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The wildest space stories of 2020

Come with us, as we traverse asteroids, land on the dark side of the Moon, and uncover the origins of life.

The year 2020 was the year the cosmos got a little closer.

While our own planet was wracked by the Covid-19 pandemic, space agencies and scientists were busy looking beyond the confines of Earth and toward a future in which humans will venture ever further into space.

To celebrate a year of memorable discoveries, we've compiled a countdown of the 20 most universe-altering moments of 2020.

Below you'll find just a few of our favorite standouts. For the full list, explore here.

Come with us, as we traverse asteroids, land on the dark side of the Moon, and uncover the origins of life.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for January 1, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

The center of the Solar System is not where you think

This year, we got to know our Solar System a little better.

For millennia, humans have believed the Earth or the Sun occupied the center of the Solar System, but the truth is the planets and the Sun actually orbit a common center of mass — but no one knows exactly where it is.

We are getting closer, though. This year, a team of astronomers narrowed in on the center of the entire Solar System within 100 meters — the most precise calculation yet.

The results suggest it lies right above the surface of the Sun.

Knowing where the center of the Solar System is is not just good trivia. Armed with this knowledge, astronomers can use it in the hunt for gravitational waves created by objects in the wider universe, which hit the Solar System as they ripple through space.

Time to redraw some science textbook diagrams →

Our Sun is growing up:

On the far side of the Moon, China's lunar lander makes game-changing discoveries

Of all China's lunar launches thus far, the Moon lander Chang'e4 deserves the accolade of the most illuminating mission.

Launched in December 2018, Chang'e4 was China's fourth Moon mission and the first destined for the far side of the Moon — the side facing away from Earth.

It landed in January 2019 and made the first direct measurements of the dark side of the Moon ever.

This year, the data released to the world, gifting the scientific community with a treasure trove unlike any they had ever seen.

Amongst the gems: clues to the impact history of our natural satellite and the early Solar System.

The lunar lander that changed everything in 2020 →

More from the Moon:

When Voyager glitched 11.5 billion miles from Earth, NASA had a plan

On January 28, 2020, NASA’s Voyager 2 was journeying through deep space when it suddenly started glitching.

Voyager 2 went black right before it was scheduled for a maneuver in which the spacecraft rotates 360 degrees in order to calibrate one of its instruments onboard.

As a result, two of its systems — both of which consume a lot of power — were running at the same time and the spacecraft was using up too much of its available power supply which triggered protection software.

The software automatically turns off Voyager 2’s science instruments when there is a power overload to save on power. After all, NASA can't refuel Voyager 2 — it is just too far away.

To fix Voyager 2, NASA engineers sent commands to the spacecraft, which took 17 hours to be delivered since it is literally the furthest man-made object in space. It then took another 17 hours for the spacecraft to communicate back.

The fix was in many ways a feat of incredible patience. On February 5, NASA's Voyager Twitter account gave out the good news: Voyager 2 was not only stable but had resumed its critical science mission.

NASA started 2020 with a bang →

More from Voyager:

Tardigrades may have taken over the Moon

In April 2019, the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft crash-landed on the Moon.

In an attempt to document life on Earth, a non-profit organization by the name of the Arch Mission sent a library to the Moon aboard the craft.

The "library of life" included a stack of disks archiving 30 million pages of information about Earth, a copy of the entire English-language Wikipedia, human DNA samples, and a mega-payload of thousands of tardigrades.

Beresheet's strange occupants were dehydrated tardigrades, a process which essentially slows their metabolism down and suspends them in a near-life state.

The idea was that if they were to be rehydrated by someone or something, then they would come back to life, ostensibly telling future lunar explorers about life on Earth today.

But the spacecraft carrying the tardigrades didn’t land on the Moon according to plan, instead crashing on the lunar surface and losing contact with ground control.

Despite the impact, scientists now believe that if anything survived the crash intact, it may well have been the tardigrades.

All hail our new Moon overlords →

More cool stuff:

Watch the moment Japan's spacecraft landed on asteroid Ryugu

On February 21, 2019, Japanese astronomers performed a theft that made history. A Japanese spacecraft touched down on asteroid Ryugu, quickly snatched a piece of the space rock, and fled the scene.

The act was caught on camera, and in May of this year, scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency released the footage, giving us our first up-close-and-personal encounter with the surface of an asteroid.

As the year comes to a close, researchers around the world are starting to look forward to getting even closer by analyzing the sample itself.

Ryugu is a near-Earth, potentially hazardous asteroid around 0.6 miles in diameter. It is on an elliptical orbit around the Sun every 16 months, during which it happens to cross the orbits of Earth and Mars.

The video is one of the treasures gathered by Japan's asteroid-sampling spacecraft, Hayabusa2, which spent a long five-year journey in space before landing on Ryugu.

The video shows the moments when Hayabusa2 touches down on the asteroid and collects a small sample of the rocky body to bring back to Earth.

Watch for yourself →

More from Ryugu:

Astronomers have found the source of life in the universe

All of the elements that make up everything we know were originally forged in the stars billions of years ago, and scientists may have narrowed down exactly which stars gave rise to our own existence.

In a study published in July in the journal Nature Astronomy, a team of scientists suggested white dwarf stars may be the main source of carbon atoms in the Milky Way. Carbon is known to be crucial to all life as we know it.

When stars like our own Sun, a yellow dwarf star, run out of fuel, they turn into a white dwarf. In fact, 90 percent of all stars in the universe end up as white dwarf stars, scientists believe.

White dwarfs are hot, dense stellar remains with temperatures that reach 100,000 Kelvin, or 179,540 degrees Fahrenheit.

Over billions of years, these stars cool and eventually dim as they shed their outer material. Right before they collapse, these remains are transported through space, blown by winds originating from their bodies.

These stellar ashes contain chemical elements, including carbon.

We're all made of stars →

More cool space:

Looking for more? See the full list of our 20 wildest space stories of 2020 here.

Thanks for choosing to hang out with us to start your new year! Check back next week for a few more special edition newsletters.

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