While the world worried about its “ending”, politicians spent gazillions of dollars and energy bickering with one another, and storms ripped across our planet, it was quite a year in the blissful silence of space. Here are some of the highlights that may have been overlooked or interrupted by very loud election-year commercials:
1.) Twin GRAIL satellites entered into the moon’s orbit and successfully mapped the moon’s gravitational pull, giving us hints at what the moon’s interior is like:
2.) Exoplanets orbiting other suns continue to be found, including one circling Alpha Centauri B, our nearest neighbor. The Kepler mission has confirmed over 105 exoplanets so far (good news in case our world really does end! Too bad Alpha Centauri is over 100 light years away…).
3.) CERN, the large hadron collider, detected a new particle, one that matched what physicists have been searching for…the elusive Higgs Boson particle, perhaps? This particle might help explain why all matter has mass.
4.) Voyager satellites have been zooming through the solar system for 35 years. The two satellites have been traveling towards the edge of our solar system, and this year, discovered a new region at the edge of the solar system–a magnetic “highway” in the heliosphere (the outer limits of the “bubble” surrounding our solar system). Once they pass through the solar system, they will be the first man-made objects to leave our solar system. When they launched, bell-bottoms were new and cool.
5.) A close-up study of Vesta, an asteroid-like body orbiting the earth, reveals that it is more planet-like than asteroid-like. Called a “protoplanet,” Vesta’s development into a planet seemed to have been stopped sometime. The question is why. NASA has plans to investigate the protoplanet further, perhaps by sending astronauts to land there. More in-depth studies of Vesta could help us understand more about Earth’s formation.
6.) Space shuttles were delivered to museums and science centers across the U.S. If you wanted to see a space shuttle before 2012, your choices were Florida and well, Florida. You could see Enterprise, which was the glide test vehicle, in Washington, DC, but now some very space-battered shuttles can be seen in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and well, still Florida. Each shuttle will be ultimately displayed in a different way: one will be sitting on its wheels, one will be in launch position, one will still have its rear cone one the back as it was when being transported on a 747, and one will be displayed diagonally with its cargo bay doors open.
7.) SpaceX successfully launched its Dragon capsule and docked with the International Space Station, becoming the first commercial capsule in space. Several other companies are close on SpaceX’s heels, bringing commercialization and technical competition to space like never before.
8.) Curiosity successfully lands on Mars, bringing a high-tech chemistry lab to our closest planet. You can even get tweets from Curiosity.
9.) Felix Baumgartner reaches new highs when he jumps from his high-altitude capsule 24 miles above the earth. The previous record was held by Joe Kittinger for his 1960s jump at 102,800 ft.
10.) The world lost two great space explorers–Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride. We were all inspired by their bravery, and now, the stars are a little brighter with them there.