Hey, space hounds! Here's our top space stories of 2010. What are yours?
A burping black hole, water in weird places, and whopper-size new planets are some top space stories of 2010. If you have different discoveries on your list, post them in the comments section.
The year 2010 fairly burst with astronomical discoveries, secret space-plane launches, and more questions than answers about the direction of the US human spaceflight program.Skip to next paragraph
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Here's our sampler of some of the most interesting and significant. Is your favorite missing? Post your candidates in our comments section and we'll compile a year-end list for posting online:
Universe's baby pictures
In January, astronomers unveiled the first results from the Hubble Space Telescope's first "ultradeep field" survey, conducted in 2009. The haul: images of galaxies from a remarkable period in the history of the 13.6-billion-year-old universe. The 113 galaxies, which existed when the universe was between 600 million and 800 million years old, would have helped lift the universe out of its dark age – a period following the "big bang" when the initially hot universe cooled to a point where it generated no light.
The team also identified three galaxy "candidates" that, if confirmed, would have existed when the universe was about 500 million years old.
The images were gifts that will keep on giving. In October, for instance, another team using a large ground-based telescope reported that it had gathered a faint bit of spectrum from one of these galaxies. The spectral signature suggested the vast clump of stars and gas the team observed was on the order of 600 million years old. The findings corroborated what Hubble had found and suggested that scientists were witnessing the process that brought the universe out of its dark age.
The measurement was a tough one to make, and some astronomers are skeptical of the results because the galaxy in question is so faint. Still, the two related results highlight the power of using space- and ground-based telescopes in tandem, and the keen interest cosmologists have in learning more about this period in the universe's evolution.
Water in weird places
In April, astronomers announced they had discovered water ice and complex organic molecules on the surface of 24 Themis, a 123-mile-wide asteroid on the outside edge of a belt of asteroids that circles the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
The surprise? Themis is too close to the sun for ice to survive on its surface long enough to be observed. By all rights, ice there should sublimate – quickly shift from a solid to a gas, then vanish. Unless, that is, a large reservoir of water exists below the frigid, dust-covered surface to replace sublimating ice.
Oh yes, and no one had seen evidence of organic molecules on asteroids before. Astronomers say that asteroids similar to Themis could well have played a pivotal role in delivering water and complex organic molecules to Earth.
And maybe the moon as well? In October, scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's LCROSS mission formally unveiled results from the LCROSS spacecraft's intentional collision with the bottom of Cabeus Crater at the moon's south pole.