Greetings all! I hope that you each had a relaxing and enjoyable holiday, in whichever form you celebrate it, and are refreshed and re-energized for the coming year!

It is also that time of year again when everyone looks back on the achievements of the year, and this year has been a good one for the scientific community. And so without further ado (or a don't), here we go...

This year has been particularly interesting for the astronomy community. Back in February we had the announcement that a team of astronomers had discovered an exoplanet in another galaxy. Planets outside of our Solar System have been known about and studied for over twenty years, but this was the first proof that planets exist in other galaxies as well. They are much too far away for any detailed data, and there was no serious doubt that such exoplanets must exist, but it is still an interesting advance in our technology and techniques that this distant world was detected at all.

That was followed in March in an experiment lasting through to June, in which the rather odd star SO-2 was used to test the predictions of the general theory of relativity. Although the theory has been around for over a century now and has been subjected to numerous precision tests, there are still active fields of research and viable theories in which the traditional field equations that Einstein calculated are simply approximations to a more complex theory. By making observations over larger distances and higher energies, and of strange, anomalous objects in the galaxy, astrophysicists and theoretical physicist hope to either discover signs of a more complicated theory or to further constrain the possible extensions of the theory of general relativity. Not all of the data from this experiment has been released yet, but so far there seems to be no variation from the predictions of the accepted theory of general relativity.

In July the IceCube observatory proved its worth by pinpointing the source of a burst of cosmic rays, assisted by traditional observatories around the world and in space. The IceCube detector, which uses large blocks of ice to detect neutrinos impacting the Earth from space, detected a burst of high energy neutrinos which often precede a cosmic ray burst. This also had the added benefit that neutrinos from cosmic events tend to travel in a straight line, whereas cosmic rays get deflected by magnetic and electric fields, and therefore the source of the neutrino flux can be used to pinpoint the location of its source significantly more precisely. With this warning, cosmic ray observatories such as the Fermi telescope were able to skew to the direction of the neutrinos and observe the subsequent cosmic ray burst, giving astronomers and astrophysicists new information on their origins. Coincidentally July was also when scientists from the University of Victoria on the Canadian westcoast installed new neutrino detectors in the Pacific ocean, which should provide further data on cosmic neutrinos in the future.

By the end of the year the news had shifted to robotic space probes and their missions in our Solar System. In October and November we received the news that the Kepler space probe had finally failed after a number of technical problems throughout the year. Kepler had spent many years searching other star systems for exoplanets, and had successfully detected several thousand new worlds before its stabilizing and orientation mechanisms began to fail. It was sad to see this great mission end, but also worth celebrating the advances it made to our knowledge of planetary formation in our galaxy and the search for new worlds. Soon after the end of Kepler came the end of the Dawn mission, which had been travelling through the inner Solar System studying some of the smaller planets and asteroids. It too provided scientists with new information on the dwarf planets Ceres and Vesta and on several large asteroids closer to our own home. In the end the mission had to be retired, and the Dawn probe is currently in an unstable orbit around Ceres where it will remain until it eventually crashes into the dwarf planet's surface. 

However the news wasn't all bad in November, with the announcement that the InSight space probe had successfully landed on the planet Mars. Although previous robotic probes have explored the Martian surface, InSight will be the first one to drill into the subsurface and study the underlying rocks and the planet's seismic activity. It is still early in the mission, and therefore there are few results at this point, but we can expect InSight to do great things in the coming year!

On sadder news, this year also saw the loss of two physicists who influenced the academic careers of myself and many others. In March the world was saddened to hear of the loss of Professor Stephen Hawking, who many considered to be the most influential scientist of the modern age. He was well known in scientific circles for his work on mathematical theorems related to the general theory of relativity and for his proof that black holes emit radiation and evaporate, and even more well known in general society for his bestselling book "The Brief History Of Time" and for his numerous appearances in a wide range of documentaries and popular television programs. It was his book that first inspired me to explore theoretical physics as a career path rather than mathematics or engineering, as it inspired countless other students of my age group to become scientists and explore the laws of nature. 

Closer to home, early in the year the scientific community also lost Fred Cooperstock, who was one of my early mentors in university. His work in general relativity and specifically his conjectures on the nature of gravitational energy are still open areas of research, and the subject of a great deal of academic discourse. I know that many of his students will remember him for his enthusiastic teaching style, his unique way of viewing complex physics topics, and for the joy and passion for theoretical physics that he imparted on all of us. 

So that's the year that was. As always it had its highs and its lows, its good times and its bad. It was a year of great advances for the astrophysics community, and a year of scientific achievements in other fields too numerous to list here. While the world may have had its troubles in politics and economics, the scientific community soldiered on in its unending quest to explore the fundamental laws of nature.

And so as we watch the old year end and the new year begin, we can only stop for a moment and wonder what amazing new discoveries the new year will hold for us.

Happy New Year!!