2011 has been a tremendous year for astronomy. It has been a marvelous year for discoveries, yet we look forward to the future as the space program evolves to continue without the space shuttles. Here at the Wetherbee Planetarium, we would like to take a moment to reflect on some of our favorite stories we covered this past year.
11. Diamonds in the Sky, originally published 08.29.11. A diamond planet companion was found orbiting J1719-1438. How is that for twinkle?
10. De Blob, it glows!, originally published 08.19.11. Lyman-alpha blob 1 (LAB-1), a giant, intergalactic green blob, was discovered. No one knows what it is, but it is big, it glows, and it is green. We think that is pretty awesome.
9. The sky is falling!, originally published 09.14.11. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) took a spiraling descent back to Earth over late September-early October, mostly breaking apart and burning in the atmosphere.
8. A Geriatric Non-Planet, Non-Asteroid…Thing…, originally published 04.04.11. The gargantuan asteroid Vesta was visited by NASA’s Dawn mission in July of this year for a photoshoot rendezvous.
7. “Spinstars” May Have Helped Seed the Universe, originally published 05.02.11. Astronomers working with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) theorized the existence of “spinstars,” possibly the fastest rotating objects in the universe.
6. Gamma Ray Flares in Binary Star are a Mystery, originally published 07.07.11. A binary star system in January and February of this year was found emitting gamma ray flares as a companion pulsar grazed through the Be-class star’s gaseous disc.
5. “It’s Alive!” Zombie Satellite Galaxy 15 Springs Back to Life, originally published 01.04.11. Rebellious satellite-gone-rogue Galaxy 15 came to its senses and rebooted after months of failing to respond to commands and joyriding.
4. Life-Friendly Zones in the Galaxy?, originally published 09.30.11. Astronomers theorized the possibility of a “life zone” or area in galaxies that is most likely to support life as we know it.
3. Hubble Celebrates Millionth Observation, originally published 07.12.11. The Hubble Space Telescope made its historic millionth observation of outer space, a spectroscopic observation of planet HAT-P-7b.
2. The Star of Bethlehem, originally published 12.20.10, reprinted 12.20.11. The staff at the Wetherbee Planetarium delved into possible explanations for one of the most iconic symbols of the Christmas season.
1. Launch Week: Last Flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour Scheduled Friday, originally published 04.25.11. NASA set the launch date for the last flight of space shuttle Endeavour, one of the final missions for the shuttle program.
So, what do we expect for 2012? NASA’s Dawn mission will wrap up its study of Vesta, the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission will make its descent back to Earth after its failed launch, Kepler is confident about the odds of finding an Earth-like planet in the life zone, and the biggest non-event: the supposed “alignment with the core of the galaxy” on December 21. Here’s to 2012!