As the 2010s come to a close, it’s time to revisit how some of the biggest space science stories shaped the decade.
From the rise of TESS to flybys of Pluto and Cassini’s dramatic demise, the past ten years have produced some incredible science. Here are some of our favorite discoveries from the decade.
2010 Saw Cosmic Chases and Cosmic Rays
The Deep Impact spacecraft proved to be an overachiever in 2010, chasing down a second comet after it had already observed one. After Deep Impact visited Comet Tempel 1 in 2005, NASA realized the spacecraft still had enough fuel to visit another comet as well. 2.9 billion extra miles (4.6 billion kilometers) later, it met up with Comet Hartley 2.
To researchers’ surprise, the peanut-size comet was actually quite active, spewing cyanide-laced gas from its surface. This extra flyby made Deep Impact the first spacecraft to visit two comets in one mission.
Also in 2010, the sun began to wake up, with some extremely powerful solar flares! The sun goes through 11-year cycles of solar activity, and a particularly weak cycle came to an end in 2010. The result was that the sun began to exhibit powerful solar activity, which continued into 2011. These solar flares and eruptions can create dazzling aurora displays.
Scientists aren’t quite sure why the sun seemed to be deviating from its typical intensity patterns but suspect it might be because of something similar to what the Earth experiences during El Nino climate patterns.