In the neverending pursuit of the truth about the universe, the scientific community has indeed made significant breakthroughs in 2022.
Whether it was the breathtaking image from the James-Webb Space Telescope to achieving nuclear fusion ignition, it is worth discussing the inspired findings that push us one step further towards learning who we are, why we exist and how we can make the best of use of our existence.
It is also crucial to acknowledge the crucial role of methodical observation, measurement and experimentation have enlarged human capabilities; one solemn fact we often overlook. So, without further adieu, let's take a look at the remarkable breakthroughs from 2022.
1. Achieving nuclear fusion ignition for the first time
Atoms are smashed together in the process of nuclear fusion, which results in the production of massive amounts of power. It does not produce radioactive waste in the same way that nuclear fission does, nor does it harm the environment as much as fossil fuels. Even though it is conceived as theoretically possible, fusion has, for a very long time, been beyond our capacity, at least in terms of implementing it with sustainable technology. That was until this December. On December 5, scientists working at the US National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were able to accomplish what is known as 'ignition'. This phenomenon, which is known as a scientific energy breakeven, indicates that the fusion reaction created more energy than the original input required to run the machine in the first place. At this point, the objective is to make the experiment around one hundred times more efficient; only then will we be on the cusp of nuclear fusion becoming a practical, scalable energy source.
2. Observing deeper into the universe through James Webb Space Telescope
We are now able to look farther than ever before, both in terms of distance and in terms of time, thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). In July, the first photos were received, which showed thousands of the most distant galaxies that have ever been seen. Since that time, the observatory has been providing a consistent flow of astronomical data as well as mind-blowing photos, including the very first in-depth study of an extrasolar planet. Already, its unparalleled infrared capabilities have provided us with never-before-seen perspectives on the birth of stars. Researchers were able to look back into the early cosmos and observe how it appeared at that time, A scant 100 million years after the Big Bang, which occurred around 13.8 billion years ago. The telescope is also catching the marvels of our solar system. And it may be the greatest chance we have of finding life elsewhere in the cosmos.
3. Discovering a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy
Astronomers were able to construct a picture of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, known as Sagittarius A. The development was announced in May after analysing data from a network of radio telescopes located all over the globe. Even while the picture of "blackness encircled by a halo" may not seem to be particularly spectacular by itself, we need to keep in mind that the thing we are gazing at is grand in age and power on the cosmic scale.
4. Awarding Nobel Prize in physics for work on quantum entanglement
Alain Aspect, John F Clauser and Anton Zeilinger were all recognised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences with the Nobel Prize in Physics this year for their contributions to the field of "quantum entanglement" research. Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which two particles are inherently connected even though they are separated by a significant amount of physical space. This phenomenon has been famously defined as "spooky action at a distance". It is anticipated that their findings will contribute to the advancement of the research of quantum computing, which appears to be the next frontier for our digital world.
5. Simulation of a baby wormhole in a quantum computer
Wormholes have been firmly rooted in the domain of science fiction ever since Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen originally came up with the concept in 1935. Wormholes, also known as Einstein-Rosen bridges, are theoretical structures that may be thought of as tunnels having two ends that are located at distinct places in space-time. This tunnel could link two places in space that are separated by a great distance as well as two distinct moments in time. Now, scientists have taken wormholes from the fictional realms of 'Interstellar' (Christopher Nolan's 2014 science fiction film) and brought them to reality. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) used a quantum computer to create two simulated black holes, then sent a message from one to the other, effectively creating a tunnel in space-time. Even though it may be quite some years before we can transport a person or an object as the experiment was at the quantum level, the findings of this study nonetheless mark a significant advancement in the field.
6. Crashing on an asteroid to change its trajectory
The extinction of the dinosaurs is caused by an asteroid that collided with Earth around 66 million years ago. The same thing may happen to people, which is why space organisations all around the globe have been brainstorming different strategies to divert comets and asteroids before they impact our planet.
The Double-Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was carried out by Nasa earlier this year. They sent a spaceship at the asteroid Dimorphos in an attempt to change its trajectory. On 26 September, Nasa conducted the test and it was a resoundingly successful endeavour.
At a speed of more than 14,000 kilometres per hour, DART sped towards the asteroid. Because of the collision, the orbit of the asteroid was successfully adjusted by a whopping 32 minutes, which was 25 times more than the scientists' target. As a type of planetary defence against future impacts that might be potentially catastrophic, the long-term goal of Nasa's asteroid deflection experiment is to learn from it and continue developing asteroid deflection technology.