2021 Is Full Of Asteroid Missions And Observing Opportunities – Don’t Miss Them!

2021 Is Full Of Asteroid Missions And Observing Opportunities – Don’t Miss Them!

2021 Is Full Of Asteroid Missions And Observing Opportunities – Don’t Miss Them! 1473 1024 Asteroid Day Asteroid Day

2021 promises to be a full year of asteroid missions and observing opportunities. We wish you success in all the events you are planning, remembering to conduct them safely and responsibly. There are plenty of milestones for you to build events around. Here are the main moments of the coming year.

Image Credit: In-the-sky.org

In January, the asteroid Eunomia will enter its best viewing period. Discovered 170 years ago, Eunomia will reach 8th magnitude on the 21st and will be the second brightest asteroid, just behind Vesta. The asteroid will be located in Cancer, the Crab, next to the famous Beehive Cluster.

Details of asteroid Eros’s surface taken by the NEAR-Shoemaker spacecraft 20 years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL

February is the 25th anniversary of the launch of NEAR-Shoemaker the first mission specifically designed to study an asteroid. It blasted off on 17 February 1996 and went into orbit around asteroid Eros on 14 February 2000, making it also the 21st anniversary of orbital insertion. The mission ended on 28 February 2001, when NEAR-Shoemaker touched down on its rocky surface – making another anniversary, this time the 20th – sending incredible images during the descent. All in all, these milestones make a great opportunity for events describing the results and discoveries of this historic mission. Check out the original mission website here!

Image credit: NASA.

In March, we will have another opportunity to observe Vesta, the brightest member of the Main Belt seen from Earth. In the first half of the month, Vesta can be seen with binoculars and even with the naked eye in places with very dark skies! You could use this moment to show your audience a live asteroid and then use the opportunity to describe the DAWN mission, which 10 years ago flew over Vesta and made incredible discoveries!

In June, Asteroid Day will be on a Wednesday. When such an important moment occurs exactly in the middle of the week, organizers often distribute their activities for days before and after, encompassing the weekends at either end of the week. What do you think? Do you like the idea of an asteroid week?

In July, the launch window opens for the DART mission, which will head towards its fateful rendezvous with asteroid Dimorphos (that we used to call Didymoon!) It will be the first planetary defense mission that will attempt to hit an asteroid to deflect its orbit. Although not schedule to strike Dimorphos until September 2022, there will be exciting moments through all stages of this mission.

In the same month there will be the perihelic opposition of the asteroid Victoria. A perihelic opposition means that the asteroid’s closest  approach to Earth coincides with its shortest distance from the Sun, making it reach a greater brightness than in previous years. This will make asteroid Victoria locatable with small equipment. 

In the last months of the year, two more NASA asteroid missions are scheduled to launch. In October, it will be Lucy, the first mission designed to study the Trojan asteroids, which are found in Jupiter’s orbit. In November,  NEA Scout, is scheduled to lift off. It will use a solar sail to take a miniaturized low cost spaceprobe to an asteroid.

Artists’ conceptions of the Lucy mission (left) and NEA Scout (right). Both are scheduled to launch in late 2021. Credit: NASA.

All in all, it will be a very favorable year to bring your audience closer to the fascinating universe of asteroids. Programme yourself and mobilize your team. Best of luck with the events!

Saulo Machado
Asteroid Day Global Coordinator

This article was first published in Asteroid Day Event Organizer Tips Issue #10
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Saulo Machado is the Asteroid Day Global Event Coordinator. Since 2016, Saulo has been the Brazil Regional Coordinator, where he helped organizers host their Asteroid Day events all over Brazil.

With a passion for astronomy and scientific dissemination, Saulo works as a business administrator in Fortaleza, Brazil. He is the Founder of the Astronomical Events Support Group (GaeA) and hosts Asteroid Day events in observatories, planetariums and astronomy groups throughout Brazil.