Here are the news for this year in the world of space - what to be prepared of and what to expect. Thankfully, no giant comet the size of Texas is expected to collide with Earth...
Starting on January and February, the Martian Rover Curiosity will conduct its main objective on our neighbor planet which is to climb to climb the Mount Sharp and drill it rocks. This is the first time that a rover is able to drill on Mars and scientists have place many bets on this horse, because they expect (like on Earth) to see what happened on Mars many years ago, when it was warmer and wetter, by analyzing the different layers of the rock.
Then on March 1st, SpaceX will begin its second resupply mission to the ISS. This will be the first resupply mission for SpaceX this year and one more is planned.
On April 5th, the Cygnus spacecraft, an unmanned resupply spacecraft being developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) developmental program. Since August 2000 unmanned ISS resupply missions have been regularly flown by Russian Progress spacecraft, as well as by three flights of the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, two flights of the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, and two flights of the SpaceX Dragon. Cygnus will be the resupply vehicle for NASA which seeks to increase its partnerships with domestic commercial aviation and aeronautics industry.
Then, on August 12, NASA plans to meet an old friend, our Moon! NASA plans to go back to the moon with an unmanned mission. The LADEE which stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, carries numerous sensors to measure the ultraviolet and visible light spectrum, it has a neutral mass spectrometer which will measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over multiple lunar orbits with the moon in different space environments, the Lunar Dust Experiment which will collect and analyze samples of any lunar dust particles in the tenuous atmosphere and the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration which will demonstrate the use of lasers instead of radio waves to achieve broadband speeds to communicate with Earth. The orbiter will gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. It weights about 380 kilograms, its mission involves a 30 days journey to the moon, another 30 days to checkout and another 100 days for science operations.
On November 3rd we will experience the rarest type of solar eclipse - the hybrid solar eclipse. At that point, it worth to mention the 4 different solar eclipse types:
- A total eclipse occurs when the dark silhouette of the Moon completely obscures the intensely bright light of the Sun, allowing the much fainter solar corona to be visible. During any one eclipse, totality occurs at best only in a narrow track on the surface of Earth.
- An annular eclipse occurs when the Sun and Moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the Moon is smaller than that of the Sun. Hence the Sun appears as a very bright ring, or annulus, surrounding the dark disk of the Moon.
- A hybrid eclipse (also called annular/total eclipse) shifts between a total and annular eclipse. At certain points on the surface of Earth it appears as a total eclipse, whereas at other points it appears as annular. Hybrid eclipses are comparatively rare.
- A partial eclipse occurs when the Sun and Moon are not exactly in line and the Moon only partially obscures the Sun. This phenomenon can usually be seen from a large part of Earth outside of the track of an annular or total eclipse. However, some eclipses can only be seen as a partial eclipse, because the umbra passes above the Earth's polar regions and never intersects Earth's surface.
Unfortunately, the totality will be visible from the northern Atlantic Ocean east of Florida to Gabon and Africa, with the maximum of 1 minutes 39 seconds visible from the Atlantic Ocean south of Ivory Coast and Ghana. Here is the route:
Specking of which, on May 10, 2013 there will be another annular eclipse to watch. Even worse, annularity will be visible from northern Australia and the southern Pacific Ocean, with the maximum of 6 minutes 3 seconds visible from the Pacific Ocean east of French Polynesia. Here is the path:
On November 18, NASA will launch MAVEN, a parallel program to understand Mars better. MAVEN will provide better details and answers regarding Mars climate history. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. Where did the atmosphere and the water go? It will be able to determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time. By that time, the Curiosity will be making its final approach on Mount Sharp. Here is a photo of MAVEN:
And finally, the best part. On November 28, a visitor from outer space will approach our Sun and it will slingshot back from where it came from. The comet ISON (C/2012 S1) is expected to show its million-miles tail by that time. It was discovered on 21 September 2012 by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using the 0.4-meter (16 in) reflector of the International Scientific Optical Network near Kislovodsk, Russia, and the automated asteroids discovery program CoLiTec. Comet C/2012 S1 will come to perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on 28 November 2013 at a distance of 0.012 AU. During August 2013, it should become bright enough to be visible through small telescopes or binoculars, becoming visible to the naked eye by late October or early November and remaining so until mid-January 2014. In October, the comet will pass through the constellation Leo, passing near Leo's brightest star Regulus and then passing near Mars in the night sky, and these brighter objects might make the comet easier to locate. In November, when the comet is brighter, it will sweep another bright star in our sky, Spica in the constellation Virgo, and another planet, Saturn. Around the time the comet reaches its perihelion on 28 November, it may become extremely bright if it remains intact, probably reaching a negative magnitude. It may briefly become brighter than the full Moon. It is expected to be brightest around the time it is closest to the sun, however, it may be less than 1o from the sun at its closest, making it difficult to see against the sun's glare. In December, the comet will be growing dimmer, but, assuming that it remains intact, it will be visible from both hemispheres of Earth, possibly with a long tail.