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Show moreA test of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft in Texas in November. SpaceX has said it will attempt another test in 2024.Credit…Joe Skipper/Reuters
India landed a robot on the moon and NASA brought pieces of an asteroid back to Earth to study. A green comet illuminated night skies and a “ring of fire” eclipse captivated spectators from Oregon to Brazil. SpaceX launched nearly 100 rockets, and Japan and Europe put powerful new space telescopes into orbit.
For space and astronomy lovers, these were some of the biggest events of 2023. The year ahead promises even more memorable happenings on launchpads, in orbit and around the solar system.
Here’s a look at what to expect in 2024. The New York Times will provide updates on these and other events in an interactive Space and Astronomy Calendar that you can sign up for at NYTimes.com/spacecalendar.
Crucial Events on the Path Back to the MoonThe Artemis II crew, from left, Jeremy Hansen, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman and Christina Koch, will be the first humans to travel near the moon since Apollo 17.Credit…Go Nakamura/Reuters
NASA wants to put American astronauts on the moon’s surface in the years ahead with the Artemis III mission. Before that can happen, though, many things have to go right, and two of the most important are scheduled for 2024.
The first is the Artemis II mission. NASA introduced the four astronauts of Artemis II last year. As soon as November, the four could travel around the moon and back. They would be the first humans to travel near the moon since 1972, when the Apollo 17 mission concluded. To fly in 2024, NASA will need to resolve issues with a heat shield on the astronauts’ spacecraft, as well as overcome other potential delays.
The second hurdle is that the Orion capsule can only orbit the moon — it doesn’t land. Astronauts need another vehicle to head to the surface. For the moment, that is a version of Starship, the spacecraft that is being built by SpaceX, the private spaceflight company founded by Elon Musk. But Starship needs a lot of work before it will be ready to carry astronauts to the moon.
Prototypes of Mr. Musk’s Starship launched twice in 2023, and each mission ended in a fiery blast. SpaceX has said it wants to fly the next Starship test early in 2024; whether it succeeds or fails, flights of more prototypes could follow. If SpaceX gets the next Starship flights right, NASA’s prospects of putting the next man and the first woman on the moon will improve in the years ahead.
A Total Eclipse Over North AmericaThe last total solar eclipse to cross the United States in 2017, viewed from Folly Beach, S.C.Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times
The celestial spectacle of 2024 will be the “Great North American Eclipse.” On April 8, the moon will get in the way of the sun, darkening the Earth during the day time. The eclipse’s broad path starts in Mexico, crosses into Texas, continues up through Arkansas and Missouri into Southern Illinois, crosses into Indiana and Ohio, then darkens western New York and states in New England before ending in Canada’s eastern provinces.
If you live in the path, get ready for visitors. (You can’t book travel to the path of totality soon enough.) And if you plan to observe the eclipse — from anywhere — it’s time to order eclipse glasses or other protective viewers.
New Rockets and Rides to SpaceA test of the European space agency’s Ariane 6 rocket at the Guyanese Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, in November.Credit…P. Piron/Arianegroup, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Falcon 9 rockets, built and operated by SpaceX, have become the dominant way to get to space. The launcher or its Falcon Heavy variant flew 96 times in 2023, with every flight to orbit a success. But SpaceX should expect new competitors on launchpads in 2024. They include:
Vulcan, a rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The rocket’s engines are built by Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon. It could fly on Jan. 8.
Ariane 6, a European rocket. The European Space Agency has been without a dedicated vehicle to get to orbit recently, forcing Europe to rely on SpaceX and others to get spacecraft out into the solar system. After a series of delays, Ariane 6’s first flight could occur in June.
H3, a Japanese rocket. This vehicle launched for the first time in March 2023, but it failed in its attempt to put an imaging satellite into orbit. A second attempt may happen as soon as Feb. 15.
New Glenn, a rocket from Blue Origin. Mr. Bezos’s company has flown tourists to the edge of space in its smaller New Shepard vehicle. Its large orbital launcher could debut in 2024, shaking up private spaceflight if it proves to be successful.
New vehicles could also visit the International Space Station. Dream Chaser, a space plane built by the company Sierra Space, may carry cargo to the station for the first time this year. Additionally, Starliner, a capsule built by Boeing, may finally carry a crew of astronauts to the outpost in orbit on April 14 after years of delays.
Lunar Traffic JamAstrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander will attempt a visit to the moon in January.Credit…United Launch Alliance
Three missions attempted to land on the moon in 2023. Only one, Chandrayaan-3 from India, succeeded. Four additional missions — and perhaps even more — will also try to complete a lunar landing in 2024:
SLIM, a Japanese mission, should be the first lunar landing attempt of 2024, on Jan. 20. The small, experimental spacecraft launched in September and is already orbiting the moon.
Two other missions come from private companies, with NASA as their primary customer. Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh company, will launch its Peregrine lunar lander on Jan. 8, which could attempt to set down near the Ocean of Storms on the moon’s near side in February. Intuitive Machines of Houston will send its own lander toward the moon’s south pole as early as mid-February.
China is also planning its fourth moon landing. Chang’e-6 could head toward the moon’s far side in May, gathering samples of moon rock and dust to bring to Earth for study.
Other missions are more tentative. The Japanese company Ispace, which crashed its first lander last year, could make a second attempt late this year. And Intuitive Machines has ambitions of sending two more NASA-sponsored missions to the moon in 2024.
Journeys Around the Solar SystemWork on the Europa Clipper spacecraft in a clean room of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in April.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
There’s a vast solar system out there, and missions large and small will set out to explore it.
The biggest is Europa Clipper, a NASA spacecraft headed to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, in October. Europa has an icy exterior concealing a vast ocean that scientists say may have the right conditions for life. After Clipper arrives at Europa in 2030, the spacecraft will attempt no landing there, but it will study the moon during dozens of flybys.
Two new spacecraft could also head to the red planet no earlier than August as part of the small NASA ESCAPADE mission. The spacecraft will orbit Mars and study the magnetic bubble that surrounds it.
In October, the European Space Agency will launch the Hera mission to the asteroid Dimorphos. It will study the effects of an earlier mission, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, which slammed into Dimorphos in 2022 to test whether altering a space rock’s trajectory could protect Earth from future asteroid strikes.
Show moreAxiom Space’s Ax-2 private astronaut mission docked with the International Space Station in May 2023.Credit…NASA
Visits to the International Space Station are valuable, and would-be astronauts and their countries can wait a long time for the opportunity. In addition to wealthy adventurers, Axiom Space is making it possible for people to make the trip from countries that have seldom or never had astronauts aboard the orbital outpost. The three on the Ax-3 flight are: Alper Gezeravcı, who will be the first Turkish astronaut; Marcus Wandt, a European Space Agency astronaut from Sweden; and Walter Villadei, an Italian Air Force pilot who previously flew to the edge of space on a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, at the satellite fairing assembly building at the Tanegashima Space Center, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan.Credit…Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Japanese space agency’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon launched on a long lunar journey in September. The 420-pound spacecraft will attempt to set down after months in deep space, testing sophisticated lunar landing techniques for future space missions. It would be Japan’s first lunar landing, making it the fifth country to reach the moon.
A new image of Jupiter’s moon Io captured by the Juno spacecraft on Dec. 30.Credit…NASA/SwRI/MSSS
More than seven years after it began studying Jupiter, NASA’s Juno mission has been making close passes of some the gas giant’s moons. The latest is Io, the most volcanic world in the solar system. It made a close pass of less than 1,000 miles on Dec. 30, and a second visit on this date could yield more insights about Io and its eruptions.
Intuitive Machines’s Nova-C lunar lander at the company’s facility in Houston in February 2023.Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
Intuitive Machines, a Houston company, may launch its IM-1 mission, using its Nova-C spacecraft to carry payloads to the lunar South Pole region, potentially making it the second spacecraft to land there. Like Astrobotic, which is scheduled to launch in January, its mission is sponsored by NASA and is aiming to be the first privately built moon lander to successfully reach the lunar surface.
The H3 rocket lifting off from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan in March 2023.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The H3 rocket, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, will be the flagship vehicle of Japan’s space program. Its first flight in March 2023 failed to reach orbit, resulting in the loss of an Earth imaging satellite. It could attempt to fly again as soon as Feb. 15, this time carrying a test payload and a pair of small satellites.
Work on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite inside a spacecraft assembly facility clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in February 2023.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images
The NASA-ISRO SAR Mission, or NISAR, is a collaborative project between the American and Indian space agencies. Launching from an Indian rocket, the spacecraft will carry a variety of sensors, some provided by NASA, to study shifts in Earth’s land- and ice-covered surfaces using synthetic aperture radar. NASA says the launch will occur in early 2024, and ISRO has suggested it will be within the first quarter of the year. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when NASA and ISRO announce one.
Earth at the vernal equinox.Credit…Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory
The vernal equinox is one of two points in Earth’s orbit where the sun creates equal periods of daytime and nighttime across the globe. Many people mark it as the first day of the spring. See what it looks like from space.
A penumbral eclipse over Srinagar, India, in May 2023.Credit…Mukhtar Khan/Associated Press
A lunar eclipse happens when the moon passes through the shadow Earth makes when it gets in the way of the sun. During a penumbral eclipse, the moon crosses through the outer part of this shadow, known as the penumbra.
This event can be observed anywhere on the night side of Earth, in this case much of the Americas and parts of East Asia. But only careful observers will really be able to see the eclipse — because the moon doesn’t travel through the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, so the lunar surface only slightly dims in brightness.
From left, the crew of the Polaris Dawn Mission: Jared Isaacman, mission commander; Anna Menon, mission specialist and medical officer; Sarah Gillis, mission specialist; and Scott Poteet, mission pilot.Credit…John Kraus/Polaris Program, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In 2021, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire founder of the payments processor Shift4, took three people to space with him for a mission called Inspiration4. In 2022, he announced that there would be additional flights. This year, with a new crew in the SpaceX Dragon capsule, Mr. Isaacman wants to fly to a higher orbit and attempt a spacewalk. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Polaris Program announces one.
Eclipse-viewers in Newport, Ore., in 2017, the last time a total solar eclipse passed across the United States.Credit…Toni Greaves for The New York Times
Nearly seven years ago, the “Great American Eclipse” crossed from Oregon to South Carolina, prompting inspiration and wonder as the moon obscured the sun. On April 8, skygazers will stop and watch the “Great North American Eclipse” that will take a southwest-to-northeast path across the continent. Order your eclipse glasses while you can, and don’t wait any longer to book travel plans if you aim to be in the path of totality.
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on a launchpad at Cape Canaveral in 2022.Credit…Joel Kowsky/NASA, via Associated Press
Boeing and SpaceX once were racing to be the first to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in a privately built spacecraft. That race ended in 2020, with SpaceX emerging as the victor. After technical problems in 2019 and 2021, Boeing finally sent an uncrewed Starliner to the space station in 2022. After even more delays prompted by problems with the capsule, it is scheduled to fly a crew of astronauts to the orbital outpost this spring, expanding the number of spacecraft capable of carrying humans into orbit.
The comet Pons-Brooks in December 2023.Credit…Eliot Herman
Comet Pons-Brooks, which has a shape that has been compared to “devil horns” and even the Millennium Falcon of “Star Wars,” swings around the sun every 71 years, becoming brighter and developing a tail upon its approach.
In the few weeks of April leading up to this point, the comet could be visible in the Northern Hemisphere to the naked eye. However, by April 21, when the comet is set to be closest to the sun, it may be more difficult to discern. Experienced skywatchers may spot the comet during the solar eclipse on April 8. As Pons-Brooks moves away from the sun, observers in the Southern Hemisphere will get the chance to catch the comet before it swoops out of view for the next seven decades.
A long exposure of the night sky over Austria in April 2020 during a Lyrid meteor shower.Credit…Christian Bruna/EPA, via Shutterstock
Active from April 14 to 30. Peak night: April 21 to 22
Best seen from the Northern Hemisphere, the Lyrids are caused by the dusty debris from a comet named Thatcher and spring from the constellation Lyra.
During this year’s period of peak activity, viewers may have a more difficult time seeing meteors from this shower because the moon will be nearly full.
The Chang’e-5 lunar probe mission launching from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan province, China, in 2020.Credit…Costfoto/Future Publishing, via Getty Images
China has landed on the moon three times, including one mission to the lunar far side and another that collected moon rocks and brought them to Earth. Its next mission, Chang’e-6, will combine these two feats, gathering materials from the side of the moon humans cannot see to allow scientists on Earth to study them. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when China’s space agency announces one.
Halley’s comet over Easter Island in 1986. The Eta Aquariids meteor shower are the result of debris from Halley’s tail.Credit…W. Liller/NASA
Active from April 19 to May 28. Peak night: May 5 to 6
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is known for its fast fireballs, which occur as Earth passes through the rubble left by Halley’s Comet.
Sometimes spelled Eta Aquariid, this shower is most easily seen from the southern tropics. But a lower rate of meteors will also be visible in the Northern Hemisphere close to sunrise. With the moon just a thin sliver in the sky, viewers could witness a strong show this year.
An Ariane 6 rocket’s Vulcain engine at a facility in Vernon, France, in 2021.Credit…Pool photo by Christophe Ena
Europe’s final Ariane 5 rocket completed its last mission in July 2023, and problems with other rockets have left the continent’s space program reliant on SpaceX and others for trips to space. The Ariane 6 rocket could lift off on a demonstration flight that aims to restore Europe’s ability to reach space on its own after a series of delays. Other customers are also waiting to fly on the rocket.
Earth at the summer solstice.Credit…Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory
It’s the scientific start to summer in the Northern Hemisphere, when this half of the world tilts toward the sun. Read more about the importance of the solstice for life on Earth.
Sunset in Albufera, Valencia, Spain, on July 4, 2020, when the Earth was at aphelion.Credit…Kai Foersterling/EPA, via Shutterstock
Even as the Northern Hemisphere experiences the heat of summer, our planet is at aphelion, the farthest it will get from the sun during its elliptical orbit. Read more about aphelion, and what it’s like on other worlds in our solar system.
The Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower, which peaks in late July.Credit…John Chumack/Science Source
Southern Delta Aquarids active from July 12 to Aug. 23.
Alpha Capricornids active from July 3 to Aug. 15.
Peak night for both: July 30-31.
Two meteor showers peak at the end of July: the Southern Delta Aquarids, best seen in the Southern Hemisphere in the constellation Aquarius, and the Alpha Capricornids, which are visible from both hemispheres in Capricorn.
With the moon around 40 percent full, the already-faint Southern Delta Aquarids, sometimes spelled Aquariids, may be difficult to see. The Alpha Capricornids will be bright, but they rarely create more than five meteors an hour.
The ESCAPADE mission will study Mars’s magnetic bubble.Credit…Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center/UAE Space Agency, via Associated Press
ESCAPADE is a small NASA-funded mission involving a pair of orbiters, Blue and Gold, that are operated by the Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. As they travel around Mars, they will study the magnetic bubble around the red planet. Potentially, the two small satellites could launch on the first flight by New Glenn, the large orbital rocket built by Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when NASA announces one.
Perseid meteors fell over northern Spain in August 2021.Credit…Pedro Puente Hoyos/EPA, via Shutterstock
Active from July 17 to Aug. 24. Peak night: Aug 11 to 12
A favorite among skywatchers, the Perseids are one of the strongest showers each year, with as many as 100 long, colorful streaks an hour.
It is a show best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. This year, observers may have to compete with light from the moon, which will be nearly half full on the night the Perseids peak.
A view of a partial lunar eclipse seen over Salgotarjan, Hungary, in October 2023.Credit…Zsolt Czegledi/EPA, via Shutterstock
A partial lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth and moon are positioned almost, but not quite, in a straight line. Unlike the penumbral eclipse in March, this time the moon will pass through a portion of the umbra, or the darkest part of Earth’s shadow cast by the sun. As a result, a part of the lunar surface will be completely obscured to viewers on Earth’s night side, which in this case will include the Americas, Africa and Europe.
Earth at the autumnal equinox.Credit…Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory
The autumnal equinox is one of two points in Earth’s orbit where the sun creates equal periods of daytime and nighttime across the globe. Many mark it as the first day of the fall. See what it looks like from space.
The asteroid Dimorphos, seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in December 2022.Credit…NASA, ESA, David Jewitt (UCLA), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test slammed into Dimorphos in 2022 to test whether altering a space rock’s trajectory could protect Earth from future asteroid strikes. Europe’s Hera mission is a follow-up, providing a deeper assessment of the effects of the DART spacecraft’s collision. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when ESA announces one.
Work on the Europa Clipper spacecraft inside a spacecraft assembly facility clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images
Europa Clipper is a major NASA mission headed to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, which has an icy exterior concealing a vast ocean that scientists say may have the right conditions for life. After it arrives at Europa in 2030, the spacecraft will attempt no landing there, but Clipper will study the moon during dozens of flybys. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when NASA announces one.
The comet Tscuchinshan-ATLAS observed in August 2023.Credit…Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project
First detected by Chinese astronomers in January 2023, Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS comes within 44 million miles of Earth just a couple weeks after a close encounter with the sun.
If the comet survives the rendezvous with our home star, scientists expect an impressive sight. Astute observers may have already spotted the comet in morning skies earlier in October, but it should be especially bright in the evening from now through Oct. 24.
Orionid meteors streaking over northern Lebanon in 2021.Credit…Ibrahim Chalhoub/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Active from Oct. 2 to Nov. 7. Peak night: Oct. 20 to 21
The Orionids are well-loved by meteor shower aficionados because of the bright, speedy streaks they make near the group of stars known as Orion’s Belt. Like the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which peaked in early May, the Orionids result when Earth passes through debris from Halley’s Comet.
This shower can be seen from both hemispheres. But viewers this year may have trouble spotting some of the fainter streaks because the moon will be over 80 percent full.
The Leonid meteor shower viewed from North Macedonia in November 2020.Credit…Georgi Licovski/EPA, via Shutterstock
Active from Nov. 6 to 30. Peak night: Nov. 16 to 17
The Leonids produce some of the fastest meteors each year, at 44 miles per second, with bright, long tails.
Meteors from the Leonids can be spotted in the constellation Leo, and they will be visible from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. This year, spotting the Leonids will be difficult because of the nearly full moon.
A Geminids meteor over Salgotarjan, Hungary, in 2021.Credit…Peter Komka/EPA, via Shutterstock
Active from Dec. 11 to 20. Peak night: Dec. 13 to 14
Caused by debris from an asteroid, the Geminids are one of the strongest and most popular meteor showers each year. This shower is best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, but observers south of the Equator can also witness the show.
Like the Leonids last month, the Geminids peak during a nearly full moon, which may wash out the light from fainter streaks in the sky.
Earth at the winter solstice.Credit…Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory
It’s the scientific start to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, when this half of the world tilts away from the sun. Read more about the solstice.
A rendering of the orbit followed by the Ursids meteor shower. The white line shows the shower’s path, and the bright blue line in the middle represents the Earth’s orbit.Credit…Ian Webster and Peter Jenniskens
Active from Dec. 17 to 26. Peak night: Dec. 21 to 22
A winter solstice light show, meteors from the Ursids appear near the Little Dipper, which is part of the constellation Ursa Minor.
Only skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere will have a chance of seeing this shower. The moon will be half full, making streaks in the sky even more challenging to spot.
Rocket Lab’s probe will study Venus’s toxic atmosphere.Credit…NASA
In what could be the first private mission to another planet, the company Rocket Lab is sending a Photon spacecraft toward Venus, where it will fire a small probe to briefly study the toxic world’s atmosphere.
Enjoying the Perseid meteor shower at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.Credit…Michael Ciaglo for The New York Times
Our universe might be chock-full of cosmic wonder, but you can only observe a fraction of astronomical phenomena with your naked eye. Meteor showers, natural fireworks that streak brightly across the night sky, are one of them.
Where meteor showers come from
There is a chance you might see a meteor on any given night, but you are most likely to catch one during a shower. Meteor showers are caused by Earth passing through the rubble trailing a comet or asteroid as it swings around the sun. This debris, which can be as small as a grain of sand, leaves behind a glowing stream of light as it burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Meteor showers occur around the same time every year and can last for days or weeks. But there is only a small window when each shower is at its peak, which happens when Earth reaches the densest part of the cosmic debris. The peak is the best time to look for a shower. From our point of view on Earth, the meteors will appear to come from the same point in the sky.
The Perseid meteor shower, for example, peaks in mid-August from the constellation Perseus. The Geminids, which occur every December, radiate from the constellation Gemini.
How to watch a meteor shower
Michelle Nichols, the director of public observing at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, recommends forgoing the use of telescopes or binoculars while watching a meteor shower.
“You just need your eyes and, ideally, a dark sky,” she said.
That’s because meteors can shoot across large swaths of the sky, so observing equipment can limit your field of view.
Some showers are strong enough to produce up to 100 streaks an hour, according to the American Meteor Society, though you likely won’t see that many.
“Almost everybody is under a light polluted sky,” Ms. Nichols said. “You may think you’re under a dark sky, but in reality, even in a small town, you can have bright lights nearby.”
Planetariums, local astronomy clubs or even maps like this one can help you figure out where to get away from excessive light. The best conditions for catching a meteor shower are a clear sky with no moon or cloud cover, at sometime between midnight and sunrise. (Moonlight affects visibility in the same way as light pollution, washing out fainter sources of light in the sky.) Make sure to give your eyes at least 30 minutes to adjust to seeing in the dark.
Ms. Nichols also recommends wearing layers, even during the summer. “You’re going to be sitting there for quite a while, watching,” she said. “It’s going to get chilly, even in August.”
Bring a cup of cocoa or tea for even more warmth. Then sit back, scan the sky and enjoy the show.