Hey Space Placers!
Happy New Year’s Eve everyone. Last year at this time I was in the Indian Ocean enjoying the stars way down under and couldn’t get out a ‘Top Space Pick for 2015’. The July flyby of Pluto http://wtop.com/the-space-place-tech/2015/07/pluto-come-finally/ would have been my pick.
For 2016’s pick we leave the solar system and enter the realm of the Cosmos. February’s announcement regarding the discovery of gravitational waves http://wtop.com/science/2016/02/breakthrough-scientists-detect-einstein-predicted-ripples/slide/1/ is my pick for 2016’s “Top Space Story”.
|Illustration of gravitational waves produced by two orbiting black holes. (Image: Henze/NASA)|
Ever since humans looked up at the night sky 2.5 million years ago and the invention of the astronomical telescope by Galileo in 1609, almost all information we have gleaned about the Universe has come to us in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Literally the entire spectrum http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/science/toolbox/emspectrum1.html - radio waves to gamma rays. I say ‘almost all’ because we have sent spacecraft to land on planets, comets and asteroids, obtained comet dust, and sent humans to the Moon. We have recovered over 50 thousand meteorites - rocks from space - including specimens from the Moon and Mars. All of this has added to our cosmic knowledge.
The detection of gravitational waves was made possible by finally developing the exquisite technology that enabled us to detect the physical warping of spacetime by an event. A second event was announced in June 2016 https://www.sciencenews.org/article/second-gravitational-wave-signal-detected and showed us that more events were going to come our way - that gravitational waves were not a ‘one and done’ occurance.
Gravitational wave astronomy is now a new branch of humanity’s oldest science. Plans are underway for placing gravitational wave detectors in space https://lisa.nasa.gov and adding a third detection facility in Italy http://www.ego-gw.it/public/about/whatis.aspx . New discoveries regarding black holes, neutron stars and the Big Bang itself await us https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-future-of-gravitational-wave-astronomy/ . Even more exciting is what we don’t know about that we will uncover - therein lies the prize of new discoveries and knowledge.
What lies ahead space-wise in 2017? NASA will get a new Administrator and we will see what that means for the country’s space program. There are a number of unmanned mission scheduled to go to the Moon in 2017. The U.S. will witness an eclipse of the Sun on August 21st https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEmono/TSE2017/TSE2017.html .
And once again, what we don’t know about in the upcoming space year will be the ultimate prize….
Have a safe and wonderful New Year and we’ll follow the Universe together in 2017.