NASA’s Year in Review: Amazing Space Science in 2013

This artist's concept shows the Voyager 1 spacecraft entering the space between stars. (Credit: NASA)
This artist’s concept shows the Voyager 1 spacecraft entering the space between stars. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Takes a Look Back at 2013

NASA science this year uncovered new knowledge about our home planet and the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Analysis showed the Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered interstellar space and, at 12 billion miles away, is the most distant man-made object ever created.

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) launched in September to study lunar dust and help us better understand other planetary bodies and their formation. It also carried the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) — breakthrough new technology to improve communication with deep space missions that the agency will continue to refine and advance.

The fine detail in images of prominences in the sun's atmosphere from NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrometer – such as the red swirls shown here – are challenging the way scientists understand such events. (Credit:  NASA/LMSAL/IRIS)
The fine detail in images of prominences in the sun’s atmosphere from NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrometer – such as the red swirls shown here – are challenging the way scientists understand such events. (Credit: NASA/LMSAL/IRIS)

In June, NASA launched the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft to study how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up.

Two giant swaths of radiation, known as the Van Allen Belts, surrounding Earth were discovered in 1958. In 2012, observations from the Van Allen Probes showed that a third belt can sometimes appear. The radiation is shown here in yellow, with green representing the spaces between the belts. (Credit: NASA/Van Allen Probes/Goddard Space Flight Center)
Two giant swaths of radiation, known as the Van Allen Belts, surrounding Earth were discovered in 1958. In 2012, observations from the Van Allen Probes showed that a third belt can sometimes appear. The radiation is shown here in yellow, with green representing the spaces between the belts. (Credit: NASA/Van Allen Probes/Goddard Space Flight Center)

In February, NASA’s Van Allen Probes discovered a third Van Allen Radiation Belt around the Earth.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket with the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) spacecraft onboard is seen on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket with the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) spacecraft onboard is seen on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) was launched in February for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to maintain one of the longest-term imagery data sets about our Earth ever — more than 40 years.

Earth Science continues to be a high priority, and our amazing fleet of Earth-observing satellites helped us see how an amplified greenhouse effect is shifting the northern latitudes’ growing season. A study this year of Landsat data yielded the best view to date of global forest losses and gains during this century.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

One of the International Space Station’s most prominent scientific experiments produced its first results in April. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is a state-of-the-art cosmic ray particle physics detector located on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory. Scientists hope that by measuring cosmic rays, AMS will provide new data about the formation of the universe, antimatter, and evidence of the mysterious dark matter believed to make up most of the universe.

The artist's concept depicts Kepler-62f, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. (Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech)
The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-62f, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. (Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech)

The Kepler mission awed scientists and the public with new exoplanet findings, including discovery of numerous planets in the habitable zone. NASA will be evaluating Kepler data for years to come, as well as exploring the possibility of doing new science investigations with the spacecraft.

The robotic arm lifts and lowers a golden James Webb Space Telescope flight spare primary mirror segment onto a test piece of backplane at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)
The robotic arm lifts and lowers a golden James Webb Space Telescope flight spare primary mirror segment onto a test piece of backplane at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)

The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, continued to move toward its 2018 launch. In November, the telescope’s primary mirror backplane support structure, essentially the spine of the massive telescope, completed a rigorous testing regime. The final three of Webb’s 18 primary mirrors arrived at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., this month for integration. Once in orbit, the 18 hexagonal mirror segments will work together as one 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) primary mirror, the largest ever flown and the first to deploy in space.

Still from animation showing the most common type of gamma-ray burst, thought to occur when a massive star collapses, forms a black hole, and blasts particle jets outward at nearly the speed of light. (Credit:  NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio)
Still from animation showing the most common type of gamma-ray burst, thought to occur when a massive star collapses, forms a black hole, and blasts particle jets outward at nearly the speed of light. (Credit: NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio)

Elsewhere in astrophysics, scientists saw one of the brightest gamma-ray bursts ever with the Fermi, Swift and NuSTAR telescopes and learned more about the black hole at the center of the Milky Way using the agency’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Fermi celebrated five years in orbit and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope celebrated 10 years of incredible science.