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Revel in sharing astronomy's 'Golden Age'

Published 3:57 pm, Wednesday, January 9, 2013
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[The following is an open letter to Greater New Milford-area residents from the volunteers at the McCarthy Observatory on the campus of New Milford High School.]

Dear friends of the McCarthy Observatory:

January, 2013

As we depart 2012 and look forward to many 2013 adventures in this Golden Age of Astronomy, it is exciting to review some of the most significant advances in this great field of science in the past year.

There were many, but here are some we think are most noteworthy. Feel free to respond to this with those you think cannot be ignored.

The dramatic landing, and excellent beginning of Mars exploration, by the Curiosity rover/chemistry laboratory

Major deposits of water ice detected at the poles on Mercury by the Messenger orbiting vehicle. Ice on Mercury? Amazing.

More than 125 new exoplanets discovered, including some around multiple star systems, and one that is a "super-earth" in the habitable zone around the nearest "sun-like" star.

The final count was 851 exoplanets. And the announcement of more than 1,000 additional planet candidates by the Kepler satellite mission.

Highly likely discovery of the "Higgs" Boson by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. This has huge implications for particle physics and, hence, for astrophysics.

The first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station by the SpaceX "Dragon" vehicle.

The GRAIL lunar mission completed its work developing a very detailed gravity map of the moon. The two probes, Ebb and Flow, were then crashed into the moon's surface.

A new "Extreme Deep Field" image from Hubble... revealing infant galaxies as early as 13.2 billion years ago. A remarkable "zoomable image" is available here at hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2012/37/image/a/format/zoom.

Great progress in mapping the distribution of dark matter in the universe, using new techniques.

Voyager probes discovering new phenomena at the extremes of the solar system -- including discovering a "magnetic highway" that connects us to interstellar space.

Discovery of a small galaxy with an enormous supermassive black hole... a great challenge to those developing galaxy/black hole formation theories.

Discovery of a comet that may be one of the brightest in recorded history... to be very visible late in 2013.

And, in the solar system, Pluto was found to have a fifth moon, a detailed survey of Vesta was completed (Ceres is next), and we enjoyed a Transit of Venus, with the next one coming in 2117.

Our guess: 2013 will provide us with even more discoveries and knowledge.

This is a Golden Age. Enjoy it.

Happy New Year!

The volunteers

McCarthy Observatory

New Milford