This was a big year for space, even as a pandemic took over the world.
Despite Covid-19 lockdowns and things coming to a halt for a brief amount of time, the march for science continued unabated. In the midst of mysterious disappearing monoliths, asteroid close calls, mysterious radio signal from space and the first commercial spaceflight, a lot has happened. Here's some of the top space stories of 2020.
The Crew Dragon Demo-2
NASA and SpaceX have pulled off a historic launch, with Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon taking off from Launch Pad 39a of NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Crew Dragon had embarked on what is a near-24 hour journey that will take NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Center, after its May 27 launch was cancelled due to bad weather. The launch sequence was executed perfectly, with the Crew Dragon launching atop the Falcon 9 and heading into orbit.
Behnken and Hurley, who flew to the International Space Station in SpaceX's new Crew Dragon, splashed down in the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico after the two-month voyage that was NASA's first crewed mission from home soil in nine years.
Behnken and Hurley undocked from the station in August and returned home to land in the waves off Florida's Pensacola coast on schedule at 2:48 p.m. ET following a 21-hour overnight journey aboard Crew Dragon "Endeavor".
The successful splashdown was a final key test of whether Elon Musk's spacecraft can transport astronauts to and from orbit — a feat no private company has accomplished before.
Water on the Moon
The moons shadowed, frigid nooks and crannies may hold frozen water in more places and in larger quantities than previously suspected, good news for astronauts at future lunar bases who could tap into these resources for drinking and making rocket fuel, scientists reported.
While previous observations have indicated millions of tons of ice in the permanently shadowed craters of the moons poles, a pair of studies in the journal Nature Astronomy take the availability of lunar surface water to a new level.
Arecibo Telescope Collapse
The celebrated Arecibo Observatory telescope in Puerto Rico, which once starred in a James Bond film, collapsed Tuesday when its 900-ton receiver platform plunged 450 feet (140 meters) onto the radio dish below.
Engineers had recently warned of the huge structure's decrepit condition, and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced only last month that it would be dismantled.
Two of the cables that held the platform over the radio dish -- which measures 1,000 feet (300 meters) in diameter -- had snapped this year, and the structure finally gave way.
Photographs showed clouds of dust rising into the air and the remains of the telescope instruments scattered across the site.
Over 50 years after the United States planted the first human flag on the moon, China has become the second country to leave a flag on the lunar surface.
Images of the flag, which were taken by a camera fitted to Chang'e 5, were shared by China's National Space Administration. They were taken right before Chang’e 5 collected samples of lunar soil before exiting the moon and returning to Earth.
The flag, representing China, is 2 m wide and 90 cm tall.
China's ambitious lunar mission Chang’e 5 successfully landed on the Moon in December, marking the third time that the country has placed a robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface. Chang’e 5 was launched from China’s Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on November 23, 2020, flying to space on top of a Long March 5 rocket.
China's Chang'e-5 probe, which successfully returned to earth has retrieved about 1,731 grams of samples from the moon, the country's space agency said on Saturday. The samples were transferred to the Chinese research teams on Saturday morning.
Scientists will carry out the storage, analysis and research of the country's first samples collected from the extra-terrestrial object, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said.
A comet visited earth in 2020, making space enthusiasts and people who wish on a shooting star equally excited. Comet NEOWISE which has been named after NASA's Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer space telescope, which detected it in March.
Comet NEOWISE was visible in the early morning hours before July 12. NEOWISE was once in a lifetime, or several lifetimes opportunity. It will not be visible for another 6,800 years. It is currently moving at a speed of 13,942 kilometres per hour.
Comet NEOWISE has two tails. One of which is made of dust and gas and the other of ionised gas.
Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 dropped a capsule onto a remote Australian island carrying asteroid fragments, six years after its groundbreaking mission began. The collected asteroids could shed light on the formation of the solar system and the origins of life according to scientists.
The capsule will entered skies of Woomera in South Australia and by that time the probe had completed a round-trip of around 6 billion km that includes two brief stops on the surface of a moving asteroid.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said that the unmanned spacecraft released the capsule from a height of about 220,000 km.
The re-entry of the capsule also marked the climax of the mission that left the Tanegashima space centre in south-west Japan in December 2014. Hayabusa means falcon in Japanese. The Hayabusa2 mission reached the stationary position above the Ryugu asteroid, in June 2018. The spacecraft reached that positionafter travelling 3.2 billion km on an orbit around the sun for more than three years.
Scientists in Japan said they were left "speechless" when they saw how much asteroid dust was inside a capsule delivered by the Hayabusa-2 space probe in an unprecedented mission.
The Japanese probe collected surface dust and pristine material last year from the asteroid Ryugu, around 300 million kilometres (200 million miles) away, during two daring phases of its six-year mission.
Next year, 2021 also promises to be an exciting year as NASA's Mars missions are scheduled, more starships will be launched and even more moon missions are going to take place.