2013's Top 5 Astronomical Stories
Throughout 2013, Dr. Jean Creighton kept her eye on astronomical news. From a fireball in Russia to the Kepler Telescope, Creighton highlights her top five stories of the year.
Mars Rover Curiosity
The rover Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012 and it made its first discovery in 2013 when it pierced a hole in the rock to collect data. Scientists found a liquid environment either exists or did exist on Mars. The water was not acidic, not alkaline, and not salty, making it friendly for life to exist.
Regarding whether there is life on Mars, Dr. Creighton says, “Whether the opportunity arose, we don’t know yet. This is a small sample. How could we possibly exclude that there was some bacteria on Mars? But now, we just have the suggestion that it was a friendly place for life at some point."
Fireball in Russia
The fireball came when astronauts were expecting an asteroid to pass by. Although, the two had no correlation with each other, it was still a sight to see. The fireball was 55-59 feet long and glowed for 35 seconds, which Creighton says is “an eternity.” It exploded about 14 miles above sea level, injuring about 1,700 people and damaging 7,000 buildings. The damage was not caused by a direct contact with the fireball, but by the compressed air the fireball created.
As a response to the fireball, discussion has begun about how to detect such occurrences before they happen and to gather more information about asteroids. In 2023, scientists will send a spacecraft to space in order to retrieve a sample from an asteroid.
Voyager I left in 1977 to make a grand voyage of the solar system and has enough battery power to last until 2020. Voyager I is 126 astronomical units (126 times the distance between the earth and the sun) away from Earth.
“This is going to become the object that people have made that has gone farthest from Earth,” says Creighton.
The craft has traveled so far that it has broken away from the sun’s magnetic bubble and can now focus on the interstellar particles.
The Kepler Telescope, which launched in March 2009, looks at exoplanets in our solar system. It looked at 160,000 stars and has found 3,500 exoplanets up to this point and there are many more out there. The data collected by the Kepler Telescope has shown the relationship that exists between a planet and a star.
New Discoveries Made by Planck
The space telescope, Planck, is observing in microwaves in the solar system and travels freely through space. It detects the low grade light in the background that we can’t see with our eyes. The Big Bang Theory predicted that light and matter separated about 400,000 years after the occurrence, meaning that we are currently seeing light from right after the Big Bang.