Unwrapping devices like smartphones and tablets is sure to bring people joy on Christmas Day. Some future-oriented folks may even get a 3-D printer or a toy drone. But what about a personal satellite? Zac Manchester is one of the many people trying to make that device a reality. Next fall, his KickSat project plans to launch 250 cracker-size satellites into space, and someday, he believes, these gizmos will find their way under the tree.
Astronomical discoveries in 2012 have reshaped what we know about the universe and pushed some instruments to the very limits of their observing power. Scientists discovered a galaxy that harbors an enormous central black hole 17 billion times more massive than the sun. Another research group spotted a scorching-hot rocky planet in the closest star system to our own. Meanwhile, the records for most massive galaxy cluster and most distant galaxy were shattered.