Most people think that science is done behind closed doors with expensive equipment, fiddling around with complicated technology by scientists wearing cheap lab coats. The rest of us merely stand on the outside waiting for some interesting discoveries to be made. Well, although the caricature is partly true there are many experiments where the amount of data is so huge that the research teams have enlisted the help of citizen scientists.
The Bud Light commercial about astronomers is astoundingly accurate.  Details they get right include:
  • we like celebrating just about anything, good or bad
  • we drink beer in large groups
  • we sometimes make mistakes but, hey, that's science
  • playing with fire extinguishers is fun
  • science chicks are hot (seriously... brains, cuteness and ability to stay up late = win!)
Cosmic oddities have set astronomers onto ‘the case of the missing neighboring galaxies’. Located half a billion light-years from Earth, ESO 306-17 is a large, bright elliptical galaxy in the southern sky known as a fossil group. Astronomers use that term to emphasize the isolated nature of these galaxies but are they really like fossils,  the last remnants of a once-active community, or did ESO 306-17 gobble up its next-door neighbors? 
Astronomers have discovered a star that may have been among the second generation of stars to form after the Big Bang.

Located in the dwarf galaxy Sculptor some 290,000 light-years away, S1020549 has a remarkably similar chemical make-up to the Milky Way's oldest stars. Its presence supports the theory that our galaxy underwent a "cannibal" phase, growing to its current size by swallowing dwarf galaxies and other galactic building blocks. The discovery of the new star is detailed in Nature.

Dwarf galaxies are small galaxies with just a few billion stars, compared to hundreds of billions in the Milky Way. In the "bottom-up model" of galaxy formation, large galaxies attained their size over billions of years by absorbing their smaller neighbors.
NASA creates dramatic artistic renderings of upcoming launches, in full color animation, often scaled for the IMAX screen.  They're great eye candy, but they are also informative, and have genuine science at their core.

For example, the STEREO solar panel deployment is fascinating to watch, even as a simulation.  It uses a highly accurate 3D model of the actual spacecraft, and attempts to balance physical realism with artistic license.  Noteworthy is the robotic nature of the deployment and the oscillation of the solar panels as they deploy.
Comets are thought to be some of the oldest, most primitive bodies in the solar system, but new research on the comet Wild 2 indicates that inner solar system material was transported to the comet-forming region at least 1.7 million years after the formation of the oldest solar system solids.

Published in Science, the research provides the first constraint on the age of cometary material from a known comet. The findings are published in the Feb. 25 edition of Science Express.

The NASA Stardust mission to comet Wild 2, which launched in 1999, was designed around the premise that comets preserve pristine remnants of materials that helped form the solar system. In 2006, Stardust returned with the first samples from a comet.
IT arrived. With little fanfare, an ordinary cardboard box full of packing peanuts has thrown my life into panic and confusion. For the mighty packing slip says it all. "Parts&Packing List". Inside is... a piece of paper. And, hopefully, buried under the packing peanuts, also a satellite.

box with packing peanuts

My satellite. My InterOrbital pico-satellite. "Project Calliope", the satellite. The THING I'm BUILDING in my BASEMENT (dum-dum-dah-dum!). Did you ever wonder just what a satellite is made of? The answer is... this!
Did you ever wonder why some people become astronomers?  I asked random astronomers at last month's AAS meeting, and in my latest 365DOA podcast, you can find out what each said-- and how each explained their research in 30 seconds or less.  For the big picture, the stories of why ordinary, sane people become astronomers, it turns out we get bit by the astronomy bug early.

Either in elementary school, we've already decided, or in high school, we get inspired.  By the time people hit college, the ones who want to be career astronomers have already decided that's their path.
Astronomers have detected the astronomical equivalent of prehistoric life in our intergalactic backyard: a group of small, ancient galaxies that has waited 10 billion years to come together. These "late bloomers" are on their way to building a large elliptical galaxy.

Such encounters between dwarf galaxies are normally seen billions of light-years away and therefore occurred billions of years ago. But these galaxies, members of Hickson Compact Group 31, are relatively nearby, only 166 million light-years away.
Primitive stars are thought to have formed from material forged shortly after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago and are mainly observed in the Milky Way. But now researchers are reporting that they have uncovered more primitive stars located in neighboring dwarf galaxies. The discovery was made possible by much more detailed spectra obtained with the UVES instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope.

"We have, in effect, found a flaw in the forensic methods used until now," says Else Starkenburg, lead researcher on the project. "Our improved approach allows us to uncover the primitive stars hidden among all the other, more common stars."