2019 was a year full of research and discovery; from reaching new distances to learning more about our solar system, 2019 was a big year for science. The considerable amount of findings makes it hard to boil down to a few, so here is a look at top space science discoveries of 2019.
On January 1st, 2019, the New Horizons probe took hundreds of photos of the space rock, MU69 or Arrokoth, as it flew past at 32,000 miles per hour. This is the most distant object humanity has ever remotely visited. The photos taken by the New Horizons probe show that MU69 is flat, rather than spherical like the Earth. The data obtained from this probe could offer clues about how the solar system has evolved and how planets like Earth formed over time.
K2 – 18b
K2 -18b is a super-Earth planet orbiting a red dwarf star 110 light-years away. The planet is outside our solar system and is the only known exoplanet with water, an atmosphere, and a temperature range that could support liquid water on its surface. In September of 2019, scientists reported they detected water vapor on the potentially habitable planet for the first time. That makes K2 -18b the best candidate for habitability.
Before Chang’e-4’s success, no human or agency had ever touched the far side of the moon. About 3.9 billion years ago, a cataclysmic collision occurred that left a 1,550-mile-wide impact site that likely hit through to the moon’s crust. This area, the moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin, is where the Chinese rover landed on January 3rd, 2019. Landing in this crater could enable scientists to study some of the moon’s most ancient rocks.
In December 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched its probe, Hayabusa-2, which arrived at the Ryugu asteroid in June of 2018. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that the probe could land on the asteroid’s surface. The mission was to collect samples from deep within the asteroid, so before landing, the probe blasted a hole in the asteroid to allow for deeper samples to be obtained. By getting samples from deeper within the rock, scientists aim to learn how asteroids impact the solar system, and if asteroids may have implanted vital components for life on Earth billions of years ago.
In 2019, NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes went outside of the heliosphere to the far edge of our solar system, into the heliosphere. The heliosphere is a bubble created by solar winds from the sun, extending past the orbits of the planets in our solar system, and traveling with the sun through interstellar space. The probes sent back unprecedented data about boundary layers that were newly discovered. These boundary layers, or the heliopause, indicate there are transition stages from our solar bubble to interstellar space that scientists didn’t know existed until now.