2010's top-10 space stories

7. Distant galaxies: Astronomers discovered the most distant, ancient galaxies ever observed in the cosmos last year. These objects are 13.2 billion light years from Earth.

6. Remember when?: The oldest portrait of our universe was taken by the ESA-NASA Planck spacecraft in 2010. The image shows what the early universe looked like and is a fine companion image to NASA's breakthrough COBE spacecraft cosmos map of the 1990s.

5. Oldest space rock: Earth's oldest meteorite-several billion years old-was discovered in 2010. The space rock pushed back the formation of our solar system by 2 million years.

4. Red-dwarf universe: Discovery of many red dwarf stars in eight distant galaxies indicates red dwarf stars may be the most common stellar objects out there.

3. Dark matter?: Lots of gamma rays coming from the Milky way's core indicate that there's lots of dark matter there. The mysterious matter has never been directly observed.

2. Sun signs: Varying levels of microwave radiation coming from the Sun may prove useful in predicting lethal coronal mass ejections which can knockout orbiting satellites and fry electronics on Earth.

1. No E.T. phone home: After more than 50 years searching for extraterrestrial radio signals, some radio astronomers are quietly wondering if SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), at least in its current microwave form, should be rethought. If aliens are not sending out radio signals, humans need to either improve their search methods or look elsewhere-perhaps in optical wavelengths. A few researchers have also wondered aloud if humanity is indeed alone in the universe. Despite the gloomy prognostication for SETI in 2010, the USA Allen Telescope Array may provide surprising data in 2011. The old scientific saying still applies to SETI work: Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

Note: Due to emergency eye surgery and a very long recovery period, the writer of Seeing Stars had been laid up between Thanksgiving and the new year. Now the writer is happy to resume the column.Many thanks to readers who sent e-mails wondering what happened to Seeing Stars.

Louis Varricchio, M.Sc., was a science writer at the NASA Ames Research Center in California. He is currently a member of the NASA-JPL Solar System Ambassador program in Vermont. He is the recipient of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol's Gen. Charles "Chuck" Yeager Aerospace Education Achievement Award. Questions, comments? Send e-mails to: aerospacehorizons@gmail.com.

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