2012 – A Year In Space
1 year — 2012
10 images — And yes! It WAS difficult to whittle it down to ONLY 10. My goal was to include not only the year’s most stunningly impressive astronomy images, or my opinion of such, but also to include Earth from space, celestial events, exciting milestones in space travel and exploration, humanity in space, and a glimpse of humanity’s future in space. (I am aware that it’s impossible to tell the entire story of a year in space in only 10 images, I am aware of the images I’ve omitted. And yes…it was painful to decide on, and include, only 10!)
1 video — Because I just couldn’t help it, and because the message presented is perhaps the most personally inspiring message of 2012.
5 days — Spent compiling, agonizing over selections (I LOVED it!), and writing.
87 links — But please don’t try to count them! Enjoy as many as you have time and interest to. (I only counted them once and that number could be completely wrong.)
74 tags — I needed coffee after tagging…
Images are presented in the order of occurrence and not based on preference. Clicking on an image title will present a larger view, in most cases, and clicking on image credit links will present additional information on the folks who brought them to us!
Earth From Space: A Southern Summer Bloom – On January 13, 2012 the European Space Agency released this Envisat image of a phytoplankton bloom swirling a figure 8 in the South Atlantic Ocean about 600 km east of the Falkland Islands. During summer in the southern hemisphere the ocean becomes rich in minerals from the mixing of surface waters with deeper waters. Phytoplankton depend on these minerals making blooms like this common during warm months. Blooms may cover hundreds of square kilometers and are easily visible in satellite images. Different types and quantities of phytoplankton exhibit different colors, such as the blues and greens seen here. These microscopic organisms are the base of the marine food chain, and play a huge role in the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the production of oxygen in the oceans. A bloom may last several weeks, but the life span of any individual phytoplankton is rarely more than a few days. By helping to regulate the carbon cycle, phytoplankton are important to the global climate system, and get enough of them together and they create incredibly stunning satellite images! – Image credit: ESA
The Helix Nebula – On Jan 19, 2012, the European Southern Observatory released this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 650 light-years away, in the constellation of Aquarius. Planetary nebulae are the remains of stars that once looked a lot like our sun. In visible light the Helix’s fine details are normally obscured by dust, but captured by ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) we can peer through the dust to see radiating filaments of cooler gas in the rings as well as a faint halo of thinly spread gas extending at least four light-years from the core of the dying star. – Image credit: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson – Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
SpaceX Dragon Berthed to International Space Station – On May 25, 2012, with rays of sunshine and Earth’s thin blue atmosphere serving as a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is berthed to the Earth-facing side of the ISS’s Harmony node becoming the first commercial craft to accomplish this type of space operation. After a series of system tests, and a successful fly-under of the ISS, the Dragon capsule was cleared by NASA to approach the station. Dragon performed a series of intricate test maneuvers required to demonstrate the maneuvering and abort capability of the craft prior to approaching and moving into a 65-foot berthing box where it was grappled by NASA astronaut Don Pettit using the station’s Canadarm robotic arm. On May 31, after successfully completing its mission, Dragon splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Previously only four governments, the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency, had achieved this challenging technical feat. SpaceX then completed its first official resupply mission in October 2012. – Image credit: NASA
Venus Transits The Sun - On June 5, 2012, Hinode captured this amazing view of the transit of Venus just as the planet was fully entering The Sun’s disk. The ring seen around the planet is caused by Venus’s thick atmosphere scattering and bending the sunlight coming through the other side. If you missed this year’s Venus Transit, no worries, you might can catch it again — in about 100 years. Transits of Venus are very rare among predictable celestial events and occur in pairs, eight years apart, which are themselves separated by more than a century. The last transit of Venus took place June 8, 2004 and the next pair of transits will occur in December 2117 and December 2125. Hinode is a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency to study the connections of the sun’s surface magnetism primarily in and around sunspots. – Image credit: JAXA/NASA/Lockheed Martin (Lead U.S. investigator for the Solar Optical Telescope.)
Curiosity Snaps Picture of Its Shadow - On the evening of August 5th PDT (morning of August 6th EDT), 2012, after a nearly 8 month journey, and 7 Minutes of Terror, a rover named Curiosity successfully landed on the surface of Mars. This is one of the first images taken by Curiosity and transmitted back to a very excited and celebratory team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The camera’s clear dust cover is still in place in this view, and dust can be seen around its edge, along with three cover fasteners. The rover’s shadow is visible in the foreground. Launched November 26, 2011 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-541, the Mars Science Laboratory has since set out on its long term robotic exploration of the red planet, its environment and its habitability. – Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Sunita Williams on Spacewalk – On September 5, 2012 NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, sends a wave to team mate Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide during a 6 hour, 28 minute spacewalk, the mission’s third session of extravehicular activity (EVA). 47 year old Astronaut Williams, who also served as Commander of Expedition 33, holds the record for the longest space flight time among female space travelers, she also holds the record for number of spacewalks for a female, as well as most spacewalk time for a female. She is also proof that when looking for positive female role-models for our daughters, all we need do is look up. – Image credit: NASA
The Pencil Nebula - On September 12, 2012 the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory, located in the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert, presented us with this image produced by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope. This peculiar cloud of glowing gas is part of a huge ring of wreckage left over after a supernova explosion which took place about 11,000 years ago. This oddly shaped cloud, also known as NGC 2736, is a small part of a vast supernova remnant in the southern constellation of Vela. The colors seen here represent different elements: oxygen is blue, and hydrogen red. Also mixed in are elements like iron, nitrogen, and carbon. All the essential elements for life as we know it were created in stellar explosions like this one. As it’s been pointed out by Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others, we are, indeed, ‘star stuff’. – Image credit: ESO
Hubble Goes Deep, eXtremely deep – On September 25, 2012 astronomers presented a new, improved portrait of mankind’s deepest-ever view of the universe. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full moon. What did the first galaxies look like? To help answer this question, Hubble presents this deepest image of the universe ever taken in visible light. Pictured above, the XDF shows a sampling of some of the oldest galaxies ever seen, galaxies that formed 13 billion years ago when the universe was only a few percent of its present age. The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see. This view was taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the infrared channel of its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFPC3). Astronomers the world over will likely study the XDF for years to come to better understand how stars and galaxies formed in the early universe. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. – Image credit: NASA /ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch /University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens / Leiden University/The HUDF09 Team
Double Prominence Eruptions – On Nov 16, 2012 the Sun erupted with two prominence eruptions, one after the other over a four-hour period. This image, beautifully illustrating the action, was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in the 304 Angstrom wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light. The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. The prominence plasma flows along a tangled, twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. Solar prominences (known as a filament when viewed against the solar disk) are anchored to the Sun’s surface in the photosphere, and extend outwards into the Sun’s hot outer atmosphere, called the corona. The corona extends more than a million kilometers from the Sun’s surface with temperatures reaching two million degrees and is where solar winds originate. A prominence forms over timescales of about a day, and stable prominences can persist in the corona for several months, looping hundreds of thousands of miles into space. – Image credit: NASA/SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory)
Orion Spacecraft – On December 18, 2012 NASA, in its ‘Image of The Day’, featured this photograph of technicians as they prepare to fit a special fixture around an Orion capsule inside the high bay of the Operations & Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Construction on the first space-bound Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) began at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, in September 2011. Engineering advances by NASA and its industry partners show exciting progress toward Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), promising that in two years human space exploration will make its biggest leap in more than four decades. The uncrewed EFT-1 mission, launching from Kennedy Space Center in 2014, will test the re-entry performance of the Orion capsule, which, according to NASA, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed and which will carry astronauts farther into space than ever before, sustain astronauts during space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space and emergency abort capability.
‘These recent milestones are laying the foundation for our first flight test of Orion in 2014,’ said Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ‘The work being done to prepare for the flight test is really a nationwide effort and we have a dedicated team committed to our goal of expanding the frontier of space.’
Orion will be launched by NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket boasting an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS promises to enable new exploration missions and expand human presence across the solar system. – Image credit: NASA
2013 – ?
I’m looking forward to an equally amazing, stunning, mind-bending, and inspiring year in 2013. I hope everyone has a GREAT NEW YEAR!