The Year in Space: More Than Just Pluto

Dec 23, 2015

There were a couple of really big astronomy stories that grabbed headlines this year involving the exploration of distant worlds. Scientists discovered remnants of standing water on Mars with evidence to support flowing water on the planet.

Additionally, the first photographs of Pluto were captured and the European Space Agency landed on the comet, 67P/CG.

"This was an incredible adventure. Comets move really fast, so the ESA spacecraft had to travel for ten years to reach it - even though it's considerably closer than Pluto that took nine," says astronomy contributor Jean Creighton.

Creighton also stresses the importance of being able to land on a comet. With a lander that took seven hours to drop with some considerable difficulty, the spacecraft landed in the shadows of a cliff which eventually disabled its power. After waiting to recharge once the comet got close enough to the sun, essential data was able to be collected. 

"We found water vapor, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide...which tells us since comets are some of the oldest leftovers in the solar system they connect us to that very first cloud (the solar nebula) that gave birth to the sun and to planets," explains Creighton. "This is great, because it tells us that all the cool organic goodies that you would need to make something that has potential for life existed from the start."

But there were lots of other stories that will have a lasting legacy for astronomers.  Creighton joined Lake Effect's Bonnie North in the studio to look back at the memorable discoveries made in the last 12 months:

Jean Creighton is the director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium at UW-Milwaukee and our regular astronomy contributor.