This image provided by NASA shows the coronal mass ejection, viewed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 7, 2011. A medium-sized solar flare erupted from the sun in an impressive display captured by NASA cameras. (AP)

But we also live within the “atmosphere” of the sun, and solar effects give rise to phenomena via the interplanetary magnetic field and the solar wind – space weather - which range from visually spectacular auroral displays to consequential (perhaps disastrous) disruptions in communications, power grids, satellite operations etc.(link)

Space-related events also make their mark on our collective experiences; for example, meteor showers, comets, solar/lunar eclipses, and manned and unmanned space exploration.

This selection of 2011’s top space weather and astronomy events doesn’t necessarily represent the most scientifically significant or historic set of a much larger set of possible choices. Rather, it is simply my personal list of highlights as an all-things space enthusiast - not far below enthusiasm for all-things (terrestrial) weather related.

Sun roars to life

Not withstanding some premature speculation that the sun might never “wake up” from the surprisingly quiescent and extended (5 year) period of the recent minima in the sun’s 11-year solar (sunspot) cycle, the sun roared into life in 2011. The past year was characterized by resurgence of sunspots, powerful solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), with the surge in solar activity expected to increase and eventually peak in 2013.

This image provided by NASA shows a solar flare early Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011, the largest in 5 years. (AP)

Kamikaze comets

Comet Lovejoy emerges from sun to the surprise of some astronomers on December 15. Screenshot from video. Contrast enhanced. (NASA)

Related: Comet Lovejoy awes NASA astronaut aboard International Space Station

Unusual total lunar eclipse

The moon is seen in the sky over the Golden Gate Bridge during an eclipse on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, in San Francisco. (Frederic Larson/AP)

Awesome auroras

Aurora explosion in Ozark, Arkansas October 24, 2011. (from YouTube video posted by briandjin2 )

An especially unique view of an auroral display was provided by the surreal video of the southern lights, known as Aurora Australis, taken by the crew of the International Space Station on Sept. 17th.

Related: International Space Station around the world spectacle (video)

NASA’s Voyager spacecraft reaches edge of solar system

NASA undated handout image shows an artist’s concept of the Voyager 2 spacecraft. (NASA/REUTERS)

Los Angeles-like haze surrounding Titan

Saturn’s moon Titan, encircled in purple stratospheric haze. (NASA)

Related: On Saturn’s moon Titan, spring rains but no spring flowers

First planet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star!

This rendering provided by NASA shows Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. (AP)

Surfer waves spotted on the Sun

Screenshot from video showing surfer-like waves on sun (NASA)