Where we go: Part 1 of your year-end reading list

Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 17
Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan during the third extravehicular activity of the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
NASA

December marks 43 years since the last Apollo mission to the moon, the last time humans walked upon another world. Since then we have repeatedly sent humans into low Earth orbit on the space shuttles and Soyuz capsules.

All the while, we were periodically pitching probes off into the darkness on long journeys to destinations far flung and some not so far. In 2015 many of our proxy explorers reached their destinations across the solar system, at dwarf planets, icy moons and even a comet. Read Part 2 of your year-end reading list here

Impact on Mercury

Last image of Mercury before impact
The last image acquired and transmitted back to Earth by the Messenger probe. The spacecraft struck the planet just north of Shakespeare basin.
NASA

After four years in orbit, the Messenger probe took a final journey into the surface of Mercury at more than 8,700 mph after its fuel ran out.

Project Apollo Archive opens access to previously unreleased images

Earth orbit EVA, Apollo 9
Apollo 9 astronaut David R Scott stands in the open hatch of the command/service module, nicknamed Gumdrop, while docked with the lunar module, nicknamed Spider. This was the third manned Apollo mission, and the first to fly with the all spacecraft components.
NASA | Project Apollo Archive

NASA made available more than 14,000 images from Apollo missions that the agency undertook as it tested systems for its eventual moon landing. The images provide a candid view of the very human endeavor that is space travel. Making the archive available in this manner invited members of the public to put the images to creative use, and the results are spectacular.

Watching Earth

Fires of Central Aftrica
The moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite collected this natural-color image, which detected dozens of fires burning in Central Africa, on Sept. 11, 2015. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS' thermal bands, are outlined in red.
courtesy of NASA | Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team

The Aqua Earth-observing satellite, launched in 2002, kept a close eye on fires around the world in 2015.

The waters of Mars

NASA announced the detection of briny flowing water on the surface of Mars.

Seasonal water flows
Dark streaks on the hillside mark seasonal flows on some steep slopes of Mars, recently confirmed to be salty water. This July 21, 2015, image shows examples within Mars' Valles Marineris.
NASA| JPL-Caltech | University of Arizona

Saturn's moons dance with Cassini probe

The Cassini probe, launched in 1997, spent 2015 in an intricate choreography with the moons of Saturn.

Cassini dove through the ice geysers of Enceladus.

Ice geyser plumes of Enceladus
Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice out from many locations along the famed "tiger stripes" near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The tiger stripes are fissures that spray icy particles, water vapor and organic compounds.
NASA | JPL | SSI

The probe took a new high-resolution image of Titan.

Infrared view of Titan
This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn's moon Titan from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission's "T-114" flyby on Nov. 13, 2015.
NASA| JPL-Caltech | University of Arizona

Cassini managed to line Tethys up as a backdrop for Enceladus, as it made a final close pass of the small moon.

Saturn's moon Enceladus passing before Tethys
Enceladus passes before Tethys, as the moons appear to float above Saturn's rings.
NASA | JPL-Caltech | Space Science Institute

Bonus robotic holiday cheer

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