Pioneering space science in 2022

Elena Camacho |

Madrid (EFE) – 2022 is the year of space. We’ve been amazed by images from the James Webb telescope, seen our galaxy’s black hole, carried out historic missions, and finally returned to the front lines of space exploration with two new astronauts.

They are both from Lyon and studied at the same university. It’s Pablo Alvarez, an aeronautical engineer, who will be a regular astronaut, and Sara Garcia, a biotechnologist and cancer researcher, who will be an understudy.

They were chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) thirty years after Pedro Duque has flown into space twice, once on the shuttle Discovery and once to the International Space Station.

They now have a vertigo future, with an intense training process – in the case of Pablo Alvarez – and the possibility of making history and being the first European (or first woman) to set foot on the moon.

And it is that our satellite is once again in the crosshairs of space exploration. The most important mission was Artemis I, the first of three missions in a NASA program aimed at establishing a lunar base as a precursor to traveling to Mars.

This first mission – experimental and uncrewed – was intended to check whether the Orion capsule (in the design of which several Spanish scientists participated) could safely transport astronauts to and from the Moon. He did, and with a note.

After circumnavigating the Moon, Orion reached the greatest distance ever reached by a spacecraft (430,000 km from Earth) and twenty-six days after the adventure began, it plunged over the Pacific Ocean after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at over 2,800 degrees Celsius. wow.

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The mission also tested NASA’s new rocket: the Space Launch System (SLS), which is the most powerful in history thanks to four RS-25 engines and two boosters that give it 15 percent more power than those Saturn had from the Apollo missions.

The history-making Artemis program will continue in 2024 with the launch of Artemis II – this time with a crew – and Artemis III, in 2025, a mission in which astronauts, including a woman, will once again set foot on the moon after 53 years. Neil Armstrong.

Artemis I. EFE mission / Cristobal Herrera-Usashkevich

increasingly global space

But for some time now, space exploration has not been limited to the United States and Europe. More and more countries are betting on the space sector, such as China, which is beginning to reap the benefits after several years of betting heavily on its space program.

Among other feats, the Asian giant has managed to land a probe (Chang’e 4) on the hidden side of the moon — no one else has done it — and take a rover to Mars (Tianwen-1), the only thing the United States and Soviet Union have achieved. the previous.

His recent success has been the completion of the Tiangong space station (“Heavenly Palace”), which is smaller and more technologically advanced than the International Space Station (ISS), access to which was off-limits due to military security.

Built in less than two years, Tiangong will operate for 15 years at 400 km from the Earth’s surface and, like its predecessors, the MIR and the ISS, will serve as a space laboratory.

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Armageddon without Bruce Willis

But undoubtedly one of the most media-focused missions (and one of the 10 science developments of the year according to Science magazine) was DART, in which for the first time in history an attempt was made to deflect an asteroid, as in Armageddon but without Bruce Willis.

The asteroid Dimorphos orbited the largest (Didymos) in 11 hours and 55 minutes. After the DART collision, its orbit was 32 minutes smaller.

The mission, to which the Institute of Space Sciences of CSIC and the Institute for Space Studies of Catalonia were essential, did not seek to blow the asteroid into millions of pieces, but to modify its trajectory.

The experiment was a success and a major advance for planetary defense that will help protect space infrastructures such as the Gateway, the permanent space station that NASA wants to build on the Moon.

wonders of the universe

And while these missions were launched to conquer space, telescopes showed us the mysteries and wonders of the universe.

It was the first image with which James Webb – the largest space telescope in history – astonished the world with the Large Magellanic Cloud. It was July, just six months after it was sent into space folded inside an Ariane V rocket.

Upon reaching its destination, some 2 million kilometers from Earth, it raises the sun’s enormous canopy (about the size of a tennis court) that keeps all instruments at -266 degrees Celsius, the temperature needed for a telescope to detect light. Infrared.

Thanks to its modern equipment, this time machine can observe very cold and distant objects, learn how galaxies, stars and the first planetary systems formed, analyze the composition and physical properties of exoplanets and the objects behind them. from dust

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The telescope, which according to Science magazine is the scientific breakthrough of the year, has only been in operation for a short time but has already produced a slew of extraordinary scientific results that have changed our picture of the universe. And this is only the beginning.

Another great image of space was shown in 2022 by the science team of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which three years after first published the image of the black hole (M87).), a new and impressive shot: the bow shot AThe supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The new image, which showed a not-quite-circular yellow-orange ring with three bright spots, captured the light bent by the gravitational force of this gravitational monster, four million times the mass of the Sun, of which none is, not even Even light can escape.

Exciting, historical, unusual or revolutionary are some of the qualifications used by those responsible for this discovery that had an important Spanish involvement.

In addition, our scientists have been instrumental in the design and development of James Webb, the DART missions, and the Artemis I.

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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