From the July 2002 issue

Since Cosmos

A timeline of events and discoveries since 1980
By | Published: July 29, 2002 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Though nearly 22 years have passed since Cosmos first aired, the integrity of the program’s science remains largely intact. Still, the space science community has made many advances since Carl Sagan’s 13-part television series broadcast in 1980. This timeline points out some of the significant discoveries and events in the world of astronomy and space exploration during that year and since.
Columbia launch 1981
On April 12, 1981, Columbia became the first space shuttle to achieve lift off. John Young commanded the 2-day, 6-hour mission, and Robert Crippen piloted the craft.

  • Cosmos broadcast
  • Seven moons of Saturn are discovered: Atlas, Calypso, Epimetheus, Helene, Pandora, Prometheus, Telesto
  • Luis and Walter Alvarez propose KT (Cretaceous-Tertiary) asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs
  • Voyager 1 obtains close-up images of Saturn’s rings
  • 1981

  • First space shuttle launches
  • 1982

  • Andrei Linde proposes new inflationary universe scenario
  • 1983

  • Andrei Linde develops chaotic inflationary universe scenario
  • Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) launches
  • Paul Horowitz initiates Project Sentinel to search for extraterrestrial intelligence
  • 1984

  • SETI Institute is founded
  • Comet Halley
    This photograph of Comet Halley was taken during its closest pass by Earth – 39 million miles.

  • Puck, a moon of Uranus, is discovered in Voyager 2 images
  • International Cometary Explorer (ICE) spacecraft flies through tail of Comet Giacobini-Zinner, becoming the first to encounter a comet
  • Project META (Megachannel Extraterrestrial Assay) begins searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence
  • Halley’s Comet makes its latest close approach to Earth
  • 1986

  • Margaret Geller and John Huchra describe bubble structure of galaxy superclusters
  • SERENDIP II (Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations) begins operations
  • Voyager 2 flies past Uranus
  • Nine moons of Uranus are discovered in Voyager 2 images: Bianca, Belinda, Cordelia, Cressida, Desdemona, Juliet, Ophelia, Portia, Rosalind
  • Space Shuttle Challenger explodes
  • Supernova 1987A Rings
    Three rings of glowing gas encircle the site of supernova 1987A.
    Christopher Burrows, ESA / STScI / NASA

  • Astronomers realize Milky Way and many local galaxies are moving toward “Great Attractor”
  • Supernova 1987A is discovered
  • 1988

  • Numerical simulations by Martin Duncan and colleagues confirm short-period comets could come from Kuiper Belt
  • 1989

  • Magellan spacecraft launches
  • Voyager 2 flies past Neptune
  • Hipparcos astrometry mission launches
  • Galileo spacecraft is deployed from Space Shuttle Atlantis
  • 1990

  • John Mather presents observations of the cosmic background radiation by the Cosmic Microwave Background Explorer (COBE), which confirm predictions of the big bang theory
  • Pan, a moon of Saturn, is discovered in Voyager 2 images
  • Project META II begins extraterrestrial search from southern hemisphere
  • Hubble Space Telescope launches aboard Space Shuttle Discovery
  • Ulysses spacecraft is deployed by Space Shuttle Discovery
  • 1991

  • Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) aboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory finds gamma-ray burst radiation is isotropic
  • Alexander Wolszczan discovers two planets orbiting a millisecond pulsar
  • 1992

  • John Mather and George Smoot find fluctuations in cosmic microwave background radiation with COBE
  • First Kuiper Belt asteroid (1992 QB1) is discovered
  • SERENDIP III begins operations at Arecibo Observatory
  • MACHO project begins searching for massive compact halo objects
  • NASA’s High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS) begins searching for extraterrestrial signals from Arecibo and Goldstone observatories
  • Comet Impact
    The images from lower right to upper left show the evolution of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s impact plume beginning at roughly 5 minutes after the G impact and progressing to 5 days after the G impact.
    STScI / JPL / NASA

  • Keck Observatory begins observations
  • Contact with Mars Observer is lost three days before orbit insertion
  • Galileo spacecraft images the first known asteroid moon, Dactyl, orbiting asteroid Ida
  • Space shuttle astronauts fit Hubble Space Telescope with corrective optics
  • 1994

  • Hubble Space Telescope finds evidence of black hole in the center of M87
  • Hubble Key Project begins studying Cepheid variable stars to better define Hubble Constant
  • Michael Rampino and Richard Strothers propose Earth could be periodically struck by comets dislodged from orbits when the solar system passes through galactic plane
  • Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hits Jupiter
  • 1995

  • Donald Lamb and Bodhan Paczynski debate the distance of gamma-ray bursts
  • Andrew Gould determines distance to LMC using Supernova 1987A
  • The SETI Institute launches Project Phoenix
  • Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz announce discovery of extrasolar planet around Sun-like star 51 Pegasi
  • Project BETA (Billion-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay) begins scanning the skies
  • Comet Hyakutake
    Accurate polar-alignment and a short-focus wide-angle lens may allow piggyback exposures of up to an hour.
    David Healy

  • Comet Hyakutake and Comet Hale-Bopp reach peak brightness
  • Sidney van den Bergh and Gustav Tammann debate Hubble Constant and the scale of the universe
  • Terry Oswalt and colleagues determine age of the galactic disk from old white dwarfs
  • Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR Shoemaker) mission launches
  • Scientists announce they’ve found signs of primitive life in Mars meteorite ALH840001
  • Mars Global Surveyor launches
  • Carl Sagan dies
  • 1997

  • BeppoSAX determines gamma-ray bursts are extragalactic
  • Two moons of Uranus are discovered: Caliban and Sycorax
  • Space Very Long Baseline Interferometry (SVLBI) mission launches
  • Mars Pathfinder lands on Mars
  • SERENDIP IV begins operations at Arecibo Observatory
  • Cassini-Huygens mission launches
  • 1998

  • Supernovae observations by the Supernova Cosmology Project and High-z Supernova Search team suggest the expansion of the universe is accelerating
  • Lunar Prospector launches and enters lunar orbit
  • Jim Peebles and Michael Turner debate nature of universe and whether cosmology is solved
  • Paul Horowitz initiates an optical SETI program to search for laser pulses from other worlds
  • Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) launches
  • BOOMERANG (Balloon Observations of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics) launches over Antarctica
  • Chandra X-ray Observatory
    The Chandra X-ray Observatory was deployed by the Space Shuttle Columbia in July 1999. Its purpose is to study the x-ray universe to provide unique and crucial new information about the structure and evolution of our universe.

  • John Cowan confirms age estimates of globular clusters and universe by dating metal-poor stars
  • Stardust mission launches
  • Wendy Freedman and Allan Sandage debate Hubble Constant and the scale of universe
  • SETI@Home begins distributing data to computers around the world
  • Chandra is deployed from Space Shuttle Columbia
  • Mars Climate Orbiter is lost during orbit insertion
  • Mars Polar Lander stops communicating after landing on Mars
  • 2000

  • Eleven moons of Jupiter are discovered
  • NEAR Shoemaker begins orbiting asteroid Eros
  • Expedition One crew arrives at International Space Station
  • Very Large Telescope measures the temperature of the early universe
  • 2001

  • Adam Reiss and colleagues announce the most distant supernova known supports “dark energy” theory
  • Robert Becker and colleagues use quasar to identify cosmic “Dark Age”
  • Twelve moons of Saturn are discovered
  • Lunar soil samples and computer models by Robin Canup and Erik Asphaug support impact origin of moon
  • NEAR Shoemaker lands on asteroid Eros
  • Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) is launched
  • Genesis mission lifts off
  • Deep Space 1 encounters Comet Borrelly
  • 2001 Mars Odyssey arrives at Mars
  • Hubble Space Telescope detects an atmosphere around an extrasolar planet
  • 2002

  • Mars Odyssey detects water in martian south polar cap
  • Eleven moons of Jupiter are discovered
  • Chandra X-ray Observatory finds evidence for new matter in “quark stars”
  • 100th extrasolar planet is discovered