Great Astronomical Discoveries of 2012?
October 9, 2012 7:16 AM   Subscribe

[Astronomy-filter] Giving a speech about Astronomical Discoveries of 2012 to an informal group of friends. Looking for suggestions on 3 main points to cover. Your input greatly appreciated!

Ahoy, ahoy!

I've been invited to speak for 5-10 minutes to a group of friends about the Astronomical Discoveries of 2012 thus far. So I ask you, what do you consider to be the greatest discoveries of this year? Exoplanets? Black holes? Higgs Boson (does this count as Astronomy?)

Here's what I'm leaning towards: Voyager's on the cusp of leaving the solar system, Pluto's fifth moon is discovered and questions are raised that it might be a binary planet with Charon, and Curiosity Rover lands on Mars and discovers a possible dried stream bed.

I'm sure that I'm missing something obvious, but I'm asking for the community to share what they consider to be the biggest Astronomy discoveries of 2012. Thanks!
posted by Draccy to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your list looks fine. Non-solar-system astronomy is in kind of a lull at the moment, in terms of paradigm-shifting discoveries, but there's lots of new telescope development news. Perhaps the weirdest/coolest news is that a US intelligence agency just gave NASA two new Hubble-class space telescopes, but there's also the E-ELT, which got the go-ahead this year. Also this happened.
posted by caek at 7:33 AM on October 9, 2012

A lot of astronomical news has been exciting but incremental improvements on understanding, or news of new facilities coming online or being approved, and so on. I think in terms of genuine discoveries of entirely new objects, Kepler has just been reeling off new planets. Kepler 22b was announced just at the end of 2011 though.
Comet ISON isn't scientifically all that exciting maybe, but could well be spectacular (story pulled at random).
Technically, parts of Planck (the microwave observing satellite) finished observing in early 2012 as it ran out of coolant, but the data hasn't been made available yet so maybe only people on the inside will know what has come out of that.
Astronomy this year I think has been just churning out amazing data, progressing understanding and confirming past results, but pinning it down to actual discoveries is really pretty hard.

I'd not consider the Higgs to be astronomy either, I'm afraid.
posted by edd at 7:44 AM on October 9, 2012

In the Blue yesterday, there was a story linked indicating that Voyager is no longer on the cusp, but has in fact made its departure from the solar system.

I like that and the Curiosity/stream bed one. I think the pluto story's comparatively week, and would probably go with exoplanets.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:49 AM on October 9, 2012

Think I missed this one at the time, but that's impressive stuff too.
posted by edd at 7:57 AM on October 9, 2012

Well, there is Comet ISON. Unfortunately we won't know until late next year whether it will just be a nice visible comet or turn out to be larger/brighter than the full moon and so on. But if it pans out it could easily be the biggest & brightest new astronomical object in a century. But it could also just turn out to be a nice, rather normal comet.
posted by flug at 9:49 AM on October 9, 2012

I love all of these answers. I would not consider the Higgs discovery astronomy (my Physics neighbors would yell at me for stealing their thunder) but it does have enough serious implications for cosmology (and our department had a betting pool around its discovery) that I wouldn't be too upset to see it in such a list.

Also, The Hubble XDF released last month found the most distant galaxy to date at redshift z~10.4 as part of the revised field (which is an amazing project in and of itself).
posted by McSwaggers at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2012

I would enjoy hearing talks about Voyager, Secret Spy Telescopes, and Planck, but these aren't discoveries. If you have the flexibility to talk about projects or events, those would be neat. If you really want to talk about discoveries, then I would consider the most distant galaxy ever discovered (mentioned above) and the WISE Hot Dogs.
posted by pizzazz at 2:55 PM on October 9, 2012

Not really a 'discovery' as such, but an extremely rare astronomical event of 2012: the transit of Venus.
(Won't happen again until the year 2117....)

See Google images for some beautiful photography.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:32 PM on October 9, 2012

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