Amazing space images, creative computing and a nuclear fusion milestone: this is part of a dytych of the most important scientific events of 2022, selected by New Scientistnews editors.
A newcomer to science that thrilled millions of people year-round was the James Webb Space Telescope. It was finally launched in late 2021 and reached its destination in January 2022.
The first images he beamed down in July offered a stunning view of the cosmos. After that, the ‘time machine’ achieved one startling result after another; whether it was photographing planets in the solar system and beyond, or finding the oldest and most distant galaxies we can see.
Brain training apps lack scientific backing
Another mission that, like James Webb, had been postponed many times in the past was the Artemis moon mission. In November, the powerful SLS rocket launched the Orion capsule. Less than a month later, the capsule crashed back into the ocean after a successful journey. The mission brings us one step closer to the return of humans to the moon, which should take place in 2025.
Black hole in the image
In May, there was a new milestone for the Event Horizon Telescope, the telescope network that was the first to take an image of a black hole in 2019. This time, a snapshot was taken of ‘our’ Sagittarius A*: the black hole in the center of the Milky Way.
In addition, a black hole was found in September that is even closer to Earth. Gaia BH1 is 1,500 light years away, a cosmic stone’s throw away. The black hole was discovered in data from the Gaia space telescope, which released a wealth of new information about the Milky Way in June.
The American space agency NASA had a first in September: the DART spacecraft then hit the asteroid Dimorphos. As planned, the impact significantly changed the asteroid’s orbit. Hopefully we’ll never have to use the knowledge this provides, but if a space rock ever crashes into Earth, it could be of great help.
Also read: The first images show the impact of the space probe DART
AI is moving forward
In creativity, artificial intelligence (AI) has made the move to the general public in 2022. Now that everyone can play with text-to-image generators like DALL-E 2, the internet is flooded with bizarre images.
The launch of ChatGPT, a publicly available chatbot from OpenAI, also sparks the imagination of many people. At the same time, there is a fear of abuse. As more and more companies take advantage of these AI systems, the debate about their use will intensify.
Furthermore, after chess and go, the AI was also the boss of the board game Stratego this year, a game with an unimaginably high number of possible scenarios. In mathematics, there is a real arms race between man and machine in matrix multiplication.
Then there was also some scary AI news: A new artificial intelligence system can use brain scans to measure that someone is thinking about a certain concept like eating or sleeping. And something less scary: A fully robotic washing system can put the laundry in the washing machine, select the right program and also empty the laundry.
The milestone of the merger
By the end of the year, the nuclear fusion field reached a potentially significant milestone. Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California were the first to create a fusion reaction that produced more energy than was put into it. However, much work remains before nuclear fusion can become a commercial energy source.
In other big nuclear fusion news: the Korean reactor KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) sustained a reaction for 30 seconds at temperatures above 100 million degrees.
Closer to home, physicists at TU Delft have developed a superconductor that allows electricity to flow in one direction. This spectacular happiness can dramatically reduce the computer’s power consumption.
Finally, all year physicists have been trying to figure out whether our view of reality needs to be revised. A shocking announcement in April suggested that the mass of a fundamental particle, the W boson, is very different from what the Standard Model of particle physics predicts. The result has held up so far, and will remain a great mystery to be solved if we are ever to fully understand the building blocks of the universe.
Also read: What will happen in particle physics ten years after the discovery of the Higgs boson?
Fortunately, the Large Hadron Collider, the particle accelerator at CERN, can help unravel such mysteries. After a three-year maintenance break, the accelerator was back in operation in May, which immediately resulted in an energy record. With the new deluge of measurements, physicists hope in the coming years to definitively determine where the Standard Model of particle physics needs to be extended.