Space scientists have discovered how much they can accomplish when they work together, with incredible achievements this year by collaborating with commercial industry and foreign countries.
Successful partnerships in 2022 included the launch and calibration of the world’s most powerful space telescope and imaging of the never-before-seen supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
The year also showed what can go wrong.
See the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole in the first photo ever
A stray rocket junk in an unexpected orbit slammed into the moon, for example, causing a new crater. NASA’s giant lunar rocket, the Space Launch System, stumbled on its way to its first lunar mission, as the agency encountered several problems with contractors’ work during a critical test this spring.
It remains to be seen if the rest of the year will include the inaugural Artemis mission to the Moon, and the United States’ return to human exploration of deep space. Read more about this year’s hottest moments in space, so far.
The James Webb Space Telescope opens for business
The James Webb Space Telescope will present its first full-color images on July 12.
The most powerful observatory in space made its mark at a destination a million miles from Earth in late January and launched its intricate solar shield the size of a tennis court. Engineers have since calibrated the Webb telescope’s scientific instruments, exceeding expectations for their level of accuracy.
Astronomers predict that the telescope will fuel a golden age in our understanding of the universe, providing snapshots of space billions of light years away.
On July 12, the James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will present its first full-color images. What those first cosmic goals will be is a closely guarded secret.
Webb is expected to observe some of the oldest and faintest light in the universe. The telescope will focus on the period less than 300 million years after the Big Bang, when many of the first stars and galaxies were born.
Scientists will also use the telescope to look at the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system, which are called exoplanets. Discoveries of water and methane, for example, can be signs of habitability or biological activity.
NASA’s Giant Moon Rocket Crawls Out of Storage
NASA has taken the Space Launch System, or SLS, which will send a spacecraft to the Moon, out of storage for a critical refueling test and countdown.
A Statue of Liberty-length rocket came out of hiding in March when the US space agency flew it to the launch pad in Florida for a critical test.
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is a massive 5.75-million-pound behemoth built to blast a spacecraft to the Moon for the Artemis missions, NASA’s campaign for human space exploration. The program will eventually send people to the Moon and Mars.
Originally, NASA thought the first flight without a crew could happen as early as May. But several problems arose during the test, which led to further delays. It is not clear when the missile will be ready to take off.
The missile is believed to be the most expensive of all, with each launch estimated to cost more than $4 billion. For perspective, that’s about a fifth of NASA’s entire budget.
NASA Inspector General Paul Martin, an agency observer, warned a US House of Representatives committee in March that the rocket, a government-commissioned project with a bloated budget, would “undimp, if not derail, NASA’s ability to maintain long-range human exploration goals.” . . .
Saturn’s moon could be an ocean world
Scientists have found evidence that Saturn’s moon Mimas may have an ocean locked under an icy crust.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute
Saturn’s moon Mimas is famous for its striking resemblance to star Wars’ Death Star, a planet-like killing machine.
It wasn’t known for its similarity to a place that could support life – until now.
New research published in the Journal of Planetary Sciences Icarus Describe how scientists unexpectedly found signs of an ocean under the moon’s icy crust. Although the study did not find conclusive evidence, there is now compelling evidence. Water is an important component of habitability, and creates environments in which life can thrive.
Mimas may not be a frozen piece of snow, after all.
A strange discovery of the Martian aurora on a large scale
Scientists believe that the newly discovered Martian aurora is putting green streaks in the Martian sky.
Credit: Emirates Mars Mission
New Mars overview images have revealed a stunning green light in the planet’s sky.
Much of Mars’ atmosphere appears to have a streak of wormlike aurora, similar to the aurora borealis that can sometimes be seen on Earth. The Martian aurora is a glowing, twisted band of ultraviolet rays, extending thousands of miles from the side of the day, facing the sun, to the back of the planet.
The UAE Space Agency’s probe orbiting Mars, known as Hope, captured the footage.
No one knows how that happens, given that scientists believe that Mars’ magnetic field has greatly degraded billions of years ago. Magnetic fields direct high-energy fluxes of electrons from the sun into the planet’s atmosphere.
Oops! An unwanted missile collides with the moon
A booster rocket inadvertently collided with the moon in March, leaving a new crater, reminiscent of the iconic scene from the 1902 silent movie, “A Journey to the Moon.”
Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images
A booster rocket left over from a Chinese lunar mission is believed to have crashed into the moon in March, making the piece of metal the first known space junk to inadvertently crash into our natural satellite.
Scientists predicted that the booster would leave a crater about 65 feet long. China has denied the debris from its space programme.
The rocket was one of many remaining in a “chaotic” orbit, which means its cosmic trajectory can change in a way that cannot be mathematically predicted. When the rockets are in low Earth orbit, not far from many satellites, they will remain there with the possibility of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. On the other hand, if a rocket was sent away into a wide orbit around the sun, it would be lost forever.
But if dropped into that intermediate region between the two, still orbiting Earth but far enough away to get an occasional pull from the Moon’s gravitational pull, that could lead to several possible outcomes: Debris could fall back to Earth, and come out in orbit The sun, or hits the moon.
Based on outer space policies and conventions, leaving a missile in this chaotic state – and not monitoring its whereabouts – is not a crime.
Astronomers have captured the first image of a huge black hole in the Milky Way
Scientists around the world worked together to capture the first-ever image of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Credit: Event Horizon Telescope
At the center of the Milky Way is a giant black hole, and for the first time ever, astronomers have been able to see it.
Black holes do not have surfaces, like planets or stars. Instead, these mysterious cosmic bodies have a boundary called the event horizon, the point of no return. If anything flipped too close to that point, it would fall inward, never escaping the gravitational pull of the hole.
Thanks to the power of eight connected radio dishes from around the world, the Event Horizon Telescope captured an image of the shadow of the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*. Hundreds of scientists from 80 institutions around the world have worked together to collect, process, and piece pieces of data together to form the picture.
Until three years ago, any depiction of a black hole was merely an artist’s interpretation or a computer model. Now scientists have a quick glimpse into the real deal, which spans 27 million miles.
With financial support from the National Science Foundation and other groups, the scientists plan to boost their technology to make the picture dramatically clearer.
Hubble confirmed that the comet is the largest of all
Scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm that Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is the largest comet ever observed.
Credit: Alyssa Pagan (STScI) / Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope has determined that a recently discovered comet has a core that stretches 85 miles, making it the largest snowball in space ever observed.
This shiny ball of ice, dust, and rock, Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein, is twice as wide as Rhode Island and may weigh 500 trillion tons. The researchers say the size of this comet is important because it provides an idea of the size range of comets that orbit in the far outskirts of our solar system.
Comets, known for their tails that are millions of miles long, are among the oldest objects in the solar system. These icy bodies are a remnant of the early days of planet formation.
Bernardinelli – Bernstein is approaching the Sun from the edge of the Solar System at 22,000 miles per hour. Although the majestic rock has been described as “heading this way,” the space is a big place. Saturn is closer to Earth than a comet will bring.
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