Here are a few of my favorite bits of astronomical news from 2002. None of these items are necessarily of profound scientific importance, but what I think they have in common is that they each revealed something marvelous and dynamic about otherwise familiar celestial objects.
Direct Evidence of the Milky Way’s Black Hole
Researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics announced the best evidence yet that a super-massive black hole exists at the core of the Milky Way galaxy. There is haunting simulation compiled from the data of observed star orbits near the galactic center here.
Over 10 million stars are located within a light year of the galactic center; but even at that density, the average distance between stars is around 50 billion miles—10 times the distance to Pluto. Space is a big place.
In June, observers from Cal Tech in Pasadena announced the discovery of the largest Kuiper belt object known. They gave the object the name Quaoar. It’s the largest object discovered in the solar system since Pluto, and is greater in volume than all the other 50,000 known asteroids combined.
Moon’s Youngest Crater
In 1999, during the Leonid meteor shower, an observer in Texas saw the flash of what may have been an impact on the moon, but this has yet to be verified.