While today's press conference on extraterrestrial life has captured the attention, as 2010 draws to a close, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a number of accomplishments to look back on this year: 

-- A magnetic filament in the Sun erupted on Tuesday. Due to the eruption, high-latitude sky watchers have been asked to remain alert for auroras on Dec. 3. The NASA solar dynamics observatory detected a magnetic eruption in the Sun's northeastern quadrant during the late hours of Nov. 30, which produced a B-class solar flare and hurled a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) into space.

-- NASA's solar and heliospheric observatory (SOHO) will celebrate its 15th birthday in space on Thursday. SOHO is perhaps best known for its observations of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. SOHO has also emerged as the greatest comet-finder of all time. As of Nov. 1, SOHO had spotted more than 1,940 comets.

-- The U.S. Air Force's unmanned space shuttle, X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, is expected to land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California, sometime between Friday and Monday. The X-37 began as a NASA project in 1999 and then was transferred to the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004.

-- NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully dipped near the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus on Nov. 30. Though Cassini's closest approach took it to within about 48 kilometers (30 miles) of the moon's northern hemisphere, the spacecraft also captured shadowy images of the tortured south polar terrain and the brilliant jets that spray out from it.

-- The Space Shuttle Discovery's final launch is currently slated for no earlier than Dec. 17. The crew will take important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4.

-- A team of astronomers, including two NASA Sagan Fellows, has made the first characterizations of a super-Earth's atmosphere, by using a ground-based telescope. A super-Earth is a planet up to three times the size of Earth and weighing up to 10 times as much. The Sagan Fellowship Program is administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

-- NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, completed the first of three science flights on Wednesday morning to demonstrate the aircraft's potential to make discoveries about the infrared universe. SOFIA is a heavily modified Boeing 747SP that cruises at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet.

-- As the Space Shuttle Program nears retirement, NASA is looking for ways to preserve the program's history and inspire the next generation of space explorers, scientists and engineers. Beginning Wednesday, NASA is offering 7,000 shuttle heat shield tiles to schools and universities that want to share technology and a piece of space history with their students.

-- Scientists has for the first time analyzed the atmosphere around a super-Earth exoplanet, which is a significant milestone toward eventually being able to probe the atmospheres of Earth-like planets for signs of life. The planet,  known as GJ 1214b, is either blanketed with a thin layer of water steam or surrounded by a thick layer of high clouds.

-- Researchers have found that one of the Jupiter's stripes that disappeared last spring is now showing signs of a comeback, after follow-up observations in Hawaii with NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory telescope. The latest observations will help scientists better understand the interaction between Jupiter's winds and cloud chemistry.

-- A new trio of Expedition 26 flight engineers, NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec. 15 to the International Space Station (ISS).