A collaboration between NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Poland's Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) project has recently discovered one of the most distant extrasolar planets known to date.
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.