On the cusp of 2017s last gasp, ponder a year of cosmic discovery. September 2017 marked the end of Cassini’s stoic 20 year, one billion mile journey to unlock mysteries of Saturn and its moons. A quest defined by exquisite images, unprecedented collection of data and a fiery death plunge into the heart of Saturn. We lost Cassini in 2017, but data collected on her death march will keep science busy for years. Great link to NASA Cassini timeline –
In April 2017 Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau published a study detailing LHS 114Ob, a Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light years away. “This is the one we’ve been hunting for all these years!” said Charbonneau. A rocky, temperate exoplanet with our best to date potential for finding alien life.
Credit – M. Weiss/CfA
Speaking of exoplanets – In June 2017 NASA announced 10 of the most recent 219 planets catalogued by the Kepler space observatory, were Earth sized and potentially habitable.
Credit – NASA/JPL-Caltech
November 2017, science discovered the first documented interstellar object to enter our solar system. Object A/2017 U1 was noticed moving away from Earth at a staggering 15.8 miles per second. Now dubbed Oumuamuas, learn more at link below this image –
Gravitational waves took October 2017 by storm, awarding the Nobel Prize in Physics to LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). First theorized by Albert Einstein, conclusive evidence of gravitational waves is possibly the greatest cosmic discovery of 2017. Gravitational waves occur when mass accelerates, such as when two black holes rotate around each other. Moving at the speed of light, they spread outward filling the universe. Einstein didn’t believe they could be measured, LIGO proved him wrong. Astrophysicists won’t forget 2017, the year gravitational waves validated determination to understand disruptions in spacetime.
Cosmic water rippled across 2017. From Cassini’s suggestion Saturn’s moon Enceladus harbored water, to exhaustive unraveling of ancient flowing liquid erosion on Mars and Moon research indicating a wealth of hidden water.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus, photographed here by the Cassini spacecraft, has a subsurface ocean that also contains a chemical energy source that could be used by life-forms.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This image of an inner slope of a crater on southern Mars has several seasonal dark streaks called “recurrent slope lineae,” or RSL.
Moon water theory stems from deposits of pyroclastic rock known as volcanic glass. Glass beads form when eruptions of magma crystallize as they cool on the surface trapping water inside. Until recently decades old samples of volcanic moon glass brought back by Apollo 15 & 17 were thought to be regional peculiarities. Closer modern scrutiny confirms wide total distribution of volcanic glass – a 2017 about face regarding hidden lunar moisture.
2017 catapulted cosmic foundations, science embraced unimaginable leaps toward unraveling the paradox of spacetime. Lack of understanding, dismissive frustration born of absent points of reference are no excuse to retreat from cosmic wonder. I won’t call it a resolution for the new year, but do hope more people open their minds to the cosmos. Start 2018 with links to http://earthsky.org/
in your news feed. Happy New Year.