Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news about fascinating discoveries, scientific advancements and more.
From a fridge-sized spaceship sinking into an asteroid (deliberately) to a helicopter trying to catch a falling rocket back on Earth, 2022 offered some surreal moments in space that could have been ripped from the pages of a sci-fi movie script.
Among the memorable events were billionaires hatching plans to explore the cosmos and scientists trying to find answers to puzzling questions, only to uncover deeper mysteries.
Researchers have successfully grown plants in lunar soil for the first time, while engineers have successfully tested an inflatable heat shield that could land humans on Mars. And scientists have determined that a rare interstellar meteor crashed into Earth nearly a decade ago.
Here’s a look back at 10 times space travel and exploration felt more like a Hollywood movie plot than real life.
A NASA spacecraft intentionally crashed into Dimorphos, a small asteroid that orbits a larger space rock named Didymos. While this collision looked like something out of the 1998 movie “Armageddon,” the asteroid double-redirect test was a demonstration of deflection technology – and the first done in the name of planetary defense.
Many logged in on September 26 to watch the surface of Dimorphos appear for the first time, with the DART cameras beaming live feedback. The view ended after the spacecraft collided with the asteroid, but images captured by space telescopes and an Italian satellite provided dramatic photos of the aftermath.
The DART mission marked the first time mankind has intentionally altered the motion of a celestial object in space. The Modified Spaceship the asteroid moonlet’s orbit of 32 minutes. Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos pose a threat to Earth, but the twin asteroid system was a perfect target to test deflection technology.
Fast radio bursts in space have intrigued astronomers since their discovery in 2007, but a mysterious radio burst with a pattern similar to a heartbeat upped the ante this year.
Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, are intense millisecond bursts of radio waves of unknown origin – only fueling speculation that their cause is more alien than cosmic.
Astronomers believe the ‘heartbeat signal’ came from a galaxy about 1 billion light-years away, but the location and the cause of the burst are unknown.
Additionally, astronomers have also detected a powerful radio wave laser, known as a megamaser, and a rotating celestial object releasing giant bursts of energy like never before.
Speaking of strange objects, astronomers have taken another leap forward in understanding odd radio circles, or ORCs. No, it’s not the goblin-like humanoids of “The The Lord of the Rings books,” but these fascinating objects have baffled scientists since their discovery in 2020.
The space rings are so massive that they are each about 1 million light-years across, which is 16 times larger than our Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers think it takes 1 billion years for the circles to grow to their maximum size, and they’re so big they’ve stretched beyond other galaxies.
Astronomers have taken a detailed new photo of strange radio circles using the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s MeerKAT telescope, narrowing down possible theories that could explain these celestial oddballs.
Black holes are notorious for misbehaving and shredding stars. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope were therefore surprised when they saw a black hole powering star birth.
Their observation revealed a gaseous umbilical cord extending from a black hole at the center of a dwarf galaxy to a stellar nursery where stars are born. The flow of gas provided by the triggered black hole a firework of star birth when it interacted with the cloud, which led to a cluster of stars forming.
This year, astronomers also captured an image of the supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our galaxy, and Hubble spotted a lone black hole wandering the Milky Way. And the X-ray signals from black holes have been converted into eerie sounds that we won’t soon forget.
Rocket Lab, a US-based company launching from New Zealand, is trying to find a way to salvage its rocket boosters as they tumble to Earth after launch. In 2022, the company made two attempts to deploy a helicopter with a hook tether. The wild spectacle is part of Rocket Lab’s plans to save money by salvaging and reusing rocket parts after sending satellites into space.
The first attempt in May appeared to go as planned when the helicopter snagged a booster. But the pilots made the decision to jettison the rocket part for safety reasons.
On the second attempt, the rocket never appeared, and the pilots confirmed that the booster would not return to the factory dry. In a tweet, the company reported there was a data loss issue during rocket reentry.
NASA flew its first virtual assistant on a lunar mission with the space agency’s historic Artemis I flight — a version of Amazon’s Alexa.
While not exactly reminiscent of HAL 9000, the antagonistic voice assistant from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the decision drew a lot of facetious comparisons.
The Artemis I mission was uncrewed, but NASA ground control crews used the voice assistant, called Callisto, to control cabin lighting and play music during the trip. He didn’t have the ability to open or close doors, for the record.
Artemis I was only a test mission, and NASA is still evaluating how the voice recognition system could be included in future missions.
Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa has picked eight passengers he says will join him on a trip around the moon, powered by SpaceX’s yet-to-fly Starship spacecraft. The group includes American DJ Steve Aoki and popular space YouTuber Tim Dodd, better known as the Everyday Astronaut.
The mission, called Dear Moon, was first announced in 2018 with plans to fly by 2023. Maezawa initially aimed to take a group of performers with him on a six-day trip around the moon, but later announced that he had expanded his definition of an “artist.” Instead, Maezawa announced in a video last year that it would be open to people from all walks of life as long as they consider themselves artists.
Separately, millionaire Dennis Tito — who became the first person to go to the International Space Station in the early 2000s — made his own lunar travel plans with SpaceX.
Pieces of space debris have reportedly been found on farmland in Australia’s Snowy Mountains, and NASA and authorities have confirmed the objects were likely pieces of hardware from a SpaceX Dragon capsule intentionally jettisoned when the spacecraft reentered Earth’s atmosphere in May 2021.
It is common for space debris to fall to Earth. But it’s much less common for objects to end up on land because most space junk is dumped in the ocean.
Perhaps among the world’s most unique space startups, SpinLaunch aims to spin satellites inside a vacuum-sealed chamber and launch them into space rather than putting them on a rocket.
The company started testing a scaled-down version of its technology last year, but things picked up speed in 2022. SpinLaunch completed its 10th test flight in October.
There is also a connection with science fiction. SpinLaunch founder Jonathan Yaney cites the work of Jules Verne – the ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ writer who died over 50 years ago before the first satellite went into space – as inspiration for SpinLaunch.
It’s unclear if the company’s technology will ever materialize. But until then, this band will be in the New Mexico desert trying to bring art to life.
If it wasn’t surreal enough to watch Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and other celebrities traveling to space on his self-funded suborbital rocket last year, hearing that the rocket exploded just over a year later over West Texas – albeit on a trip without any passengers — was a heartbreaking moment that brought home the adage “space is tough.” However, the crew capsule, which carried science projects and other inanimate payloads on September 12, was able to land successfully.
“The capsule landed safely and the booster impacted within the designated danger zone,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a September statement. Bezos’ Blue Origin has been in limbo ever since and hasn’t resumed flight.
And with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic still grounded, none of the companies that spearheaded suborbital space tourism last year are performing routine flights.
#moments #straight #scifi #movie #CNN