2010: the year that was almost great

Monday, December 27, 2010

Looking back on 2010, and particularly regarding space and astronomy, 2010 was quite a good year. But it wasn't quite great. As we near the end of the year there is a lot of anticipation for game-changing events that will very likely or almost certainly take place in 2011, and since they haven't taken place yet 2010 was not exactly a game-changer, but it was the year that came just before. Some of these are:

The discovery of another Earth or something similar to it (a planet near our size in an area where liquid water can exist). We came pretty close to that this year with Gliese 581g and there was a spike of interest at the time as well, but another team was not able to confirm the planet and it actually may not exist. Kepler announced this year that they had some 700 candidate planets and this also ignited a spark of interest, but since the team has saved the best candidates for themselves and has not yet announced their discovery, we're still waiting for the announcement of one that will truly spark the imagination of even the most extreme "let's fix everything on Earth before we spend a dime on space" cynic.

2010 was a very good year though in that we discovered more extrasolar planets this year than in any year before, and are currently sitting at 515. Very good, not quite great.

WISE and the discovery of a brown dwarf near the Solar System. The discovery of such a brown dwarf is not guaranteed, but mathematically it is very likely. WISE will not be releasing this data until February though, so we have a bit longer to wait. Once again 2010 ends with anticipation, while the real announcement will happen in 2011. If WISE has discovered a brown dwarf nearby then we will know then.

SpaceX. A very good year considering the success of the Falcon 9, as well as the Dragon capsule. For SpaceX itself this year was definitely a great year. For the average person though SpaceX still represents more promise than reality, and it won't be until SpaceX is ferrying people to and from the ISS that it will represent a real game-changer in the way we see space. Next year might be characterized as a great year on this front if the ferrying of cargo to the ISS turns out to be as interesting to everybody else as it is to those of us that follow developments in space all the time, and if not then maybe a year or two later. It really depends on how long it takes for the idea of relying on a private company to explore space to sink in.

Dawn. This year Dawn basically just looped around the Sun once, but it has gone from being out in the middle of nowhere nearly a year after a gravity assist from Mars, to now being just 9 million km from its first target, Vesta. Arrival is slated for July, and this will be the first encounter with an entirely new significant object (quick definition of significant: several hundred km in diameter) since...since Cassini's arrival at Saturn, I suppose. Even with Cassini though the most interesting location (Titan) was already somewhat known before its arrival, so it wasn't as if we got our first close-up of the moon starting from 2004. So while Cassini and Galileo did show us entirely new views of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Vesta is completely and entirely new.

These four items are events that don't just happen any year; they have the potential to completely change the way we view space itself and our role/location in it.

On top of that there are a few other items that seem to be fairly good, not great. The world economy is beginning to recover and is doing much better than 2009, but nobody would call it great. The US kind of got its troops out of Iraq, which means they went down to 50,000 and are officially not there in a combat role any longer. Some pretty significant legislation was passed this year as well, but some of it is pretty long-term (health care changes come fully into effect by 2014), some of it shouldn't even have been controversial in the first place (new START), and other projects such as high-speed rail in the US won't even begin construction for a few years.

Canada: er...what did Canada do this year? It had the Olympics, and then it uh...then we watched the Conservatives go up by a few points in the polls, and then the Liberals up by a few points in the polls. Rarely has there been a less interesting year in the country of my birth.

On the IAL front, the only languages that seem to have made significant progress this year have been Sambahsa and Lingwa de Planeta. Of course, that's mostly due to the fact that they are so small in the first place. With a community the size of Ido or Interlingua, the amount of content created for Sambahsa and LdP this year would be extremely small.

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