It's Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space

Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space

It's the one-year io9iversary of Earth & Space, the physical sciences subsite for all your astronomy, geology, and planetary science needs.

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The Space subsite has been around a long time — the first article dates back to January 24, 2013, followed shortly by a stamp-memorial to the Challenger disaster — covering all things astronomy and space related. But this is my io9iversary, the date that marks when I came on board and started blurring the lines between astronomy, geology, and planetary sciences. After 90 days (and a lot of learning about how to write a proper headline), we started talking about updating the site name to match its expanded focus. That day has finally come: Welcome to Earth & Space, io9's subsite celebrating the wonders of the physical sciences.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space

Earthrise over Ritz Crater from an altitude of 113 kilometers during Apollo 17, and the new avatar for the Earth and Space subsite. Image credit: NASA

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The site style is updating to match the new name. Both the avatar and logo showcase the Earth in the blackness of space, mixing something old and new. The avatar remains a historic photograph, switching from the Apollo 11 launch to an iconic earthrise taken during Apollo 17. Our new logo features imagery not even a year old courtesy of the Lunar Reconnoissance Orbiter, a shot of Earth captured from 376,687 kilometers away on May 24, 2014.

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Want to catch up on the past year of Earth & Space news? Here are my favourites of the more than 500 articles in the past 365 days:

Astronomy and Space Science

Space Station: The International Space Station continues to be a project under-construction, with a trio of spacewalks preparing it to reconfigure for the commercial crew program. It's still going to look downright creepy at night, though. The Canadarm paired up with its independent robotic hand, Dextre, to become the first self-repairing robotic team in space. Holiday dinners on the Space Station are decidedly unappetizing, but at least they now have a coffee machine. If the astronauts find they need something that wasn't packed in their cargo tugs, they now have a 3D printer for custom on-demand manufacturing.

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The space station was filled to capacity several times over with the constant cycle of new crews and cargo runs. We saw the last of ESA's ATVs, the stunningly beautiful reentry of a JAXA tug, and many more launches and landings. In less happy news, we also watched the Antares rocket explosion.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space
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ESA astronaut Hans Schlegelaut during a 2008 spacewalk. Image credit: NASA

Astronauts: Astronauts certainly get up to mischief when they aren't busy with science experiments or making us jealous of their excellent views. Where do astronauts go when they aren't on the space station? A surprising variety of places! The places they used to go is equally as fantastic.

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Solar System: This artistic representation of the solar system where both the size of objects and distances between them are set to the same scale is delightfully distracting. This is the most detailed map of Triton, refurbished by someone who was in the room when the first data was sent home.

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It was a good year for Mars: the planet got two new orbiting satellites: Maven, and just days later, Mangalyaan. A little later, they and all the other Martian robots had to hide from Comet Siding Spring's close enounter. We also heard about what tools to expect on the Mars 2020 rover, confirming it's going to be even more of a geophysicist than previous rovers.

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Our dynamic sun had an active year, well-documented by Solar Dynamics Observatory. We saw a flare in unprecedented detail, observing it with five observatories at the same time. The gamification of stellar fusion is weirdly addictive.

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Exoplanets: Our universe keeps getting stranger with every new planet discovered. The incredible Kepler Space Telescope broke the 1,000 exoplanet barrier, and is continuing to discover yet more alien worlds. We're even developing techniques to find sun-squished planets.

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Astrophysics: A computer glitch gave us an exciting few hours as astrophysicists wondered if we were observing a gamma ray burst in Andromeda, close enough to see well but far enough away to not kill us. Space is even less empty than we thought: stars hang out in the spaces between galaxies. The Boomerang Nebula is weirdly cold.

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Exploration: Japan launched an ambitious asteroid lander mission, with a cousin to Rosetta's Philae on board. Rosetta was a breakthrough in our history of getting closer to comets, even if we still aren't quite sure where Philae landed.

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After getting knocked off-course when a cosmic ray hit its ion drive, the Dawn spacecraft is closing in on Ceres. Those mysterious white dots are getting more puzzling the more we learn, although we'll be finding out more in just a few more weeks!

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Robots: In the history of space robots, this is every place in the solar system that has been inhabited entirely by robots, and every place one has landed. Keeping in touch with them is a full-time occupation for the Deep Space Network.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space
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Four Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors lined up in a cleanroom nursery awaiting installation on GOES satellites. Image credit: NASA/NOAA

Satellites: The Orbital Carbon Observatory launched (finally!), with an entire collection of trivia to supplement the science. The Venus Express died (eventually), leaving the planet without robotic explorers. The ISEE-3 spacecraft was recovered by a crowd-sourced, crowd-funded effort. This fleet of solar satellites may be getting old, but they're still doing good science.

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Space Junk: Space junk is a nasty, growing problem. Here's where we send satellites when they die to try to reduce the problem.

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Telescopes: The Very Large Array telescopes are deliciously meme-able. Who doesn't love an enormous pair of treaded trucks designed solely to transport telescopes around a desert plateau? Laser guide stars are so, so pretty, and even more useful. The James Webb Space Telescope got a bit closer to reality, with parts manufactured, transported, and tested around the country. We couldn't help but giggle over these truly absurd acronyms seriously in use in astronomy.

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New Technology: It was a good year for testing prototypes: NASA took a big step forward in bringing humans to deep space with the first flight test of the Orion capsule. After a few delays, the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator was dropped over Hawaii for its first high-altitude test flight. The Morpheus prototype lander finished its first test cycle, just in time to start up a new series of experiments characterizing its flight capacities and putting the autonomous hazard detection rig through its paces.

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Policy: Political tensions between Russia and the US had all sorts of spillover, from Russian officials taunting NASA over its dependence on Soyuz, to threatening to cut off access to a GPS base station.

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Sending humans to Mars is awesome, but we need cash to do it. The only trouble is, NASA is so successful that its robots keep lasting longer than their missions.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space

Ion engine being installed in a high vacuum tank in 1959. Image credit: NASA

History: The history of rocket development at Jet Propulsion Laboratories is completely unreal. The earliest computers employed by NASA were these lovely ladies, because math is for women. NASA and Star Trek have a long history.

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In the lead-up to sending humans into space, pigeons and kittens were understandably confused by the vomit comet. They were probably relieved when we popped Alan Shepard into space on Friendship 7. Spaceflight isn't all successes: early problems with the space program led to the development of a new safety program, with Snoopy as a long-lasting mascot.

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Impatient researchers coloured the data numbers of very first up-close photograph taken of Mars instead of waiting for processing. The Explorer satellites are hilarious inflatable disco balls for science.

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Beauty: I give up on calling space stunning: between the Cat's Eye Planetary Nebula, Trifids, satellite launches, a whole collection of hearts in unexpected places, Hercules A, a supernova remnant, and the Tarantula Nebula, I'm just left constantly basking in beauty. This inconceivably expensive wristwatch orrery is absolutely drool-worthy.

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To celebrate various launch anniversaries, we rounded up galleries of favourite photos from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Landsat satellites.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space
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The earth as seen from the International Space Station on February 25, 2015. Image credit: NASA/Sam Cristoforetti

Earth Sciences: Atmospheric Science, Geology, Oceanography, and More!

Weathering & Erosion: Weathering is usually slow and boring, but this exfoliation event in the Sierra Nevada mountains is downright dramatic, and differential erosion produces truly beautiful structures!

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Geodynamics & Geodetics: Isostatic Rebound is how the weight of glaciers dents the planet, dropping local sea levels. "The World's Tallest Mountain" is a surprisingly debatable title. We indulged in geologic mysteries of unravelling unusual geomorphology.

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Fossils: We looked at the ethical issues of the fossil trade, and spent a lot of time admiring footprints. Ichnology is the study of tracks and traces, the less popular but totally fascinating field of interpreting fossils and animal behaviour.

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Weather: We kept an eye on the weather, although not as closely as a forensic meteorologist would. The weather changed on Titan. We saw a spectacular variety of ice halos in a single photograph. In climate news, the Iditarod faced a few problems with not quite enough snow for the dogs to race smoothly.

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A glacier near Sukkertoppen ice cap in Greenalnd, photographed in 2013. Image credit: Natural History Museum of Denmark/Tholstrup

Research Techniques: An experimental technique in cleaning up oil spills on ice by lighting them on fire works just about as well as you'd expect: poorly.

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Oceanography: Exploring the oceans is no easy feat, but these ships helped expand what we know. In a magnificent bit of mixing business with pleasure, these shark researchers store bourbon below-decks to speed the aging process. The Alvin submarine has been a staple of deep sea exploration for half a century.

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Monster Machines: This wind turbine in Scotland is almost comedically enormous. Sometimes a bit of design is so simple and so elegant that it is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. This mooring hook is such a design.

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History: This geologic field notebook is a work of art, and a fascinating peek at early observations on mountain-building. One of the very first palaeontologists wore a top hat as her field hat when collecting fossils from storm-swept beaches.

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Beauty: Between the Eye of the Sahara, sediment swirling offshore in Australia, this lovely river delta, evaporating salt ponds along the Dead Sea, the Tongue of the Ocean, the Florida Keys, and so much more, we live on a very lovely planet. Islands are just pretty. Melt ponds are just so pretty, and even ballooning tests in Antarctica are gorgeously alien. While we featured many beautiful and dramatic timelapses, nothing was as downright adorable as when this marmot got friendly with the camera. Sweet, sweet science gets even more literally with this contest of geology cakes.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space

This spidering reef contains the five small islands. Image credit: NASA

Disasters and Catastrophes

Disasters happen everywhere all the time; the only question is what type of disasters, how frequently, how you prepare, and how much it bothers you. Covering current events in disasters is a regular feature for Earth & Space, frequently with breaking-news explainers on the mechanics of catastrophe:

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Earthquakes: The Earth kept on shaking, from shallow quakes in Los Angeles and Napa to deep subduction quakes in Alaska and Chile, and far too many earthquakes induced by fracking and other injection wells. After brushing up on the largest earthquake that ever happened, we can look forward to cringing about a fictionalized megaquake in California. San Francisco is using peer pressure to increase compliance with seismic safety codes.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space

Measuring offset along the Denali Fault. Image credit: USGS

Landslides & Sinkholes: The planet continued to try to eat us between landslides and sinkholes. The biggest news was the Oso Landslide in Washington is the most deadly landslide in American history. As one of the least-funded areas of disaster research, it helps to have some idea of how to identify landslides.

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Floods & Fires: Floods are nasty. What makes a flood worse? Landmines. California fires were miserable, and require new techniques in fire science to meet changing conditions. Even controlled burns can spark some pretty bizarre phenomena.

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Volcanoes: As always, volcanoes provided some stunning footage. Volcanic islands undergo a predictable sequence of growth and erosion. A submarine asphalt volcano in the Gulf of Mexico is oddly beautiful, in an alien, other-worldly sort of way, while chucking garbage into this east African volcano sparked a burping eruption. Even imitation volcanoes in labs are exciting, looking into the phenomena of volcanic lightning.

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In current events, the Mount Ontake, Japan erupted, and taught us about surviving a bad-tempered volcano. Iceland started erupting again, although this time it was more pretty than devastating. Happily, Yellowstone did not erupt.

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Illustration for article titled Its Been A Busy Year For A Tiny Planet Whirling Through Space

USGS geologists investigating the 1984 Mauna Loa eruption. Image credit: R.B.Moore

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Meteors: On the anniversary of Chelyabinsk, we looked at everything we knew about the meteor that could've caused so much more damage than it did. We also got a chance to look at a far less dramatic meteor from the Bay Area, and a whole lot of not-so-near misses that didn't hit us at all. After playing with numbers, it was surprising to realize that observing a meteor while skydiving was unlikely but not impossible.

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Space Weather: Aurora are beautiful reminders of just how disastrous a solar storm could be if we don't hurry up and harden our electrical systems. Aurora + Eruption + Glaciers = Beautiful

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On a less grim note, disasters became the hottest new trend in wedding photography. We also published the first volume of a Supervillain's Guide To Natural Disasters.

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Science at Home: Do It Yourself!

Beginner: Make slime with a bit of glue and borax for messy, squishy fun, and you can even add iron filings for your own magnetic putty. Prefer to build a sandcastle? Use flour and oil to make sticky, silky mock-sand. Want a tidier demo? Shake together sugar and sand, then pour them out to watch self-stratification in action.

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Intermediate: Building a groundwater detection system is less challenging than I thought it would be.

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Advanced: How do you find the perfect place to put your router? With physics!

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DISCUSSION

synthozoic
synthozoic

Wow, you've covered a truly staggering amount of material here, McKinnon! Wow! Keep it up! I love it!