Space 19 December 2012 Heavens above: the achievement of Curiosity and the Hubble Space Telescope Long may our exploration of the heavens continue. Print HTML If it’s celestial wisdom you’re looking for at this time of year, you could do worse than take a moment to consider Nasa’s achievements. Up there, out there, are objects that give cause to reflect on things bigger than any one of us. Maggie Aderin- Pocock writes about Voyager here, but let’s look at the other two parts of the trinity: Curiosity and the Hubble Space Telescope. On 12 December, Nasa scientists unveiled Hubble pictures that show the oldest galaxies in the universe. It has taken 13.4 billion years for their light to reach us from a time when the universe was just 500 million years old. The images promise to help us gather knowledge on one of the most opaque periods of cosmic history. The Curiosity probe is roving around on the surface of Mars, sending back not only pictures, but the results of chemistry experiments that could tell us our true place in the cosmos. The recent (still tentative) discovery of carbon in the Red Planet’s soil could mark the moment we began to accept that the building blocks of life are scattered throughout the universe; that earth is special only to us, its inhabitants. Despite our awe, it is not the heavens that are most impressive. In fact, wonder at the beauty and scale of the sights in the universe is almost an inappropriate reaction. Did we expect it to be small and dreary? What really is wonderful is that a carbon-based life form, having evolved in one unremarkable corner of the cosmos, has developed the temerity and skill to probe and explore it. We tame the universe and have begun to understand its origins and mysteries. We’ve had our failures – this Christmas, it is nine years since the Beagle 2 mission, for instance – but we keep pushing ourselves into the heavens nonetheless. Long may it continue. › Doing science the Wonga way A self portrait by Nasa's Curiosity probe on Mars. Photograph: Getty Images Michael Brooks holds a PhD in quantum physics. He writes a weekly science column for the New Statesman, and his most recent book is At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise. From only £1 a week Subscribe This article first appeared in the 24 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Brian Cox and Robin Ince guest edit More Related articles NASA: streaks of salt on Mars may mean flowing water, and new hopes of life What was so special about last night's super blood moon? Space salad and twin studies: what did astronauts learn on their latest space station mission?