2013: A Space Odyssey - a cosmological review of the year
Asteroids 'n' comets, our new home Mars and the adventures of Jade Rabbit
Fiddling while Rome burns
Humanity might not be able to think of a way to stop a NEO from obliterating a whole bunch of people, but there are those who reckon they can think of a way to make money from asteroids. These intrepid characters, like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries (DSI), want to mine the meteors for minerals and metals.
Planetary Resources, the brainchild of adventurer and film-maker James Cameron, Googlers Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, former Microsoftie Charles Simonyi and others, was announced last year, but DSI made its entrance on the scene early this year.
PICTURES OF THE YEAR: Hubble peeks back in time to see how the Milky Way formed. Full story here.
DSI's idea is to use "FireFly" probes to reccy NEOs for useful stuff, with the craft ready for action by 2015, followed by larger ships, "DragonFlies" to land on and mine the 'roids. The firm plans to use its Firefly class to hunt out not just metals, but also oxygen, hydrogen and methane so it can get into the spacecraft- and satellite-refuelling business.
DSI head Rick Tumlinson has big dreams about a post-scarcity society, although one El Reg hack isn't so sure about that. Still the company is confident enough that it gave a guesstimate about how much 2012 DA14 is worth - around $195bn. Sadly, the nature of its orbit made it a bit difficult for DSI to chase down.
Planetary Resources wasn't completely quiet this year, announcing in early summer that to was going to kick things off with a crowdfunded satellite that could be in orbit by 2015. The Arkyd 100 sat, an homage to Star Wars 'droid manufacturers Arakyd Industries, is a small orbital platform that will provide a base for the planned network of telescopes it wants to use to seek out potential asteroids for mining. While it's up there, the firm hopes the sat can also hunt out exoplanets, as a sideline.
The company stuck its request to the world on Kickstarter and successfully raised $1.5m for the sat, aided by generous donations from the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Larry Page.
Although not for mining purposes, NASA is also hoping to get a bit closer to asteroids in the future. It gave the final approval this year for a billion-dollar mission to visit 101955 Bennu, a 493m wide space rock that orbits the Sun every year and a half. The OSIRIS-REx mission hopes to blast off in 2016, map the asteroid and then land on it to collect samples and come back to Earth seven years later.
Goodbye, dear ISON, we hardly knew ye
Comets were also supposed to be big news this year, at least one in particular, which at the start of the year was being marketed as the "comet of the century". Comet ISON burst onto the scene in February, when NASA's Deep Impact probe sent back images of the space rock on its way towards the Solar System.
PICTURES OF THE YEAR: Comet ISON before its tragic demise.
ISON had a date with destiny - a close pass over the Sun of just 1.8m kilometres and skywatchers had high hopes that the comet would "outshine the brightest Moon" in the night sky in December.
The keenly awaited ISON was snapped in a number of pictures in the coming months, spewing out huge amounts of gas and dust half a billion kilometres from the Sun, looking a bit peaky in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera, then perking up in the next shot, captured by astrophotographer Adam Block in October.
As the anticipation hit fever pitch in November however, the warnings started to come in that perhaps ISON wasn't going to be the incredible fireshow visible with the naked eye we'd all been promised. Astroboffins posted on the International Astronomical Union's Comets and Asteroids Facebook page in mid-November that they'd spotted wings in images of the comet, suggesting it was already starting to break up long before the hellish heat of the Sun had a chance to melt it.
The space rock tease appeared to stage a recovery shortly after, showing up whole in images from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). Still, the experts were only giving ISON a fifty-fifty chance of survival and they seemed to be proved right when the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) failed to see the comet emerge round the other side of the Sun.
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