Space

Shown in an extremely broad range of color and showcasing more than twelve billion years of cosmic history, Hubble's recent image is a full-glory cosmic renaissance of the history of the Universe. This image provides a record of the Universe's most exciting formative years, from the birth of stars in the early Universe all the way through the materialization of the Milky Way.
Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have broken the distance limit for galaxies by uncovering a primordial population of never-before-seen ultra-blue galaxies. At 13 billion years old, they formed approximately 600 to 800 million years after the Big Bang.

Researchers say these newly found objects are crucial to understanding the evolutionary link between the birth of the first stars, the formation of the first galaxies, and the sequence of evolutionary events that resulted in the assembly of our Milky Way and the other "mature" elliptical and majestic spiral galaxies in today's universe.
By studying unknown high-energy sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, radio astronomers have uncovered 17 millisecond pulsars in our galaxy. The  discovery was made  in less than three months, and such a jump in the pace of locating these hard-to-find objects holds the promise of using them as a kind of "galactic GPS" to detect gravitational waves passing near Earth.
In their quest to find solar systems analogous to ours own, astronomers have determined how common our solar system is--not very. In a study presented today at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Washington, DC, Ohio State researchers explained that approximately 10 percent of stars in the universe host systems of planets like our own, with several gas giant planets in the outer part of the solar system.

"Now we know our place in the universe," said Ohio State University astronomer Scott Gaudi. "Solar systems like our own are not rare, but we're not in the majority, either."
New evidence uncovered by a team from Imperial College London and the University College London (UCL) suggests that during the Hesperian Epoch, approximately 3 billion years ago, Mars sustained lakes of melted ice, each around 20 km wide, along parts of its equator. The discovery challenges scientists' previous understanding of Mars during the Hesperian Epoch, a period which was previously thought to be too cold and arid to sustain water on the planet's surface. The findings appear in the journal Geology.
 
In the age of the Hubble Space Telescope, and ever larger earthbound scopes being build, many people are of the impression that one needs costly equipment to enjoy the night skies.

Nothing is further from the truth. Reality, however, is that occasions at which one can observe the stars and planets are sparse due to urban light pollution. Tommaso has blogged about this issue before (see: The Continuing Search For A Dark Site).
Next week is the winter 215th AAS meeting, this time in D.C..  I'll be there presenting there Thursday on Project Calliope, the ScientificBlogging music satellite I'm building in my basement for a 2010/2011 launch, and tweeting about the meeting in general.

To usher in the new year, I'll close with 2 haikus from Cosmic Haiku:
Microwave Background
Photons remember a time
When they were hotter


Astrophysicist
Is what I’m told is my Job
Title. Whatever.

Happy New Year!

Alex, the Daytime Astronomer
The Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver, or SPIRE instrument, riding aboard Herschel Space Observatory, launched in May by the European Space Agency, has provided one of the most detailed views yet of space up to 12 billion years back in time.

The December images have revealed thousands of newly discovered galaxies in their early stages of formation, said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jason Glenn, a co-investigator on the project. The new images are being analyzed as part of the Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey, or HerMES, which involves more than 100 astronomers from six countries.
To wrap up the year, I'm listing my 4 worst columns.  Or, at least, the four columns that got outstandingly terrible readership.  I searched for a pattern or justification for why people stayed away in droves, but darned if I can spot one.  If you've got any ideas on why some columns sink while others swim, feel free to speak up.
Here's a pleasant Christmas thought-- why are rocket launches like holidays-- infrequent, big productions that tend to always be the same?  A New York Times op-ed, Faster, NASA, Faster, puts forth an idea that, really, resurfaces at least once every few years.  It's a good idea.  It says, hey, let's do more launches with higher risk.