In 2015 we saw another year of numerous spaceflight missions and space discoveries that will revolutionise the way look at the sky and live on earth.
It is time to revisit 10 of those telling moments that happened in 2015.
Nasa’s New Horizons made the closest approach to dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, more than nine years after it blasted off from earth. The moment of closest approach for the New Horizons spacecraft came at 7:49am EDT culminating an unprecedented journey spanning 3 billion miles.
Based on everything Nasa knows, New Horizons was straight on course for the historic encounter, sweeping within 7,800 miles of Pluto at 31,000 mph.
Water on Mars
Briny water flows during the summer months on Mars, raising the possibility that the planet long thought to be arid could support life today, scientists analysing data from a Nasa spacecraft said on September 28.
Although the source and the chemistry of the water is unknown, the discovery will change scientists’ thinking about whether the planet, that is most like earth in the solar system, hosts microbial life beneath its radiation-blasted crust.
Astronauts living at the International Space Station took their first bites of space-grown lettuce in 2015, in what scientists described as another step toward enabling human missions to Mars.
If space explorers can grow their own food while they are away from earth, they are more likely to survive the rigors of deep space exploration lasting months or even years, according to Nasa.
Closest potentially habitable planet
Astronomers discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system, orbiting a star just 14 light years away. The planet, more than four times the mass of earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061.
Small rocky planets like our own are now known to be abundant in our galaxy, and multi-planet systems also appear to be common. However, most of the rocky exoplanets discovered so far are hundreds or thousands of light years away.
For the first time in decades, sky gazers witnessed a swollen “supermoon” bathed in the blood-red light of a total eclipse on September 28.
Unusually, our planet took a position in a straight line between the moon and the sun, blotting out the direct sunlight that usually makes our satellite glow whitish-yellow. But some light still crept around earth’s edges and got filtered through its atmosphere, casting an eerie red light creating the “blood moon”.
For people younger than 33, this was the first-ever chance to see a “super blood moon”.
‘WTF’ space junk
A mysterious space junk hurtled into the Indian Ocean, about 104 km or 65 miles off the southern tip of Sri Lanka on November 13 at around 5pm.
What made this unusual was that no one had any clue regarding the source of this space debris named ‘WT1190F’ except that it was man-made. And researchers claimed that it was sheer coincidence that the unknown object had ‘WTF’ in its name.
WT1190F, which was orbiting beyond the moon and its movements were initially not tracked by observers, was first identified by Catalina Sky Survey, a programme aimed at discovering asteroids and comets that swing close to Earth.
The Falcon lands
SpaceX stuck the landing of its powerful Falcon 9 rocket on December 21, in what the company hailed as a landmark success toward one day making rockets as reusable as airplanes. The event marked the first time an orbital rocket successfully achieved a controlled landing on earth.
SpaceX, headed by internet tycoon Elon Musk, is striving to revolutionise the rocket industry, which currently loses many millions of dollars in jettisoned.
US space mining law
In a first, US President Barack Obama signed a legislation at the end of November that allows commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon.
The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 says that any materials American individuals or companies find on an asteroid or the moon is theirs to keep and do with as they please.
India launched its first space observatory, Astrosat, from the country’s main space centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on September 28, becoming a member of the select group of space organisations to have a lookout in orbit after the US, Japan, Russia and Europe.
The satellite was zoomed into space by a PSLV C-30 rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 10am. Six customer satellites, one (micro) each from Canada and Indonesia, and four nano satellites from the US also rode along.
GPS to IRNSS
IRNSS-1D, the fourth navigational satellite of India, was successfully launched on-board PSLV-C27 on March 28.
The first three satellites IRNSS 1A, 1B, 1C were launched on-board PSLV earlier on July 1, 2013, April 4, 2014 and October 16, 2014 respectively.
With the operationalisation of four navigational satellites in orbit, it became possible to provide position, navigation and timing services. The IRNSS constellation of seven satellites is expected to be completed by 2016.