Before 2011 escapes our reach, here’s a list of the Top 10 stories here on Space Oddities. There were so many amazing astronomy-related discoveries this year, but we could only fit a portion of our favorites.
Also, a special shout-out to our readers! You all have made this a very exciting journey for us.
No. 10: Video from Mars
A NASA rover photographed 309 images of Mars during a three-year journey on the planet. Here’s what the rover, called Opportunity, captured. Only problem is the video too jumpy. But, we’ll take it.
No. 9: Too much junk
Courtesy of NASA
This year, we learned just how much crap is orbiting Earth. There are more than 500,000 pieces of debris, all traveling up to 17,500 miles per hour. That’s crazy! According to NASA, about 200,000 pieces of the space junk are the size of a softball or larger. Hopefully we’ll have a story in 2012 about NASA, and others, fixing this mess.
No. 8: An extremely ‘unique’ object
This full view of the giant asteroid Vesta was taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. This view of Vesta shows impact craters of various sizes and grooves parallel to the equator. Photo and caption courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Wait, what? Vesta isn’t really an asteroid? This was a big surprise. The spacecraft Dawn, which is orbiting Vesta – the second largest object in the asteroid belt – revealed some pretty fascinating stuff. Scientists now say the object is somewhere between a planet and an asteroid. Hmm…
No. 7: A view from the ISS
This was perhaps my favorite video of the year. It shows the International Space Station flying over Earth. Every time I see it, I think “Wow.” I bet you will, too!
No. 6: Lots of solar storms
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of the X1.9 class solar flare from Nov. 3. Caption and photo courtesy: NASA/SDO
The sun was pretty violent this year, and it’s going to get worse. The sun is currently in an active cycle that will peak in 2013, but luckily for us, NASA has found a way to better predict when these storms are heading for Earth. Read more about that, the sun’s cycle and what we could potentially expect from a massive CME, or Coronal Mass Ejection. Here’s some more solar storm stories (auroras are included here, too) from the year.
No. 5: Massive asteroid passes pretty close to earth
This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 7 when the space rock was at 3.6 lunar distances, which is about 860,000 miles, or 1.38 million kilometers, from Earth. Caption and image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech
The 1,300-foot wide asteroid 2005 YU55 passed extremely close to Earth in November. While the object wasn’t a threat, it was closer to our planet than the moon is. Scary!
No. 4: More evidence of water
Europa's "Great Lake." Scientists speculate many more exist throughout the shallow regions of the moon's icy shell. Image and caption courtesy of Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel FX/Univ. of Texas at Austin.
My favorite two stories this year dealt with evidence of water on Mars and Jupter’s moon Europa.
The NASA Exploration Rover Opportunity, which has been exploring the Martian surface for more than 7 years, found a “mineral vein” made up of gypsum. That tells scientists that water definitely flowed on Mars.
It was also announced that Europa has enough water beneath its surface to fill the Great Lakes. Whoa!
Want to read more about water worlds? Check out this gallery.
No. 3: Go, Comet Lovejoy!
This was a pretty amazing story. An icy comet named Lovejoy, which was about the size of two football fields, was expected to die a fiery death after it had an extremely close encounter with our Sun. Well, to everyone’s surprise, the comet survived! The comet passed the sun and went right on heading into space. Check out this video:
No. 2: Planets everywhere!
NASA's Kepler mission has discovered a world where two suns set over the horizon instead of just one. The planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most "Tatooine-like" planet yet found in our galaxy and is depicted here in this artist's concept with its two stars. Illustration and caption courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt
I think this was the perfect year to start my blog because there was always an awesome, newly discovered planet to write about. There was a planet made of diamond, one darker than coal, a planet that had two stars just like in Star Wars’ Tatooine, and even Earth-size planets being found. Hundreds of planets were discovered this year, bringing the total number of exoplanets discovered to over 700. Fabulous! Keep on planet hunting! Click here to read more about some of the exoplanets discovered in 2011.
No. 1: Snow angel shines for Hubble, and Space Oddities!
Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
This breathtaking photo of the nebula Sharpless 2-106 made a recent Photo of the Week feature. A day or two after it posted, the stats here on Space Oddities jumped through the roof! We couldn’t believe how many people were searching for this image. While the piece wasn’t a full-on article, this definitely lands on our number 1 spot of best stories for 2011.