2017 was a great year for astronomy. In its last issue of every year, Science News picks its 10 best science stories of the year, and three of them were about astronomy. In first place was the history-making observation of the binary neutron star collision in galaxy NGC 4993, about 130 million light years from earth. This detection ushered in a new era of “multi-messenger” astronomy.
This collision was first detected by the two LIGO gravity wave observatories in the USA and the Virgo observatory near Pisa Italy. It was detected 1.7 seconds later as a gamma-ray burst by observatory satellites in earth orbit. Over the next several weeks, the “kilonova” the collision spawned was observed in every frequency of electromagnetic radiation, from x-rays to radio waves. The observations absorbed an estimated 15% of global observatory time, and almost 4,000 astronomers, physicists, and astrophysicists were involved in the observations and their analysis.
You can read more about this merger of neutron stars here https://www.ligo.org/science/Publication-GW170817MMA/flyer.pdf and see a NASA video simulation of the merger here: https://youtu.be/x_Akn8fUBeQ
2017 was a banner year for HAS too. During the year, our Outreach Program achieved new highs in the number of events we covered and the number of our members who volunteered to share their love of astronomy with the public. Under the leadership of Joe Khalaf, we also provided the public with the opportunity to observe the night sky by partnering with the Lunar and Planetary Institute for “Observe the Moon Night”, organized a meteor shower party at a nearby state park, and set up telescopes at some unconventional venues such as a music festival, a corporate event on Discovery Green and at an iconic Houston film festival. We also showed the partial eclipse to well over 300 people who might not otherwise have had the opportunity… click read more button