2022 was a memorable year in space in astronomy! Here are some of our favourite stories from the last 12 months.
1. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) becomes operational
Although it was launched at the end of 2021, 2022 saw the JWST become fully operational, and the largest space telescope almost instantly grabbed humanity’s attention with new and breathtaking views of the Universe. The early science results have found fully developed galaxies much closer to the time of the Big Bang than we anticipated, studied the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, and discovered the water plumes emerging from the buried oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus that envelop the entire moon and spreads well beyond into space. You can read more details about some of the early JWST discoveries here.
What we will see and learn over the coming decades from the JWST will be truly remarkable!
2. Artemis 1 – The first steps on our return journey to the Moon
December 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the last time humans visited the Moon which was aboard the Apollo 17 mission.
2022 also saw the launch of the most powerful rocket ever flown into space, NASA’s Artemis 1, which placed an uncrewed Orion capsule into a complex Lunar orbit before returning to Earth nearly a month later. This much delayed mission tested the hardware needed to take humans back to the Moon in the coming years and even beyond to Mars possibly in the next decade.
The Artemis program includes a complex set of hardware which aims to place a long-term human presence on the Moon as well as a Lunar orbiting supply station prior to venturing deeper into space.
3. NASA changed the course of an asteroid – DART mission
A true threat to life on Earth is the possibility of an impact from a large rocky body or asteroid. The Earth has been hit many times in the past. Currently even an impact from a smaller body than the one that caused the extinction of the non-flying dinosaurs millions of years ago could be a civilisation ending event. One method to avoid this catastrophe would be to move the object away from a collision course with the Earth by crashing a spacecraft into it.
Testing this idea was the aim of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. This slammed into the asteroid Dimorphos in September 2022. This successfully changed the asteroid’s orbit and was the first time the movement of a celestial body has been altered. It will be some time before we have a complete planetary defence system in place, but the results of the DART mission show the concept of deflecting incoming objects is well worth pursuing.
4. Total Lunar Eclipse
A Lunar Eclipse – where the Earth’s shadow covers the Moon -is not especially rare. However, they are spectacular events, and we were treated to one in November of 2022.
They are also slow-moving events, taking place over several hours and are ideal to view with just your eyes or maybe even a pair of binoculars. If you missed the November event, don’t worry, there’s another total Lunar Eclipse visible from Sydney in 2025.
5. Ingenuity flies on Mars
The Ingenuity helicopter carried on NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover took flight over the Martian surface in 2022. This small device was the first spacecraft to fly in the atmosphere of another planet multiple times and points to new ways to explore and discover the surfaces of Solar System planets.
The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, has made 38 flights at the time of writing and more are planned. You can always find the latest from Ingenuity here.
7. Vaonis Vespera arrives in Australia
Telescopes for amateur astronomers have evolved greatly in recent years. Last year’s Stellina telescope from Vaonis was the first sold by BINTEL to include the telescope itself, computerised mount and camera all in a single package. Rather than observing through an eyepiece, you capture and process astro images via an app running on your phone, tablet or PC. Late in 2022, the Vespera from Vaonis arrived at BINTEL.
This is a smaller and more portable telescope which is also a complete astrophotography system. Taking photos of the night sky is not new, but the ease that these telescopes from Vaonis and others means astrophotography is now accessible to a much wider audience of astronomy and space fans. We’re looking forward to this and future products from Vaonis and other telescope makers that will open the Universe for more people to enjoy.
8. Celestron StarSense Dobs
The Celestron StarSense Explorer Dobsonian 8″ and 10″ telescope are a new take on proven design that’s turned out to work well.
The Celestron StarSense Explorer system converts your iPhone or Android phone into a navigation system for the night sky in much the same way it can help you navigate in your car. Rather than to saying to you, “turn right, through the roundabout and your destination will be 500m on the left”, let the StarSense Explorer app know that you want to look at say, Jupiter, and it will show you where to point the telescope. Apart from Solar System objects, StarSense Explorer has thousands of deep-sky objects in its database and can even take you on a personalised tour to help you learn more about the night sky.
StarSense Explorer telescopes in smaller sizes have been a favourite at BINTEL for a couple of years and the system’s addition to larger, well proven Dobsonian style telescopes have made a perfect match for visual observers.
9. Parade of the Planets
Another astro event that capture the public’s eye in 2022 was several occasions when the Solar System planets lined up, especially in the evening sky as seen from Australia. New Year’s Eve 2022 sees most of the bright planets including Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Venus all visible at the same time in the western sky just after dark.
These planetary alignments are simply the Solar System planets appearing in our line of sight as seen from Earth and it doesn’t mean that the planet themselves have moved closer together
10. Milky Way’s Black Hole imaged for the first time
Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, has a supermassive black hole at its centre called Sagittarius A*. (Sometimes called “Sgr A*”). While there was plenty of indirect evidence for its existence, it had not directly been imaged until May 2022.
This changed with the release in May 2022 of the images of Sagittarius A* assembled from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Ongoing studies of data from the EHT and other resources will help astronomers learn more about the centre of the Milky Way and help us understand how our galaxy formed.
And for 2023….
There will be no shortage of space and astronomy news for 2023! Here’s a small sample.
SpaceX Starship test flight
Early in 2023 we expect to see the launch of SpaceX Starship aboard the Superheavy launch vehicle. This will be the largest rocket ever flown, with over twice the thrust of the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Unlike the Saturn V, it is totally reusable and each Starship will fly many times.
This spacecraft is designed to carry humans to the Moon, Mars and maybe even beyond!
2023 Solar Eclipse – visible from Western Australia
On the 20th April 2023, a total Solar Eclipse will be visible around the region of North West Cape in Western Australia. This rare event will see the Moon cover the disk of the Sun and allow finer details of the Sun’s extended atmosphere to be seen. This is also an even rarer hybrid Solar eclipse.
Solar Eclipses are not common. Don’t worry – if you miss going to Western Australia in 2023, there’ a total Solar Eclipse that go right over the BINTEL shop on Saturday 22nd of July 2028. More details here.