Space exploration has suffered its share of setbacks and disappointments over the decades, but few of them stung as much as the 2013 mechanical failure of the Kepler spacecraft, a space telescope designed to accomplish one of the most exciting explorations of space ever: the search for potentially Earth-like planets orbiting other stars.
How big can an Earth-like planet be? Astronomers thought they had a pretty good handle on this question but have just been given a fresh example of how nature never ceases to outpace our imaginations and show us something unexpected.
Recently, a major milestone in space exploration was reached: a planet was captured in a picture! The big deal is that the planet captured in this shot, a gas giant planet named Beta Pictoris b, is 63 light years away--over 100,000 times farther away than even Pluto.
Let's take a moment to tally a few of 2013's highlights of astronomy and space exploration. In brief, it was a very good year on a number of fronts.