We’re well past the halfway mark of 2020 and, though its easy to look outside and immediately want to draw the blinds, there are plenty of reasons to be positive. Especially if you turn your eyes to the sky. There have been a ton of achievements in space science, including the launch of three Mars missions from across the globe and the very first hop of the SpaceX Starship SN5 prototype.
The SpaceX and NASA crewed demo mission took astronauts to the International Space Station, the first time a commercial company has done so. Astronomers solved the universe’s missing matter problem with strange signals from the other side of the cosmos. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe smashed another two records while flying around the sun. The second interstellar comet to visit our solar system started breaking apart. A rare ring of fire eclipse hypnotized watchers across the globe. And we may have even seen the invisible for the first time: A black hole collision in deep space.
It can be hard to keep up and we know that — and we want to help.
CNET has launched its very own space calendar covering all the big rocket launches, mesmerizing meteor showers, epic eclipses and even an assortment of scientific milestones to keep our readers in the know. You’ll be able to sync our always-updating calendar with your own Google calendar (or another provider with this link) so you never miss a thing. Each calendar event will link you directly to a story or a stream and all you have to do is add it to your cal now.
And this month is epic: July heralds the beginning of an incredibly busy time for space science and exploring the universe. A slew of new missions will take advantage of the orbits of both Earth and Mars to send probes and rovers to the red planet. Plus, there are major meteor showers still to come and a total eclipse in December.
We want to hear from you, too. If there’s anything you think warrants a mention, let us know. You can email or tweet me with any glaring omissions.
Below is what we expect to see over the next six months — follow along for more updates!
July 20-22: The Hope Mars orbiter launches
Hope is the first interplanetary mission led by an Arab, Muslim-majority country. When the United Arab Emirates’ satellite reaches Mars in 2021, it’ll be the first probe to offer a full picture of the Martian atmosphere, providing a holistic view of how Mars’ climate varies throughout the year. And if successful, it could change everything we know about the red planet.
Back here on Earth, it may achieve something even more important: providing hope to a younger generation, bringing more women into STEM and promoting collaboration between nations.
Hope’s launch was postponed on July 14 due to inclement weather at the launch site in Japan but the probe successfully departed Earth on July 20.
July 23: China’s Tianwen-1 launches
Tianwen-1 means “questions to Heaven” in Chinese and is a three vehicle mission to Mars by the country — their first attempt at landing a rover on the red planet. The orbiter, lander and rover are designed to probe Mars atmosphere and look for signs of life on the surface. China’s recently had great success landing on and exploring the moon in 2019.
The nation didn’t give us the most comprehensive live launch access but we do know Tianwen-1 is now on its way to the red planet and its daring mission will enter the next, incredibly daring phase, in February 2021.
July 27: Delta Aquariids peak
This meteor shower begins around mid-July and peaks toward the end of the month as the Earth passes through the debris left behind by a couple of sun-grazing comets. The southern hemisphere gets the best view, but those in northern latitudes should be able to see the Delta Aquariids until mid-August. The peak occurs around July 27 and July 28 — be sure to brush up on how to catch a meteor shower before then.
July 30: NASA’s Perseverance rover launches
NASA’s Perseverance rover is a science laboratory on wheels and it’s headed to Mars to assess whether the red planet once supported life. It will also carry Ingenuity, a helicopter, in its belly — and if all goes to plan, the chopper will be the first vehicle to fly on another planet.
We put together a huge guide for the mission, so here’s everything you need to know about the Perseverance rover and its mission to Mars.
Aug. 2: Crew Dragon gets back to Earth
The Demo-2 mission sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in May. After spending around two months at the station, it’s time to return to Earth. The pair will undock in the Crew Dragon capsule and fall back home, eventually landing in the ocean — the first time a spacecraft has done so in the US since 1975. The date for undocking is set for Aug. 1 and so the capsule’s return will occur on Aug. 2. A successful return will set the stage for the very first, official, crewed mission to the ISS six to eight weeks later.
We have all the information you need to watch the historic turn right here.
Aug. 11-12: Perseids meteor shower peaks
One of the more impressive meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, is happening through August. As the Earth passes through the tail of the giant comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, our skies will flash with streaks of blazing light. In 2020, the Perseids are expected to peak on Aug. 11 and 12, when the moon should be a little less than half full. If you want to find out how to watch them, all you’ve gotta do is click here — and be sure to brush up on how to catch a meteor shower, too.
Oct. 20: NASA’s Osiris-Rex tries to sample asteroid Bennu
After Hayabusa-2, an intrepid asteroid-chaser operated by Japan’s space agency, smashed and grabbed rock from the asteroid Ryugu in 2019, NASA are going to have a go. Osiris-rex (for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) has been chasing its own asteroid — Bennu — and scoped out a spot to steal some asteroid soil. The smash-grab-and-run date is set for Oct. 20, when we could learn more about an asteroid that may hit Earth in the next century.
Oct. 22: Orionids peak
The Orionid meteor shower occurs through October and November, but should peak around October 22. The shooting “stars” are actually debris left over by Halley’s comet and zip across the sky as Earth passes through its dust trail. The debris burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, leaving a brief trail of gas. (Again, make sure you have the skills to check out these meteor showers.)
Nov. 2: 20 years of ISS occupation
The International Space Station is turning 20!
On Nov. 2, 2000, the first long-term residents of the station docked: NASA’s William Shepherd and two Russian cosmonauts, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. The space station has been instrumental for studying the effects of microgravity and how long-duration spaceflight may affect the human body. It also has a great toilet!
The low Earth orbit laboratory is expected to continue operation for another 10 years, but space agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency are gearing up for a new space laboratory — the Gateway — which is designed to help ferry astronauts from the Earth to the surface of the moon. Because it all starts with the moon.
December: Hayabusa2 returns to Earth with asteroid sample
After a cosmic pickpocketing in 2019, Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft will zip past the Earth and throw out a canister containing a soil sample that it blasted from asteroid Ryugu. Like a newspaper delivery kid, the sample will be thrown and hopefully land in Australia’s backyard — somewhere in the desert — in December.
Dec. 14: A total solar eclipse blocks out the Sun in South America
Total solar eclipses are one of the most fascinating and epic cosmic phenomena we get to experience on Earth. The moon passes in front of the sun, obscuring it from view and instantly turning day to night. There is only one total solar eclipse in 2020 and it will mostly be visible in parts of Chile and Argentina. We’ll make sure you see all the best image from the day though. And, if somehow travel is allowed again in 2020 and you want to head to South America to see it for yourself — check out our guide.
Dec. 21: Jupiter and Saturn meet in the sky
Not literally, of course. The two planets will be in conjunction at the end of 2020, an event that only occurs once every 20 years. When the two most massive planets in our solar system meet like this it is known as a “great conjunction” and the last one occurred in 2000. If you look to the sky between June and August, you should be able to make out the bright planets quite easily. If you need help, we’ve got you covered with these great stargazing apps for spotting constellations.
This page is constantly updated.