From Moon missions to new uses of biotechnology and technological developments, 2024 will be packed with science missions and anniversaries. Here are a 12 science events and missions to mark on your calendars.
Space Missions and Events for 2024
For space, all eyes are on the Moon. There are various uncrewed missions planned to land on the Moon in preparation for the Artemis II missions for the global Artemis program led by NASA. Artemis aims to create a long-term human presence on the Moon eventually. Other missions include NASA's Europa Clipper and Blue Ghost Mission 1 and a long-awaited Solar Eclipse that will cast its shadow across North America.
1. The 2024 Solar Eclipse
On April 8, 2024, a solar eclipse will darken the skies for 4 minutes and 27 seconds across several parts of North America. In the path of totality, you can catch the sun's 'ring of fire' when the Moon blocks it from our view. If unable to travel, you can still see a partial solar eclipse outside the totality line. It's estimated millions of people will have access to the celestial event.
After this year's solar eclipse, the next total solar eclipse to cross over a large portion of the U.S. won't be until August 23, 2044.
Read More: 20 Things You Didn't Know About... Eclipses
2. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory May See Their First Light
Some of the most powerful Earth-bound observatories will be online this year. The long-anticipated Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Cerro Pachón, Chile, is scheduled to start observing on December 11, 2024.
The facility will observe the Southern Hemisphere sky for a decade with a 3200-megapixel camera as part of the Legacy Survey of Space and Time. Each night will produce 20 terabytes of data. Using this data, astrophysicists will map out the Milky Way, study objects that streak across the sky, and further understand dark matter and energy. All data will be easily accessible online.
3. NASA's Europa Clipper Mission Scheduled for a Fall Launch
The Europa Clipper mission will explore what lies underneath one of Jupiter's many moons because scientists suspect Europa shrouds a massive ocean underneath its frozen shell.
In October 2024, Europa will begin its mission to determine if it can support life and characterize its icy exterior and other surface features. However, the spacecraft won't reach Jupiter until April 2030.
Europa is of interest to scientists because of the evidence of water and some chemical building blocks of life like sulfur, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and hydrogen. Also, it is suspected that Jupiter's pull on Europa causes enough energy inside the Moon to heat it.
4. 55th Anniversary Since 'One Giant Leap for Mankind'
In 2024, it will be 55 years since the Apollo 11 astronauts set their boots on the Moon. On July 24, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step on the Moon. They both collected moon samples during this mission and spent about 21 hours and 36 minutes on the Moon.
5. NASA's Lucy Mission Will Pass Near Earth for the Second Time
The Lucy spacecraft was designed to observe eight asteroids. Seven of the eight are Trojan asteroids (which orbit Jupiter), and one is a main belt asteroid. Lucy will help researchers understand how the Solar System formed.
The spacecraft initially launched in 2021 but will pass close to Earth on December 13, 2024. After its flyby near Earth, Lucy will be set on course to fly near the main belt asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson in April 2025.
Read More: Everything Worth Knowing About ... Asteroids
6. European Space Agency Will Launch Hera, a Planetary Defense Mission
The European Space Agency will launch the Hera mission in October 2024. It will focus on analyzing the outcome of NASA's Dart Mission, where they smashed a spacecraft into an asteroid to change an asteroid course.
Overall, the Hera mission aims to gather more data on the best way to protect Earth from rogue asteroids and understand more about solar system formation.
Science Anniversaries for 2024
7. Megalosaurus Celebrates its 200th Anniversary
In 2024, it will be 200 years since the first dinosaur, Megalosaurus bucklandii, was given a name. The fossil was called Megalosaurus, or 'big lizard,' in 1824, before the word 'dinosaur' was developed. The term 'dinosaur' would not be officially used until almost two decades later, in 1842.
When Megalosaurus was discovered in the 18th and 17th centuries, no one knew what or who the large bones belonged to. After further analysis, William Buckland, a professor at the University of Oxford, studied the Megalosaurus bones in detail. He found that the specimen may be an extinct lizard that walked on four legs. But later, with the help of other scientists, they discovered that Megalosaurus walked on two legs instead.
8. Lucy, the Earliest Hominid Skeleton Ever Found, Celebrates its 50th Anniversary
Another famous specimen, the hominid fossil, 'Lucy,' linked to our history as a species, celebrates its 50th Anniversary since its discovery. In 1974, paleontologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray found 'Lucy' in a ravine in Ethiopia. After hours of excavation, the team found 40 percent of Lucy's skeleton.
With the find, researchers confirmed that our ancient ancestors walked on two feet before the first stone tools were invented, and before our brains sized up. Lucy was named after The Beatles' song, "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."
9. Europe Will Switch on JUPITER, the First European Exascale Supercomputer
In 2024, Europe will begin installing the supercomputer's system, JUPITER. The computer was designed to handle AI applications for use in science and industrial fields and completes one billion-billion calculations per second. To match JUPITER's speed, every person on Earth must complete one calculation per second for over four years.
The supercomputer will be available to the scientific community, various industries, and the European public. Supercomputers are used to test mathematical models for weather, astronomical questions, nuclear reactors and weapons, and chemical compounds for new pharmaceuticals. JUPITER will be located at the Forschungszentrum Jülich Research Institute in Germany.
10. The AI Takeover
In 2023, we saw AI become a buzzword as ChatGPT provided instant answers available with just a few keystrokes worldwide. In 2024, AI may be used in other ways besides drafting an email or writing a short poem.
Tech experts suspect AI could be used as a powerful tool for drug discovery. AI can be used to find new biomarkers in viruses, new targets, design chemical compounds, or even be used as a research tool to see new ways current medications can be applied.
Read More: Can AI Read Your Mind?
Medicine and Biology Advancements For 2024
11. CRISPR Could Be Used For Therapeutic Purposes
In the new year, we may see the powerful effects of CRISPR technology for therapeutic research. Towards the end of 2023, Intellia Therapeutics was FDA-cleared to start using a new drug that treats hATTR. The drug was created using CRISPR.
Other biotech companies, Vertex and CRISPR Therapeutics, were approved to use CRISPR-based gene editing therapy to treat sickle cell disease and transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia. It's the first approval for using CRISPR therapy in humans.
12. Mosquito Control Amplified
In early 2024, the World Mosquito Program, in collaboration with Fiocruz's collaborative biofactory, will mass-produce modified mosquitos to stop the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya, and Zika across Brazil.
The mosquitos, called Wolbachia mosquitos, have been infected with Wolbachia, a bacteria that reduces the mosquito population. When a Wolbachia mosquito mates with a regular wild female mosquito, the eggs will not hatch. The new facility will churn out 5 billion mosquito eggs yearly, or 100 million per week. The modified mosquitos were first deployed in Rio de Janeiro and Niterói in 2014.