Reader's Choice: Favorite Space Story of 2012
As 2012 rolls to a close, we can look back at an incredible 12 months of space exploration. Could this be one of the most profound years in space history? It might just be, but as we throw out our old calendars and replace them with ones marked "2013" (while avoiding doomsday in the process)* we look forward to another groundbreaking year in space that (who knows?) might be even more historic.
So here are the top 10 space stories as chosen by our readers. Over 30 nominations were rounded up by Discovery News writers, bloggers and editorial staff, and the final 10 were voted on and ranked by you via Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Here they are in descending order, counting down to #1, the favorite space story of the year.
And so we begin, on Mars, in 1976...
*(This will be the ONLY reference to the idiotic "Maya doomsday" pseudoscience that plagued an otherwise outstanding year of real science!)
10: Mars Viking Robots 'Found Life' (April 12, 2012)
When NASA's Viking landers touched down on the Red Planet's surface in 1976, little did mission scientists realize that they'd be triggering a controversy that would resurface 36 years later. After reanalysis of the experiments carried out by the twin landers, an international team of mathematicians and scientists concluded that the mission may have detected microscopic life in the Martian soil. Read more.
9: Milky Way Crammed With 100 Billion Alien Worlds? (Jan. 11, 2012)
There's exoplanets EVERYWHERE! And according to new estimates, our galaxy is positively crammed full of alien worlds orbiting other stars. This new (and rather exciting) estimate was arrived at by astronomers from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., and the PLANET (Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork) collaboration. Needless to say, the ramifications of the search for alien worlds are huge, so when we think about 100 billion of them, surely one or two may host life? Might there even be a Earth 2.0? Fingers crossed. Read more.
8: Curiosity Landing: What's With All the Peanuts? (Aug. 15, 2012)
What was with NASA's crazy peanut-eating frenzy just before the Mars Science Laboratory touched down on Aug. 5? The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists and engineers couldn't get enough of the salty snack! As it turned out, just before the one-ton rover began its incredibly exciting entry, descent and landing (dubbed the not-so-subtle "Seven Minutes of Terror"), the outbreak of peanut consumption was down to a long-standing tradition dating back to the 1964 Ranger 7 mission. Read more.
7 (tied): Organics Discovered on Mercury (Nov. 29, 2012)
Poor old Mercury. It's small, barren and uninteresting. Wait! Scrub that last bit. The planet closest to the sun is ANYTHING but uninteresting. One of the latest crazy-cool discoveries to come from the NASA MESSENGER probe currently in orbit about the planet is that the pockmarked surface doesn't only host water ice inside its most shady craters, it also has a layer of organic compounds over the top. But what does that mean for the history of the solar system? Read more.
7 (tied): Voyager 1 Detects Weirdness at Solar System Edge (Oct. 30, 2012)
We love weird things at Discovery News, and it appears our readers do too. This latest "weird" thing to come from the epic Voyager 1 mission concerns some fascinating physics right at the edge of our solar system's heliosphere -- aptly known as the "heliopause." The 35 year-old spacecraft is currently ploughing towards interstellar space at a rapid pace and has detected some rather odd magnetic behavior out there. But what does it mean? Read more.
6: The Transit of Venus 2012 (June 5, 2012)
2012 marked the last time that we will see Venus pass across the disk of the sun for over 100 years (from Earth, in any case). The historic event was marked by a momentous international celebration of the transit. I even had the opportunity to represent Discovery News as co-host for the Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) live webcast from the summit of the world famous Mount Wilson, Calif. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that saw the world join in a celebration of astronomy and celestial mechanics. Johannes Kepler would be proud. Read More.
5: Super-Earth Discovered in Star's Habitable Zone (Nov. 7, 2012)
The day when an Earth-sized world is discovered orbiting its star within the "habitable zone" will be a profound day. We already know that there is a preponderance of small exoplanets in our galaxy, but do any have all the right stuff to be called a "second Earth"? So far, we haven't found "that" exoplanet, but we're getting close. Take HD40307g, for example. It orbits inside its star's habitable zone... but it's at least seven times more massive than our planet. It's a "super-Earth." It may not be Earth 2.0, but exoplanet hunters may not be that far off... Read More.
4: Neil Armstrong, Apollo Legend, Has Died (Aug. 25, 2012)
This year also saw the death of a legend. After complications stemming from a cardiovascular procedure, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong passed away on Aug 25 at the age of 82. In a statement, Armstrong's family made a simple request: "Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink." Read more.
3: Red Bull Stratos Skydive (Oct. 14, 2012)
Call it the mother of all marketing stunts or a historic human achievement -- it was both. The Red Bull Stratos mission saw Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner jump from an altitude of 128,000 ft, smashing Joe Kittinger's 52-year high-altitude dive record. So profound was the record attempt, Discovery Channel interrupted its scheduled programming to allow Discovery News to cover event live. The international media was also hooked. And when Baumgartner stepped into the void... the world's collective heart skipped a beat and we all cheered when we saw that parachute open. Red Bull may give you wings, but it also remembers to pack a parachute. Read more.
2. Particle 'Consistent' With Higgs Boson Discovered (July 4, 2012)
One of the main objectives for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) -- most definitely the grandest, most complex and expensive piece of lab kit ever conceived -- is to hunt down "the last piece" of the Standard Model of physics. What that basically means is that should the LHC find evidence for the Higgs boson (named after Prof. Peter Higgs, one of the key physicists who formulated the mechanism that mediates mass in matter), science has the answer to everything! Well, not quite, but these first detections of something that looks like the Higgs does mean that decades of physics theory have been (just about) nailed down. In a nutshell, it's a very exciting era for all physics disciplines, as the Higgs helps us understand how the Universe works. Read more.
1. Touch Down! Mars Rover Curiosity Lands (Aug. 6, 2012)
After surviving the "seven minutes of terror," the dust settled in Gale Crater and a nuclear-powered wheeled robot started taking pictures of its new home. Of course, that new home was Mars and the rover, "Curiosity." The first photos were grainy hazcam pics, shown here, of the crater's plain and rover shadow. As luck would have it, Discovery News' Irene Klotz, Amy Shira Teitel and myself were physically at JPL, Curiosity's mission control in Pasadena, Calif., to cover the event live. It was a night to remember.
The landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory in August began what is shaping up to be a paradigm shift in how the red planet is explored. Building on the incredible successes of the landers and rovers that have come before it (in fact, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity still rolls on, eight years after landing), Curiosity is the most sophisticated robot we've ever sent to another world. But it was that dramatic landing on the morning of Aug. 6 (ET) that captivated the world, kicking off many years of scientific discovery. Read more.
MORE: Reader's Choice: Favorite Space Story of 2011 Reader's Choice: Favorite Space Story of 2010