2019 Will Be An Extraordinary Year In Space. Here's What NASA, SpaceX, And The Night Sky Have In Store For Planet Earth

an illustration of spacex's big falcon rocket, or bfr. spacex

When it comes to events in space, 2019 is going to be an extraordinary year.

That's not to say 2018 will be an easy act to follow. After all, SpaceX debuted the world's most powerful operational launch system (called Falcon Heavy), sent a car beyond Mars, and helped lift off more orbital rockets than in any year since 1990.

With a few  exceptions, NASA also had a momentous 12 months: The US space agency announced its first-ever commercial astronaut crews, began a new hunt for Earth-like planets, sent a probe to "touch" the sun, and landed its InSight robot on Mars.

China, meanwhile, crashed an old space station into the ocean and launched a small fleet of moon satellites.

But 2019 will be a doozy — a sentiment that NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine highlighted after NASA's recent Mars landing.

"Right now at NASA, there is more underway than in I don't know how many years past," Bridenstine said during a live broadcast. "It's a drought, and then all of the sudden there's all of these activities."

Here are some of the biggest events you can expect from aerospace companies, government space agencies, and the night sky next year.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on November 29, 2018.

January 1: NASA's New Horizons probe will fly by Ultima Thule, the farthest object humanity has ever tried to visit

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Steve Gribben

After NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto in July 2015, the robot kept going. The space agency now plans to use the nuclear-powered probe to visit an icy body called Ultima Thule, or 2014 MU69. The object is in the Kuiper Belt, about 4 billion miles from Earth, and researchers think it's a peanut-shaped rock.

Overnight on December 31, 2018 — New Year's Eve — and into January 1, New Horizons will fly by, study, and photograph the mysterious object. Scientists estimate that it's perhaps 20 miles long and 12 miles wide (roughly the size of a city). New Horizon's flyby will make Ultima Thule the most distant object ever visited by humanity.

January 3-4: The Quadrantids meteor shower peaks

In 2019, bright moonlight won't get in the way of obfuscating this annual meteor shower. The event starts to peak around 9 p.m. EST on January 3 and lasts through dawn the next day. The Quadrantids can produce 50 to 100 meteors per hour, according to EarthSky— but you need to find a dark night sky to see more than a meteor per minute.

January 6: Partial solar eclipse

The moon will slip in front of the sun, partially blocking it, for those who are in northeast Asia and the north Pacific Ocean.

January 17: SpaceX plans to launch its Crew Dragon spaceship for the first time

SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, plans to test-launch its new Crew Dragon spaceship, sending it into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The vehicle was designed and built for NASA to help replace the agency's space shuttle fleet, which was retired in 2011. The eventual goal is to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station (and forgo using Russia's increasingly expensive Soyuz spacecraft).

In this first flight for Crew Dragon, the vehicle will automatically dock and undock with the space station in orbit. But no astronauts will fly on board. Instead, the test aims to show the system is safe for two crewed test flights planned for later in the year.

January 20-21: Total lunar eclipse

A total lunar eclipse, or blood moon, as seen in a time-lapse series of images. Tragoolchitr Jittasaiyapan/Shutterstock

The Earth will block the sun during a full moon, casting a ruddy-red shadow on the lunar surface. North and South America will be prime areas to see this astronomical event, since you can see the entire 5-hour-12-minute spectacle from start to finish (depending on the weather, of course). The eclipse starts at 9:36 p.m. EST on January 20, peaks at 12:12 a.m. EST on January 21, and ends around 2:48 a.m. EST.

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