The Biggest Astronomical Events of 2014

The year 2014 was a busy one for cosmological science.

Over the last 12 months, researchers made historic advancements in the study of Mars, had two nearby meetings with comets, and may have discovered clues of dark matter and signals from the Big Bang. It's sufficient to make us enthusiastic for 2015 to see what new findings wait on. 

But there are few stories that are prominent from the crowd that was space science in 2014. Here is our list of the major astronomy milestones of the year:

  • Historic year in Mars exploration

Provoking new info about the Red Planet, along with new hints about the probability that it once sustained life, was discovered this year. 2014 also comes out to be the 50-year launch anniversary of the first spacecraft ever sent to The Red Planet.

In December, researchers employed on the Mars rover Curiosity declared that the Red Planet hosts organic chemicals (those that comprise carbon and are the basic of life on Earth). The chemicals Chloro-benzene, Dichloro-ethane, Dichloro-Propane and Dichloro-Butane were found inside a rock that Curiosity bored into in May 2013. Scientists emphasized that their discovery doesn’t show that life exists or ever sustained on Mars — but it does open the door of opportunity.

In addition, researchers confirmed in December that the rover had perceived methane on Mars, in spite of not finding any trace of methane last year. Living organisms on Earth are known to yield high levels of methane, so its existence on the Red Planet is another promising signal of life.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft reached at the Red Planet on September 21, just in time to witness the flyby of Comet “Siding Spring”. The $671m mission will emphasise on discovering the events that altered the planet from a world with lakes and rivers, to a wide-ranging desert.

Only two days after MAVEN, India's Mars Obiter Mission (MOM) reached at the Red planet. The $74m mission is India's first spacecraft to reach Mars. MOM is equipped with a camera (and has at present taken some spectacular pictures), and four scientific tools that will examine the planet's surface and atmosphere.

The swarm of activity around Mars came during the 50-year anniversary of the launch of the Mariner 4 spacecraft in 1964. Mariner 4 was the first probe to ever fly by Mars and the first mission to take up-close images of another planet from deep space. In celebration of the anniversary, the space-funding company Uwingu used radio telescopes to beam nearly 90,000 messages straight at the Red Planet.

  • Big Bang finding bites the dust

The BICEP2 association grasped headlines in March when it declared to have discovered proof that our universe quickly expanded after the Big Bang, producing waves in the fabric of the universe. By September, outside assessment had thrown serious suspicions on the discovery. 

BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) uses a telescope in Antarctica to perceive the light available from the Big Bang, named the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). Arrangements in that light that are very hard to identify could show that the Universe speedily expanded moments after the Big Bang and that the expansion shaped gravitational waves, or currents in space-time.

In September, researchers working with the European Space Agency's (ESA) Planck satellite, which also studies the CMB, revealed that what BICEP2 took as patterns in the light could be just the gas and dust in the Milky Way. The biggest astronomical discovery of the 21st century appeared to crumble.

Now, BICEP2 and Planck will compare their data, to try to make a more conclusive result . It is still probable that BICEP2's original clarification is true.

  • First landing on a comet

In a significant first, ESA landed a spacecraft on a comet. “The Philae lander” succeeded to conduct a brief study of the space rock afore it lost power and departed into sleep mode.

Philae's mother ship Rosetta spaceship traveled for 10 years and about 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) to arrive at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the early-morning hours of Nov. 12, Philae left Rosetta and traveled the last 317 miles (510 km) to the comet. Philae touched down at targeted landing area, but harpoons intended to secure it to the surface did not deploy. Philae bounced two times before landing on the surface.

Philae is solar-powered, and the area where it landed is in shadow. Incapable of recharging, Philae is in sleep.


Before Philae went to hibernation, it did succeed to carry out some science. Tools aboard the lander discovered organic molecules — those that comprise carbon are an essential element of life on Earth — in the comet's composition. One of the probe's tools also made an effort at hammering into the surface of the comet and discovered it to be as rigid as ice, according to ESA.

  • Mars Siding Spring encounter

The Red Planet  went through a very exceptional close encounter with a comet in 2014. Comet “Siding Spring” came inside 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of MARS, and left behind a cascade of dust for researchers to study.

The five satellites presently orbiting Mars had to board down the hatches, so to speak, and get ready for the comet to pass by at a top speed of 126,000 mph (203,000 km/h) comparative to the Mars. In fact, the probes moved to the other side of The Red Planet, which turned out to be a clever move: The comet deserted a few thousand kilograms (about 4,000 lbs.) of residue on the planet — far more than researchers had expected.

The satellites were capable of studying the effect of the huge dust dump, which "literally altered" the Martian atmosphere, conferring to Jim Green, head of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Researchers say the dust had high levels of sodium, which would possibly have given the sky a yellowish hue as it fell through the Martian atmosphere and burned up. Early studies also spotted iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, nickel and chromium. The dust also had high levels of magnesium, which was a substantial contrast to the Martian atmosphere.  

 A comet hovers this close to Mars about once every 8 million years, according to Green. "We've got a lot of investigations  going on and it's going to be nonetheless another year before all the outcomes are in."

  • Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone

For the first time, researchers discovered an Earth-size planet in the inhabitable zone of its parent star. The "Earth cousin" could have liquid water and, possibly, the right circumstances for life.

Read full article: NASA’s Kepler Reborn: Discovers First Alien Planet of New Mission

  • Dark-matter signal discovered?

It's promising that years from now, 2014 will be recollected as the year dark matter was first perceived. Scientists using data from ESA's XMM-Newton probe informed discovering a strange X-ray signal originating from both the Andromeda galaxy and the Perseus galaxy cluster. The signal doesn't resemble to any known matter, and the scientists say that one reasonable explanation is dark matter.


Dark matter has never been openly identified by researchers (that rests true till the signal from XMM-Newton is proved as dark matter). It does not radiate, reflect or absorb light (therefore the name "Dark" matter). But researchers approximate that dark matter creates up 80% of the matter in our cosmos, and it applies a computable gravitational force on casual matter like stars and galaxies.

The XMM-Newton outcomes haven't gathered the kind of consideration from the researchers that one might suppose for the finding of the century. Scientists say there are still alternate justifications for the strange signal.

Researchers don't know what dark matter is composed of, but there are numerous candidate particles. The new results would specify that dark matter is composed of a particle called an “Axion”. Other dark-matter quests are searching for particles termed Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs.

This year, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. National Science Foundation accepted funding for three next-generation dark-matter experimentations, which will all be nonetheless 10 times more sensitive than existing detectors. It is believed that once these experiments are up and running, an answer to the dark-matter mystery will be just round the corner.

  • Solar neutrinos

Researchers are not yet capable to look straight into the heart of the sun, but the discovery of particles that are created in the red-hot core may be the next paramount thing.

Researchers with the “Borexino experiment” at Gran Sasso National Laboratory near L'Aquila, Italy, declared in August that they had perceived supernatural little particles titled neutrinos, created in the fusion process that keeps the sun blazing. The discovery confirms researchers' current understanding of solar fusion.

Neutrinos are particles that pass through usual matter more than 99% of the time. Billions of them pass through the palm of your hand every instant.

Researchers first noticed neutrinos coming from the sun in the 1960s, but those were formed by different procedures taking place in Earth's closest star and inclined to have higher energies than the newly identified neutrinos. With higher energies, neutrinos are usually more likely to intermingle with matter (like a particle sensor) and, as a outcome, are easier to identify.

As neutrinos rarely interact with normal matter, they discharge from the sun rapidly, and delivered a direct line among the core of the sun and researchers on Earth. Andrea Pocar, of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and part of the Borexino team, told by email in August that the neutrinos "allow us to look at the bulk of the fusion reactions in the sun's core in real time, as they occur, minus an 8-minute interruption for travel to Earth."

The scientists say these specific neutrinos could help them answer other queries, like how neutrinos suddenly change "flavors."

  • Total lunar eclipse tetrad initiates

2014 was a good year for sky watchers: It presented two total lunar eclipses, in which the moon dips completely into the shadow of the Earth and takes on a dark red shade. Two more thorough lunar eclipses will occur in 2015, for a total of four in a row, which is recognized as a lunar tetrad.

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