Stunning space images, creative computers and a nuclear fusion milestone: this is part one of a diptych of the most important scientific events of 2022, selected by the New Scientistnews editors.

    A newcomer to science that thrilled millions of people year-round was the James Webb space telescope. It was finally launched at the end of 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 farthest galaxies we can see.

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    Another mission that, like James Webb, had been postponed many times in the past was the Artemis lunar mission. In November, the powerful SLS rocket launched the Orion capsule. Less than a month later, the capsule plunged 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 picture

    In May, there was a new milestone for the Event Horizon Telescope, the telescope network that was the first to take a picture 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. 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 asteroid Dimorphos. As planned, the impact significantly altered 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.

    Read also: First images show impact of crash space probe DART

    AI is advancing further

    In the field of creativity, artificial intelligence (AI) has made the step to the general public in 2022. Now everyone can play with text to image generators like DALL-E 2 the internet is flooded with bizarre images.

    Also the launch of ChatGPT, a publicly accessible chatbot from OpenAI, captures 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 over their use will intensify.

    Furthermore, after chess and go, AI was also the boss in 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 the field of matrix multiplication.

    Then there was also a bit of scary AI news: a new artificial intelligence system can use brain scans to measure that someone is thinking about a specific concept such as eating or sleeping. And something less scary: a fully robotized washing system can put laundry in the washing machine, select the right program and also unload the laundry.

    Merger milestone

    At the end of the year, the field of nuclear fusion achieved a potentially significant milestone. Researchers at 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 to be done 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 fluke can dramatically reduce computer power consumption.

    Energy record

    Finally, physicists have been trying all year to find 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 major mystery to be solved if we are ever to fully understand the building blocks of the universe.

    Read also: 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 these kinds of mysteries. After a three-year maintenance break, the accelerator was back in operation in May, immediately resulting in an energy record. With the new deluge of measurements, physicists hope to determine definitively in the coming years where the standard model of particle physics should be expanded.

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