As we move into the new year on the Gregorian calendar, it’s interesting to note a couple of achievements in space exploration that recently took place.
(Incidentally, the Lunar New Year is the beginning of a year whose months are coordinated by the cycles of the moon. Chinese New Year 2019 begins on February 5—it’s the year of the Pig.)
In a first, just at the close of the old year, NASA—our civilian space agency that sometimes conducts military missions—confirmed that their New Horizons spacecraft explored Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, marking the first encounter with a celestial body this distance from the earth, and possibly the oldest space object ever explored.
Another first, just at the beginning of the new year, the China National Space Administration (CNSA)—a military agency that sometimes conducts civilian missions—landed the first space vehicle on the dark, or lunar farside, of the moon. It’s quite an achievement that will hopefully spur additional efforts. This side of the moon is blocked from direct communication with the earth, requiring a relay satellite for the lander to send data and receive commands. This unique position also blocks Electromagnetic interference (EMI), also called radio-frequency interference (RFI), offering a potentially pristine opportunity for deep space exploration if devices can be positioned to take advantage of this position while still being able to effectively communication with earth.
It takes the moon about the same amount of time to spin once on its axis as it does for the natural satellite to orbit the Earth: 27.3 days. Because of this “tidal locking,” we only ever see one face of the moon, which we call the near side.
The PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent, Miles O’Brien, offered interesting insight on this achievement.
While we are marking the transition of a year:
The Ten Best Science Books of 2018 according to Smithsonian magazine: These titles explore the wide-ranging implications of new discoveries and experiments, while grounding them in historical context.
Nine science stories to watch in 2019 according to the Los Angeles Times.
Stories likely to make headlines in 2019 according to Science.