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Dublin: 1 °C Thursday 27 November, 2014

2012: The year in space exploration

Landing on Mars, meteor showers and fixing the space station with a toothbrush – it’s been quite a year.

THANKFULLY THE MAYANS were wrong about the world ending in 2012 so we still have many years ahead of us to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations and to boldly go where no man has gone before.

As it is, we’ve already made huge progress, particularly in 2012. We finally landed on the red planet, we witnessed unique eclipses that will never happen again in our lifetime and were given some spectacular images of how our world looks from space. Here’s our round up of the most significant discoveries and astronomical events of 2012.

Mars

In August, after eight years of hard work and more than €2 billion, the Mars Curiosity rover successfully touched down on the red planet.



(Youtube/JPLnews)

Within hours of landing, the clever bot started sending back incredible images of its surroundings to earth.

In a bizarre turn of events, Brittany Spears and the Mars Curiosity rover had a bit of a chat on Twitter. No really.

Possibly inspired by its musical discussion with Spears, the Curiosity rover broadcast Stars by will.i.am on Mars. This was the first song ever played on another planet. That we know of…(queue X-Files intro).

They grow up so fast. Just last month Curiosity took its first MySpace-esque selfie. The popular space bot now has over 450,000 Facebook friends.

(Image: NASA Goddard)

International Space Station

It’s been a busy year for the space station. In April the crew on the ISS showed us how they see earth with this gorgeous timelapse:



(Youtube/ReelNASA)

The ISS had a close call in September when a serious power problem left the station in a vulnerable position. The clever astronauts on board managed to fix the power with a makeshift tool made from a toothbrush.

With the toothbrush incident out of the way, it was back to business on the ISS. In October a commercial cargo ship arrived with 1,000 science experiments and a freezer full of chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream.

Sun and Moon

For the last time until 2117 Venus passed in front of the sun, so if you missed it you’ll never see it again. Unless you watch this lovely video.



(YouTube/Camilla Corona SDO)

In July the Hubble telescope spotted a tiny fifth moon near Pluto. It was given the not altogether striking name ‘S/2012’ but we’ll work on that in 2013.

Sad news this year as legendary astronaut, and the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, died aged 82. Armstrong made the historic “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” speech as he set foot on the moon’s surface on 20 July 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission.

In February we were told that there’s a piece of moon rock worth $5 million in Dunsink dump in Dublin. Get digging!

In May, the European Space Agency announced plans to launch a new mission to Jupiter’s moons. Granted, it won’t be launched until 2022 but it’s still exciting news.

Astronomy in Ireland

Apart from news about the highly valuable piece of moon rock in Dunsink, we actually caught a glimpse of several astronomical sights in our skies.

In February astronomy enthusiasts had an opportunity to see Jupiter in Venus as both planets appeared in the night sky.

Then in March, Mars was visible from Ireland. Astronomy Ireland set up giant telescopes around the country for the public so they could see the red planet up close.

The International Space Station made an appearance in Irish skies in April and then again this month . The ISS, which is about the size of Croke Park, looks like a star moving across the sky from right to left and is 100 times brighter than the brightest star in the sky, according to Astronomy Ireland.

Mooching in on the NASA action, it was announced this year that Ireland is to become the first international research partner of the US space agency. This will allow Irish science undergraduates to work at NASA’s research facilities and could eventually lead to Ireland’s first astronaut being sent into space.

We witnessed several meteor showers in Ireland in 2012 but this was the one everyone was talking about. The fireballs lasted some 20 seconds which is unusual for meteor showers and experts said they were travelling at about 17,000 miles per hour.

Other notable space events

In February astronomers discovered a new type of planet – one made of water and surrounded by  a steamy atmosphere. The planet is located in the direction of the Ophiuchus constellation and is about 40 light-years away from Earth.

In March NASA captured dramatic images of activity on the surface of the sun after a new active region on the giant star came into view.



(YouTube/NASAexplorer)

European astronomers found an earth-sized planet just outside the solar system. The planet is so hot its surface may be like molten lava so it’s not very likely that it contains life.

In November scientists confirmed a vast amount of ice at the north pole of Mercury despite its proximity to the sun. There’s enough polar ice at Mercury to bury an area the size of Washington, DC, by two to 2½ miles deep according to experts.

And who could forget Felix Baumgartner’s parachute jump from space. The mad yoke.



(YouTube/redbull)

Just this month NASA went Gangnam Style:



(YouTube/ReelNASA)

NASA, we love you.

And now for a slideshow…

We may not have been able to join these scientists, astronomers and space explorers on their adventures but they gave us some incredible images to enjoy. It’s almost* like being there (*not really).

2012: The year in space exploration
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  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity team members celebrate the successful landing of Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California in August. Image: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    A self portrait taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity members from left celebrate the landing of Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory California in August. Image: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    The first hi-resolution photo from another planet, taken by the Mars Curiosity rover. Image: NASA Goddard
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Venus moving across the sun in June, a once in a lifetime occurance. Image: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Solar eclipse in November. Image Romeo Durscher/NASA.
  • 2012 The year in space exploration

    The skyrocket, photographed by the Hubble Telescope, is a geyser of hot gas from a newborn star that splashes up against and ricochets off the dense core of a cloud of molecular hydrogen. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Fireworks burst in the air over space shuttle Atlantis after it arrived at its new home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November. Image: AP Photo/John Raoux
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    One of the 'Sun Art' images captured by NASA's solar Dynamics Observatory. This still from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) caught the action in freeze-frame splendor when the Sun popped off two events at once on Jan. 28, 2011. A filament on the left side became unstable and erupted, while an M-1 flare (mid-sized) and a Coronal Mass Ejection on the right blasted into space. The movie, taken Jan. 26-28, 2011, shows several other flashes and bursts from the active region on the right as well. Neither event is headed towards Earth. Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Join us on Facebook
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    A dramatic aurora in Norway on October. Image: Hugo Lohre/NASA>
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Image of the sun releasing a massive flare in July. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Tokyo by night. Image: Don Pettit/NASA
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    View of Africa, Europe and the Middle East at night. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    A festive looking nebula called NGCm photographed by astronomers with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Dramatic image of activity on the sun. Image: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA Credit: NASA/GSFC/SVS/SDO To read more about this animation go to: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sdo/news/first-light.html NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Solar activity in extreme UV light. Image: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Meteor shower over Dublin in September. Image: Aindreas Muireadhaigh.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Dublin by night. Image: Don Pettit/NASA
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    Panoramic view of a turbulent star-making region, captured by the Hubble telescope. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    This is what Britain and Ireland looks like at night from space. Image: NASA/Flickr
  • 2012: The year in space exploration

    The Mars Curiosity Rover's self portrait. Say cheese! Image: NASA
  • Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity team members celebrate the successful landing of Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California in August. Image: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes.
  • A self portrait taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity members from left celebrate the landing of Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory California in August. Image: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes.
  • The first hi-resolution photo from another planet, taken by the Mars Curiosity rover. Image: NASA Goddard
  • Venus moving across the sun in June, a once in a lifetime occurance. Image: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill.
  • Solar eclipse in November. Image Romeo Durscher/NASA.
  • The skyrocket, photographed by the Hubble Telescope, is a geyser of hot gas from a newborn star that splashes up against and ricochets off the dense core of a cloud of molecular hydrogen. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • Fireworks burst in the air over space shuttle Atlantis after it arrived at its new home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November. Image: AP Photo/John Raoux
  • One of the 'Sun Art' images captured by NASA's solar Dynamics Observatory.

This still from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) caught the
action in freeze-frame splendor when the Sun popped off two events at
once on Jan. 28, 2011.  A filament on the left side became unstable and
erupted, while an M-1 flare (mid-sized) and a Coronal Mass Ejection on
the right blasted into space.  The movie, taken Jan. 26-28, 2011, shows
several other flashes and bursts from the active region on the right as
well.  Neither event is headed towards Earth.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

<b><a href=NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Join us on Facebook" title="">
  • A dramatic aurora in Norway on October. Image: Hugo Lohre/NASA>
  • Image of the sun releasing a massive flare in July. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • Tokyo by night. Image: Don Pettit/NASA
  • View of Africa, Europe and the Middle East at night. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr
  • A festive looking nebula called NGCm photographed by astronomers with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr
  • Dramatic image of activity on the sun. Image: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

Credit: NASA/GSFC/SVS/SDO

To read more about this animation go to:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sdo/news/first-light.html

<b><a href=NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe." title="">
  • Solar activity in extreme UV light. Image: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA
  • Meteor shower over Dublin in September. Image: Aindreas Muireadhaigh.
  • Dublin by night. Image: Don Pettit/NASA
  • Panoramic view of a turbulent star-making region, captured by the Hubble telescope. Image: NASA Goddard/Flickr.
  • This is what Britain and Ireland looks like at night from space. Image: NASA/Flickr
  • The Mars Curiosity Rover's self portrait. Say cheese! Image: NASA

So to sum that all up…NASA’s own 2012 review:



(YouTube/NASAtelevision)

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