This week in science saw the first mission of 2023 by space giant SpaceX, an ambitious launch of 114 satellites. Meanwhile, a comet passed through Earth after quite a long time (the last time it was around, Neanderthals roamed the planet).
Closer home in India, ISRO is gearing up for the launch of the lunar mission Chandrayaan-3, learning from the failures of Chandrayaan-2 which couldn’t launch successfully. Talking about lunar missions, the South Korean orbiter Danuri has clicked some stunning images of Earth from the Moon.
1- SpaceX stars new year with launch of 114 satellites
On Jan 3, 2023, SpaceX kicked off the new year with its 200th mission as a Falcon 9 rocket successfully deployed 114 satellites in over 82 deployment zones. Over 36 of these satellites were Earth-observing satellites and about the meagre size of a loaf of bread.
This development comes fresh off the company’s 2022 success as it managed to launch 61 successful missions at an average rate of launching one satellite per week. 2023 seems to be a stacked year for the Elon Musk-founded company aims to conduct the first orbital launch of Starship in 2023 alongside other big missions. Starship is a super heavy-lift launch vehicle (with more than twice the thrust of NASA’s Saturn V) that stands out with it being marketed as a “fully reusable” spacecraft.
2- Chandrayaan 3 to be launched this year
At the 108th Indian Science Congress, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief S Somnath announced that the lunar mission Chandrayaan 3 will be launched by June this year. He added that the satellite is fully integrated and is in the final phase of testing.
The highly anticipated Chandrayaan 3 mission follows the disastrous Chandrayaan 2 which crash landed on the Moon in 2019. Since then, the pandemic and the lockdowns delayed further testing and it’s only now when the third phase of the Chandrayaan mission can finally get the green light.
3- Comet from Neanderthal times nearing Earth this February
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was first spotted by astronomers of the Zwicky Transient Facility last March. At the time, the comet was inside the orbit of Jupiter and was mistaken for an asteroid. As is the case with many comets, it began developing an icy tail with the Sun vapourising the ice. Now, the comet is estimated to attain its closest distance to the Sun on January 12 and approach Earth on February 2.
Neanderthal 's Comet is back!— Fred Heller (@fredHeller1) January 3, 2023
The last time is was in our skies was 50000 years ago
The celestial visitor will be at perihelion, closest to the sun, on January 12, 2023.
February 1, 2023, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass Earth at a safe distance of more than 26 million miles pic.twitter.com/FFfYkeicvJ
The last time Comet C/2022 E3 encountered our planet was around the Upper Paleolithic age, the period when Neanderthals inhabited the planet. Homo sapiens (modern humans) had just developed in their early forms at this time. The comet is estimated to be over 50,000 years old with data gathered from telescopes.
4- South Korea’s Danuri captures stunning images of Earth from the Moon’s POV
The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), South Korea’s first lunar orbiter is also nicknamed Danuri which translates to “enjoy the moon” in Korean. Launched in August 2022, the lunar vehicle is currently surveying the barren landscape of the Moon and recently managed to capture some stunning views of Earth from its current spot.
The two images were captured on Christmas Eve (December 24) and December 28, 2022. They not only reveal the familiar geographical features of our planet but also the big craters that the Earth’s natural satellite is full of. The snapshots were part of an authentication exercise and were clicked using the high-resolution camera (LUTI) mounted on the spacecraft.