Top 9 EarthSky stories of 2019

From the 1st landing on the moon’s far side to the 1st actual image of a black hole, here’s a quick roundup of 9 of the stories our readers enjoyed most in 2019.

Fuzzy yellow-orange doughnut shape with brighter streaks in wider part.

Who could forget this image? It’s the first direct image of a black hole, in the galaxy M87, released in April 2019. This long-sought image provided the strongest evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes and opened a new window onto the study of black holes, their event horizons, and gravity. Image via Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.

1. January 3, 2019: China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft landed on the moon’s far side. The year started with a bang (or was it a bump?) when a Chinese spacecraft called Chang’e 4 became the first-ever mission to land on the side of the moon that faces continually away from Earth. We’re linking here not just to the announcement of the landing, but to a story published a few months later on what early results from Chang’e 4 revealed about this mysterious part of the moon.
2. Mid-January, 2019: A 2nd repeating radio burst from the depths of space. Astronomers announced that, of the more than 60 Fast Radio Bursts found so far, only one has ever been seen to repeat from the same source … until now.
3. February 22, 2019: Japan’s Hayabusa2 successfully lands on asteroid Ryugu. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down briefly and successfully on asteroid Ryugu, 200 million miles (300 million km) from Earth. It successfully fired a bullet into the asteroid to puff up dust for sample collection.
4. March 24, 2019: Scientists gathered to contemplate the Great Silence. In other words … if advanced alien civilizations are out there, why haven’t we heard from them? Scientists call this Fermi’s Paradox – aka The Great Silence – and they gathered in Paris to discuss it.
5. April 7, 2019: Scientists closed in on mysterious Mars methane. For the first time, an in-situ measurement of methane on Mars – made by NASA’s Curiosity rover – was independently confirmed from orbit, by ESA’s Mars Express. Could it be a clue to Mars life?
6. April 10, 2019: Astronomers released the first real black hole image. Researchers unveiled a history-making image – the first ever – of the shadow of a supermassive black hole.
7. September 7, 2019: Contact with India moon lander lost, moments before touchdown. The Vikram lander was to have made India the 4th nation of Earth to soft land on the moon. It was heartbreaking when contact with the craft was lost just 1.3 miles (2.1 km) above the moon’s surface.
8. August 30, 2019: Astronomers spied a 2nd interstellar visitor. Astronomers realized the object they initially labeled C/2019 Q4 – later officially identified as a comet and re-labeled 2I/Borisov – came from a place far, far away. It’s only the 2nd interstellar object ever detected, after ‘Oumuamua in 2017. The link goes to an update on this object, in November 2019, after the first peer-reviewed paper about it.
9. October 31, 2019: A small asteroid paid a heavy price for nearly striking Earth: Earth’s gravity bent the trajectory of asteroid C0PPEV1 – also known as 2019 UN13 – as it swept only 3,852 miles (6,200 km) above Africa.

Bottom line: Top EarthSky news stories of 2019.

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Eleanor Imster