As we race towards the end of another decade here on planet Earth our resident space and science guru, astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker, takes a look back at the ten biggest stories of the past ten years.
#10 – Retirement of the Space Shuttle
After more than 130 missions and thirty years, 2011 saw the end of the space shuttle program. While the reusable spacecraft saw many successes, it was also struck by two notable tragedies – with the los of shuttles Challenger and Columbia with all hands.
#9 – Comets from Another Solar System
In late 2017, 1I/Oumuamua (Hawaiian for scout) was discovered and while there wasn’t consensus on what it was, it was universally accepted that it originated from outside our solar system. Then this year, 2I/Borisov was discovered and enabled the confirmation that not only are they comets, but they might be very common!
#8 – A New Race to the Moon
Before this year only two countries had ever attempted a lunar landing. But in 2019 China, Israel and India all attempted to land on our closest celestial neighbour. China’s Chang’e 4 even successfully landed on the far side of the Moon, it has a radio telescope and a small biosphere to grow plants and house silk worms.
#7 – Landing on a Comet
On the 6th of August 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft reached comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and a few months later it’s companion Philae was the first probe to land on a comet. One of the many notable discoveries coming from this milestone is organic compounds in space.
#6 – Discovering Gravitational Waves
In 1916 Albert Einstein predicted that ripples in the fabric of space-time could happen. On 14 September 2015, the collision between two black holes weighing 36 times and 29 times the mass of our Sun produced a gravitational wave that was detected and has since opened a new world of discovery, especially for astrophysicists like UQ’s Dr. Tamara Davis.
#5 – The Kepler Space Telescope
Launched in 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope changed our view of the Universe. After 9 and a half years of operation, over 2,500 exoplanets were discovered showing there are potentially billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Dr Brad used Kepler to see shockwaves ripping through stars, creating awesome supernovae.
#4 – Hunting for Life
This decade hunting for life outside of our planet was taken to a whole new level. Mars Curiosity landed in 2012 and found hints of the potential, Cassini flew past Saturn’s moons and found some interesting things and exoplanets in the “Goldilocks zone” of other stars turned up some interesting findings.
#3 -A Visit to Pluto
Discovered in February 1930 but only ever a point of light in the distant solar system, Pluto was a mystery for 80 years – until New Horizons came knocking for a closer look at this controversial “planet.” It took nine years to get there, but in July 2015 it took some photos and humanity got it’s first glimpse of Pluto.
#2 – First Image of a Black Hole
In April 2019, astronomers announced the almost impossible – the first image of a black hole. They’re so dense, not even light can escape their gravitational pull and while the hole itself may be dark, it’s surrounded by a hot swirling disk that shines brightly. Using a network of international radio telescopes, astronomers were able to point and shoot – as it were.
#1 – The Rise of Private Space Travel
Despite all of the big events and discoveries of the decade, Dr Brad believes the 2010s will be remembered as the decade of private space enterprise. The advent of cheap reusable launch systems has opened up a new era of space exploration, including space tourism from 2020.
Amazon’s Blue Origin, Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon are just some examples of the private spacecraft under development and flying into low Earth orbit right now.
Dr Brad Tucker and Matt Miller return on Tuesday, January 7 with another season of Talkin’ Science so make sure you like, follow and subscribe to Trekzone’s social media to ensure you never miss an episode of our little science news show!