As we exit the first month of the new year, we have a lot to anticipate. Although most of us are working hard on our ‘New Year Resolutions’ (or at least attempting to), there are plenty of interesting things going on in the space above our heads.

It has been three years since former army helicopter pilot, Tim Peake, made headlines as the first British astronaut on board the International Space Station. Britain’s interest in astronomy and the worlds outside our own have only increased since then, mostly due to the  ESA Principia mission (the name given to Peake’s six-month program on the ISS), which was named after Newton’s ‘Principia’. The British astronaut was determined to make Principia an exciting adventure for the younger generation, running school projects alongside his visit to space that all had elements of technology, science and music.

Launched in 2006, the New Horizons space probe (having passed Pluto in 2015) started an adventure for 2014, MU69- now known as Ultima Thule. The object is located more than a billion miles beyond Pluto, a journey it completed on the 1st of January 2019. On New Year’s Day, the New Horizons probe swooped near Ultima Thule and took photos of this impressive Kuiper Belt Object. To celebrate this, the guitar legend and astrophysicist, Brian May, released a rock anthem, ‘New Horizons (Ultima Thule mix)’. When speaking about the mission, May said that it, “is about human curiosity- the need for mankind to go out there and explore what makes the universe tick”. The Kuiper Belt is believed to have preserved objects, that have existed since the creation of our solar system (roughly 4 billion years ago). The investigations made by New Horizons will give us a better understanding of its past.

On January 3rd the Chinese Space Agency’s Chang’e 4 became the first to achieve a soft landing on the moon’s far side (despite Pink Floyd’s lyrics-it isn’t dark) bypassing communication difficulties through their relay satellite Queqia in a halo orbit near the Earth-Moon L2 point. The mission rover Yutu 2 and the lander are equipped with radioisotope heaters to deal with minimum temperatures of -190 °C and are in regular communications with engineers on Earth directing the duo’s science program.

Another major event that occurred this month was the total lunar eclipse which gave an amazing super blood moon. Essentially, this total lunar eclipse coincided with a supermoon, a pretty rare event. The sunlight passing through the Earth’s atmosphere lights the moon in a dramatic fashion, turning it red and giving us the fantastic experience, we got this month. It was visible from nearly everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere and whilst being broadcast live from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (using the new Annie Manduer Astrographic telescope-which returned the Royal Observatory to an actually functioning observatory), astronomers captured a meteorite impact.

But what is there to look forward to? July will mark 50 years since the first man stepped on the moon, so there are sure to be many celebrations of one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Whenever history defining moments like this occur, you never forget where you were, and the anniversary, and the stories that will be shared, will hopefully bring generations together. For those of us in South-East London, well known for its links with navigation, the National Maritime Museum will be hosting an exhibition to commemorate the anniversary. ‘The Moon’, is set to explore the relationships between man and our nearest celestial body. Tickets are on sale from the Royal Museums Greenwich website.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore announced that the UK’s space sector has seen significant growth in income, exports and employment with total income now standing at £14.8 billion. Additionally, the UK is set to build vertical and horizontal ‘spaceports’, which will be launching rockets to place satellites in orbit as soon as 2022.

All in all, this year is truly looking major for astronomy. However, you don’t have to be an ‘astronomer’ to be interested in space, the understanding of our universe is something that should be open for all to enjoy, to learn, to love.