Well, just when we thought the universe couldn't bring us any more news that would surprise us, 2016 kicked off with a bang by (maybe) providing us with a brand new ninth planet in our Solar System. January was also a backdrop for incredibly sad news, with the death of star lovers' darling David Bowie; and what better token of our love than to name a constellation after the Starman? More on that below.
Making snail mail cool again
The Pluto Flyby, which we briefly mentioned in our November edition, was one of the biggest scientific achievements of 2015. To commemorate it, Pluto and New Horizons will have their very own US Postal Service stamps: available on a stamp sheet titled "Pluto - Explored!", the first stamp depicts the famous Pluto "headshot" with the heart on its surface and the second shows an artist's rendering of a New Horizon mission spacecraft. The two stamps are also a reference to a stamp issued in 1991 which read "Pluto: Not Yet Explored", a copy of which was put aboard the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006.
But NASA and the US Postal Service didn't stop their collaboration there: other space-themed stamps include a series with a beautiful, golden full moon and one with the eight planets of our Solar System in their full glory. Last but not least, the Postal Service will also issue a beautiful edition of Star Trek "retro" stamps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the show. See more photos of the stamp sheets in the original NASA article.
A Ninth Planet in our Solar System
The rumours are true: twice to four times the size of Earth, five to ten times the mass of Earth, two Caltech researchers have found evidence of a new planet in our solar system. The planet, which has been nicknamed "Planet Nine" for obvious reasons, has not yet been observed, but if it really exists, it would be the third planet to be discovered since ancient times -- which makes us realise just how much of our very own solar system we have yet to discover. Based on a paper that attempted to explain strange orbital features in several distant Kuiper belt objects using the possible existence of an unknown planet, the two researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown ran computer simulations that linked the strange, somewhat elongated orbit of Planet Nine to the alignment of those distant Kuiper Belt objects. While this is in no way conclusive information, there is hope for a solar system with nine planets once again!
If you want to dive deep into the research that led to the simulations, you can read Brown and Batygin's paper "Evidence for a distant giant planet in the Solar System" here or head to the FindPlanetNine blog. As for trivia: Mike Brown played a very significant role in the demotion of Pluto from a Planet to a Dwarf Planet -- so much so, that his twitter handle is @plutokiller. Coincidence?
Lightning Bolt constellation
January 10th of this year was a sad day for many music lovers and will forever be remembered as the day David Bowie left us after a battle with cancer; on that day, the internet was chock-full of people sharing their memories and paying tribute to the real-life Ziggy Stardust. Among the many stories, one particular tribute seemed rather fitting: the registration of a 7-star constellation near Mars in the shape of a lightning bolt. The constellation was registered by Radio Brussels in collaboration with the MIRA observatory, and now has its own website, Stardust For Bowie, where fans can choose a point inside the constellation on an interactive map and add their favourite Bowie song. With his discography mainly inspired by stars, space and the universe, it only seems fair to remember the Starman this way: by looking up at the sky, waiting for a falling star.
- There's a starman waiting in the sky
- He'd like to come and meet us
- But he thinks he'd blow our minds
- There's a starman waiting in the sky
- He's told us not to blow it
- Cause he knows it's all worthwhile
Bonus: Scott Kelly's One Year in Space
TIME magazine has a pretty amazing feature on their website titled "A Year in Space"; the idea is to follow American astronaut Scott Kelly on his year-long adventure in a series of episodes that document his preparation for the trip on Earth, the quarantine, and his arrival aboard the International Space Station.