While stunning photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope have given space fans the attention this year, other telescopes and spacecraft have been busy on Earth and around the solar system (SN Online: 12/7/22). Here are some of the coolest local highlights that have nothing to do with JWST.
To the moon
After several abortive attempts, NASA launched the Artemis 1 mission on November 16, 2016. That was a big step towards the goal of landing men on the moon as early as 2025 (.SN: 12/3/22, p. 14). No human had set foot there since 1972. The new Artemis rocket, the Launch System, which had previously suffered a series of hydrogen fuel leaks, and the new Orion spacecraft were included. No astronauts attempted the flight, but the Orion carried a cockpit in the commander’s seat and two mannequin torsos to test radiation protection and life support systems, plus cargo full of small satellites that left on their missions. On December 11, the Orion capsule successfully returned to Earth after splashing in the Pacific Ocean near Mexico (SN Online: 12/12/22).
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A JUST propelled an asteroid
NASA successfully launched a space shuttle asteroid into a new orbit this year. On September 26, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test slammed into the Dimorphos asteroid, about 11 million kilometers from Earth at the time of impact. In October, NASA announced that Dimorphos had shortened its approximately 12-hour orbit around the asteroid, Didymos, by 32 minutes.SN: 11/5/22, p. 14). Dimorph poses no threat to Earth, but the test will help inform future missions to send researchers off any potentially dangerous asteroids heading for a collision course with our home planet.
The Mars insightr goes out on a high note. After scientists reported in May that Insight had recorded the largest known Marsquake, roughly magnitude 5, news came in October that the owner’s seismometer also detected the sound of two of the largest meteorite impacts ever observed on Mars. That impact created gaping craters and sent seismic waves cascading through the top of the planet’s crust.
The details of how those and other waves moved across the Red Planet have given researchers a new understanding of the structure of Mars’ crust, which is otherwise difficult to study. Data also suggest that some Mars movements are caused by magma moving beneath the surface (SN: 12/3/22, p. 12). The solar panels that power the lander are now covered in dust after four years on Mars, the death knell for the mission.
The chemistry of life occurs in meteorites
All five bases in DNA and RNA were found in rocks that fell to Earth. Three nucleobases, which combine with sugar and phosphate to make up the genetic material known for all life, were previously found in meteorites. And the last two, cytosine and thymine, were reported from space rocks this year.SN: 6/4/22, p. 7). The findings support the idea that the precursors of life could have come to Earth from space, researchers say.
Arrow A * snapshot
A supermassive black hole in the middle of the Milky Way has become the second black hole in its vicinity. Solving the image of the behemoth at the heart of galaxy M87 in 2019, astronomers used data from the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of radio telescopes around the world, to assemble the image of Sagittarius A*.SN: 6/4/22, p. 6). The image, released in May, casts a dark shadow though the accretion ring of the burning disk. That may not sound serious in itself, but the results provide new information about the turbulence hovering around the edge of our black hole.
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