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Image of the aurora surrounding Jupiter's moon Io 2001 in
Space Science
and Astronomy


Top ten space and astronomy stories of 2001 according to CNN's Year In Space:

  • Russian space station Mir plunged into the Pacific Ocean in March after 15 years of service.

  • The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR-Shoemaker) spacecraft touched down in February on the surface of the asteroid Eros after a year-long orbit of the Manhattan-sized space rock.

  • California investment fund manager and onetime NASA rocket scientist Dennis Tito paid the Russian space agency $20 million for a tourist excursion to the International Space Station in April.

  • The International Space Station was home to four different crews during the year, but the unfinished station Alpha won't be fully built.

  • Dan Goldin, the longest-serving NASA chief, stepped down in November and was replaced by Sean O'Keefe, who thinks the agency has not worked cheaply enough.

  • After the loss of Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999, NASA succeeded in placing 2001 Mars Odyssey in orbit around the Red Planet in October, joining the Mars Global Surveyor already in orbit there.

  • The search for distant worlds was more sophisticated in 2001 as astronomers spotted eight new extrasolar planets with circular orbits, observed the atmosphere of a planet outside our own Solar System for the first time, and detected evidence of watery bodies in another star system.

  • The long-distance probe Deep Space 1 was mothballed in space after it successfully tested a dozen advanced technologies, most notably its ion-drive engine, and soared within 1,350 miles of Comet Borrelly in September.

  • The Leonids annual meteorite storm sparkled in the atmosphere above Earth in November, firing thousands of light streaks across the sky each hour.

  • The first total solar eclipse of the millennium awed onlookers across central Africa in June, extending in some places beyond three minutes and producing one the longest "diamond ring" effects ever seen.

Top space story according to CNN's Top Technology Stories 2001:

  • Satellite radio begins broadcasts across much of the United States.

Top space stories of 2001 according to the British Broadcasting Corporation's BBC In Depth Review of 2001 Sci/Tech:

  • Mir Space Station was a success story that ended in March, outliving its planned life by 10 years.

  • New habitation module and airlock made International Space Station twice the size it was in 2000.

  • International Space Station received visiting crews of Americans and Russians.

  • Businessman Dennis Tito paid Russia $20 million to be the first ISS tourist.

  • Sean O'Keefe took over as NASA adminstrator and proposed a radical downsizing of International Space Station, upsetting NASA's partners Europe and Canada.

Top space stories of 2001 according to Australian Broadcasting Corporation's ABC News Sci-Tech 2001:

Top astronomy stories of 2001 according to Science News' Science News of the Year:

  • For the first time, researchers detected the atmosphere of a planet beyond our Solar System.

  • Discovery of a trove of planets orbiting stars other than the Sun suggested that astronomers finally had found a planetary system similar to our Solar System.

  • Two other newfound planetary systems feature a bizarre entourage of orbiting bodies and offer insight into planet formation.

  • Researchers retracted a controversial claim that some extrasolar planets were much heavier bodies.

  • A spacecraft landed for the first on an asteroid, 433 Eros. Data collected before and after the landing shed light on the rock's origins and composition.

  • Cosmologists claimed that experiments examining Big Bang relic radiation confirmed a model of how the Universe evolved.

  • Astronomers detected signs of one of the earliest eras in the Universe, just before the first stars and quasars lit the cosmos.

  • Scientists reported measuring the age of the cosmos with unprecedented accuracy.

  • According to a controversial theory, the Big Bang was ignited when a parallel universe moving along a hidden dimension smacked into ours.

  • Scientists found additional evidence that a mysterious force is pushing galaxies apart at an ever-faster rate.

  • Researchers found a clump of stars that may be one of the first building blocks of a galaxy.

  • Telescopes tracked the rise and fall of the largest dust storm observed on Mars in 25 years.

  • A body as massive as Mars may once have resided in a region of the Solar System far beyond the nine known planets and might still be there.

  • Some planets may float free in space rather than orbit a star.

  • Astronomers may have glimpsed a key step in the construction of a planet and found what may be the youngest star known to have formed planet building blocks.

  • Astronomers found evidence of a star that has swallowed one or more of its planets.

  • A nearby star appears to have its own asteroid belt, whereas another may possess comets.

  • Theorists proposed that the cell-like envelopes, in which life on Earth later evolved, literally dropped from the sky. Simulating extraterrestrial impacts on Earth, researchers questioned how life started.

  • Researchers discovered sugars and sugar-related compounds in meteorites, suggesting that rocks from space delivered key ingredients for life on Earth.

  • An X-ray outburst provided evidence that a monster black hole lurks at the Milky Way's core.

  • Analysis of a Mars meteorite suggested water once flowed on the surface of the Red Planet and came from eruptions of molten rock deep within the planet. A study added to evidence that past volcanic activity could briefly have created a warmer, wetter Mars.

  • A spacecraft took the first X-ray image of Venus.

  • The 11-year "Sunspot Cycle" of solar storms reached its peak and disturbed Earth satellites as well as electric-power systems on the surface of our planet.

  • Astronomers obtained the first clear picture of the structure of the Sun beneath a sunspot.

  • Observations challenged the notion that supermassive black holes stopped growing soon after their host galaxies formed, and the data suggested new ways to find and measure these black holes.

  • Studies of event horizons -- the one-way membranes that surround black holes -- suggested that black holes spin like dervishes and that energy flows out from the vicinity of a black hole.

  • For many skywatchers in North America, Asia, and Australia, this year's Leonid meteor shower was a dazzler.

  • Two spacecraft jointly spotted towering new volcanic plumes on Jupiter's moon Io. One plume was 500 kilometers high, the tallest ever seen on Io.

  • Astronomers imaged the largest known member of a reservoir of comets in the outer Solar System; the icy body is bigger than Pluto's moon Charon.

Top astronomy stories of 2001 according to Scientific American's Year in Review -- Top Science Stories of 2001:

  • Chandra's Black Hole -- A giant x-ray flare from the heart of our galaxy, recorded by the Chandra X-ray Observatory orbiting above Earth, helped astronomers research the black hole that most believe lurks at the center of the Milky Way.

  • NEAR -- The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft, called NEAR-Shoemaker, glided in for a soft landing on February 12 on the surface of the 433 Eros asteroid 196 million miles away.

  • First Look at Dark Matter -- Scientists suggest they may have directly observed for the first time the mysterious, notoriously difficult to see, material that is thought to make up most of the Universe, dark matter.

  • Planetary System Akin to Our Own -- Astronomers detected a Jupiter-size planet orbiting the star 47 Ursae Majoris in the Big Dipper, the second planet to be found circling that star and the first evidence of a planetary system like our own.

  • Missing Solar Neutrinos Found -- For three decades, physicists had been looking for the elementary particles of matter called electron-neutrinos that have no charge and practically no mass. Physicists have thought that the nuclear reactions that fuel the Sun should churn out vast quantities of these particles, and yet previous measurements had indicated only about half the number predicted ever reach Earth. In 2001, scientists found the missing neutrinos.

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