We’ve got the solar system under surveillance, and it sure does pay off. Cameras deployed on Earth and in space captured some crazy amazing video, ranging from meteors exploding in the atmosphere, to a Tesla car making its way out to Mars, to extraterrestrial weather events in gas giant planets.
Read on below to see our most-watched videos of 2018! And if that’s not enough amazing space views, don’t miss 100 of the greatest space photos of 2018 here.
1) Super Blue Blood Moon Eclipse of 2018
This year saw an extra-special lunar eclipse that coincided with a Blue Moon – the second full moon in a single month. Combined with a close approach between the Earth and the moon, this meant the lunar eclipse of Jan. 31 was a spectacular sight for millions of observers in North America. While many U.S. viewers were clouded out, you can see in the video here that a lot of folks still got to check out the amazing celestial view. The next total lunar eclipse in North America will happen on Jan. 21, 2019.
2) SpaceX’s Starman in space
No words can describe the awesomeness of the first Falcon Heavy rocket launch by SpaceX, which on Feb. 6 hefted a Tesla Roadster (complete with a dummy nicknamed “Starman”) into low Earth orbit. Within short order, the driving astronaut suited mannequin was on its way to Mars orbit – producing a sequence of stunning shots that you can see in a short video.
The Falcon Heavy launch met most major objectives, with the two booster rockets touching down safely for future launches; the main core stage unfortunately didn’t stick the landing.
3) Soyuz launch fails
An American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut had a surprising roller-coaster ride to space on Oct. 11, when a deformed sensor on their Soyuz rocket failed en route to space, as you can see in this launch video. Within minutes, a routine flight turned into an abort – but the Soyuz spacecraft (the spacecraft has the same name as the rocket) performed flawlessly and parachuted the two crew members of Expedition 57 back to Earth.
A few weeks later, Russian space officials released a rocket booster view showing what happened during flight. Engineers addressed the issue and Expedition 58 made a flawless launch from Kazakhstan Dec. 3.
4) Chinese Space Station Falls to Earth
China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory safely burned up in the atmosphere April 1 over the Pacific Ocean, generating interest from satellite watchers around the world. Today’s high-tech radar systems can track incoming space objects with high precision, allowing planners to better predict where the re-entering space station was going to fall. Forecasting is a challenge, however, because where an object falls depends on the nature of the Earth’s atmosphere, how the object is tumbling, and what the object is made of.
5) 4 Supernovas In One Blow!
In several star-shattering kablooms, you can see stars of several types meeting their ultimate demise in this cool NASA video. The data, based on NASA’s Kepler space telescope (which ran out of fuel late this year), also showed a new type of star explosion different from any other supernova ever charted. The venerable telescope spotted the energy wave from a star smashing into a nearby dust and gas shell, converting most of the kinetic energy into a brilliant flash of light.
6) Cyclones on Jupiter
While Jupiter’s radiation environment would make it a tough destination for astronauts, the specially shielded Juno spacecraft provided an awesome view that let us “fly” over the massive planet’s poles. Swirling below are huge polar cyclones, ranging in diameter from 2,500 miles to 2,900 miles (4,000 to 4,600 kilometers) – nearly twice the equivalent length of the United States. Making the view all the cooler, before Juno we barely knew what was happening at Jupiter’s poles. This makes Juno a valuable asset to better predict the gas giant’s weather patterns.
7) Asteroids and Fireballs!
It’s been a spectacular year for sky shows, with many asteroid flybys and exploding meteors captured in the camera viewfinder. (A meteor is an object entering the Earth’s atmosphere, while an asteroid is a space rock.) In April, a newly discovered space rock slipped between the Earth and the moon; while the flyby was harmless, astronomers reminded us it was similar in size to the object that exploded over Tunguska, Russia more than 100 years ago, flattening the forest.
Also in 2018, two fireballs from separate meteors exploded over Michigan and Australia; while they were small and caused no damage, the events sparked intense interest in astronomy and potential meteorites in those areas.
8) Moons of Mars Seen From Orbit
A cute video returned from Mars in February appeared to show the moons Phobos and Deimos dancing in the dark, but the real story is more clever illusion. NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft took several images during a 17-second time span, and the visible motion is due to changes in the viewpoint of Odyssey’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera. While we were wowed by the images, THEMIS took pictures in the thermal-infrared wavelength – a common band of light used to better learn the nature of an object’s composition.
9) Auroras on Saturn!
There’s no longer a spacecraft at Saturn since Cassini died in 2017, but the Hubble Space Telescope made some amazing observations from its perch in Earth orbit. The venerable observatory captured ultraviolet auroras circling the north pole during and after the summer solstice in that region. The ultimate goal is to better understand how these auroras change during time. Earth gets auroras as well, when the sun’s particles interact with oxygen and nitrogen far up in our atmosphere, but at Saturn its gas molecules are mostly made up of hydrogen.
10) Rovers on an Asteroid!
In scenes that feel like a futuristic video game, the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft deployed hopping rovers on asteroid Ryugu in September. The little world’s weak gravity allowed them to bounce and move about quite easily, providing a valuable close-up view of the asteroid’s pebbles and regolith composition. In 2019, Hayabusa2 should start touchdowns of its own to pick up valuable asteroid dust; next will be a daring return back to Earth, where scientists will analyze its precious load.