, 2022

Meteor showers, caused by the Earth moving through scattered debris left behind by a comet, occur throughout the year. The natural light shows are caused by meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. To increase your chances of seeing meteor showers, the trick is to visit areas that have dark skies (away from city lights), choose to watch the sky when there is no full moon, and know when the peak of debris will cross the sky.

The Lyrids meteor shower will last from April 15 to 29, but the the peak occurs on April 21 and 22explains the American Meteor Society.

“These meteors also generally lack persistent trains but can produce fireballs,” the organization said. “These meteors are best seen from the northern hemisphere where the radiant is high in the sky at dawn.”

Eta Aquariids Meteor Shower Summit: May 4-5, 2022

The Eta Aquariids, best seen from the southern tropics, peak on May 4 and 5 and produce powerful “lingering trains” of striated meteors, according to the American Meteor Society.

Total Lunar Eclipse: May 15-16, 2022

Where the total lunar eclipse is visible on May 15-16, 2022.
Credit: NASA

Parts of the world will experience a total lunar eclipse on May 15-16 (in the Western Hemisphere this will occur on the night of May 15).

A total lunar eclipse occurs during a special alignment between the moon, earth and sun. Specifically, the event occurs when the moon and sun align on exactly opposite sides of Earth, NASA explains. The moon falls into the shadow of the Earth. But some sunlight still leaks into our planet’s atmosphere, resulting in a coppery color reflecting off the moon’s surface.

The map above shows where totality begins (yellow line) and ends (green line) on May 15 and 16, 2022.

Test for a space station in lunar orbit: May 2022

A crucial precursor to NASA’s Artemis campaign, the US program to return humans to the Moon, the agency will test a lunar orbit where it wants to put a space station around the Moon.

Called CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment), the mission will send a satellite the size of a microwave oven (about the weight of two beagles) to create a unique halo-like loop around the moon. The study will one day help NASA establish Gateway, a lunar encirclement base that will support astronauts on long-term expeditions to the Moon.

NASA chose private commercial spaceflight company Rocket Lab to launch the satellite on a three-month journey using its Electron rocket. The launch is scheduled for May 2022 from Rocket Lab’s New Zealand site.

Learn more about Rocket Lab.

NASA returns to the Moon: May 2022

NASA's SLS mega-rocket on the launch pad.

NASA’s SLS mega-rocket waits to be tested on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: NASA / Joel Kowsky

NASA is preparing its 32-story mega-rocket for a flight thousands of miles beyond the moon, a mission called Artemis I.

It’s the first in a series of deep-space exploration voyages that could lift off as early as May, and it’s an important spaceflight test before landing humans on the lunar surface again. The rocket is considered the most expensive and powerful ever built, with each launch costing around $4.1 billion.

The upcoming mission won’t include astronauts, but the month-long trip will test the rocket’s capabilities and carry Orion, the spacecraft a crew will board on the next more complex mission, Artemis II.

Learn more about NASA’s mega-rocket.

The most powerful space telescope ever built begins its mission: June 2022

the James Webb Space Telescope in space

Artist’s impression of the James Webb Space Telescope in space.
Credit: NASA GSFC / CIL / Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

The James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful space telescope ever built, arrived at its icy observing outpost (about 1 million miles away) in January 2022. The observatory will take unprecedented images of some of the first galaxies that have ever formed and peer into the mysterious atmospheres of exoplanets.

NASA says the first images will arrive in June 2022.

Mission to a metallic asteroid: August 2022

the asteroid Psyche in our solar system

An illustration of the asteroid Psyche.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU

NASA plans to launch its Psyche mission in August 2022, with the robotic spacecraft arriving in 2026. Planetary scientists suspect that this 140-mile-wide rock is extremely rich in metals. It could be an unmelted remnant – perhaps a piece of an early planet – from the creation of our solar system.

“If it turns out that he is part of a [planet’s] metallic core, it would be part of the very first generation of the earliest cores in our solar system,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University, who leads the Psyche mission, said in a statement. “But we don’t really know, and we won’t know for sure until we get there. We wanted to ask primary questions about the material that builds the planets. We are full of questions and not many answers. It’s a real exploration.”


6 things to know about NASA’s mega moon rocket

Perseid meteor shower peak: August 11 and 12, 2022

The popular Perseid meteor show, made up of remnants of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, is thrilling to watch every August in the Northern Hemisphere. In 2022, the Perseids peak on August 11-12, although unfortunately this peak occurs during a bright full moon.

Europa overview: end of September 2022

Europa, the moon of Jupiter

Europa, the ice-covered moon of Jupiter.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute

In late September 2022, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will pass extremely close to Jupiter’s moon Europa, passing just 221 miles from its icy surface. The space agency hopes to capture detailed images of the moon’s cracked and icy ground.

Europe is a fascinating world. “Scientists are almost certain that hidden beneath Europa’s icy surface is a saltwater ocean thought to hold twice as much water as Earth’s oceans combined,” NASA writes.

“Europe is perhaps the most promising place in our solar system to find current environments suitable for life beyond Earth,” the space agency added.

Unprecedented asteroid test: early October 2022

Some 6.8 million kilometers from Earth, the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft will touch down on the 525ft wide Dimorphos asteroid around October 1, 2022.

This is humanity’s first-ever attempt to deliberately move an asteroid. The rocky target, Dimorphos, is not a threat on Earth, but the mission is an experiment to see how civilization might alter the path of a threatening asteroidshould we be on a collision course with our planet.

“We are currently defenseless against any asteroids targeting Earth,” Markus Wilde, associate professor of aerospace, physics and space science at the Florida Institute of Technology, told Mashable.

Learn more about the DART mission.

Lucy has her first Earth flyby: October 16, 2022

the Lucy spacecraft passing in front of an asteroid

Artist’s impression of the Lucy spacecraft traveling near an asteroid.
Credit: Southwest Research Institute

NASA launched the Lucy spacecraft on a 12-year grand asteroid tour last fall with plans to fly by several space rocks that share Jupiter’s orbit.

The probe will travel 4 billion kilometers in a kind of loop, returning to Earth three times for gravity boosts. Its first Earth flyby and gravity assist will take place on October 16, 2022. Lucy will be the first vehicle to return to Earth’s vicinity from the outer solar system.

Lucy will explore one main belt asteroid of the solar system and seven Trojan asteroids. These are believed to be remnants of the early solar system trapped in stable orbits. They are grouped into two “swarms” near Jupiter.

Learn more about Mission Lucy.

North Taurid Meteor Shower Summit: November 11-12

Taurids are “rich in fireballs”, according to the American Meteor Society. (A “fireball” is an extremely bright meteor.) About every seven years they tend to produce more fireball activity, and 2022 could be the next opportunity. (But the moon will be bright, 88% full, during the peak.)

Geminid meteor shower peak: December 14 and 15, 2022

Widely considered the best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids can be seen from almost every part of the world, but especially well in the Northern Hemisphere. The best show is from December 14 to the morning of December 15. (Although the moon is bright and 72% full this year, in the middle of the peak.)

This phenomenon occurs every December when the Earth passes through the dust trailed by 3200 Phaethon, which is thought to be either an asteroid or a dead comet. When dust burns in Earth’s atmosphere, it creates this annual meteor shower.

Geminids are denser meteors, allowing astronomers to see them as low as 29 miles above Earth’s surface before the cosmic dust burns up.

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