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Crossing final frontiers in space

What did we learn in 2006, then?

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2006 in review When the powers that be here at Vulture Central asked for a round up of the events in space exploration and discovery over the last year, frankly we were overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.

Put a narrative thread behind the comings and goings at NASA? Detail the discoveries beaming back to Earth from myriad satellites? Explain how dark energy matters? In the run up to Christmas?

So, to help us concentrate, we turned to the comedic skills of one Eric Idle who, with a little help from John Du Prez, wrote The Galaxy Song. It will guide our path through the various scientific discoveries and magnificent journeys of 2006....behold:

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour...That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned, A sun that is the source of all our power.

And thanks to an agreement between The European Space Agency and Google Earth, you can see more of it than you previously could. ESA provided 130 beautiful satellite snaps of our little world doing its thang for Google to illustrate Google Earth.

Not too far from home, you'll find the moon. Lots of things about the moon made the news this year. For a start, Europe crash landed on it. Deliberately. Not to be outdone, NASA outlined its plans for building a lunar base. Show-offs.

There is general agreement about the second line of the song: we do indeed orbit the sun (we're sure there are some people who disagree, but really, who cares about them, right?) and thanks to a bunch of satellite launches this year, we should be getting a better understanding of it pretty soon.

This will mostly be thanks to NASA's twin solar observatory STEREO,which made its way into space this October. But Japan also launched a solar observatory - Solar-B - which will track the surface of our local star for the patterns in the magnetic field lines that foreshadow solar flares.

The twin solar observatories of STEREO, meanwhile, will send back images and data that will allow researchers to build the first ever truly three dimensional images of the sun. It'll also provide early warnings of scary solar weather, giving satellites time to switch into safe mode before floods of solar particles wipe out all their circuits.

And while all this launching of observatories was going on, the data coming back to Earth from the existing sun-watchers shed new light on space weather. SoHo (the SOlar Heliospheric Observatory) provided the data, and some boffins simulated the behaviour of the sun's atmosphere.

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