2023 was a busy year in science. Here are 10 stories worth revisiting as we wind up the year.
1. Canadian Jeremy Hansen chosen to fly to the moon
A Canadian astronaut was selected as part of the crew for NASA’s Artemis II mission to the moon.
Jeremy Hansen and three crew mates will fly in an Orion capsule that will orbit the moon and fly farther into deep space than any humans have gone before.
Hansen will not land on the moon, but the planned 10-day mission will be the first of a series of missions expected to culminate with landings by the end of the decade. Their flight path will provide the most distant view of the Earth and Moon ever seen by human eyes.
2. Antimatter falls down
Any everyday object in our daily lives will fall to the ground when dropped — because gravity pulls it in that direction. But antimatter is not everyday stuff.
Many properties, including the electric charges and magnetic moments of the particles that make up an antimatter atom are reversed. Scientists wondered if antimatter would behave like regular matter in a gravitational field, or surprise them by falling up, which would have interesting implications for understanding gravity.
But an experiment announced this year proved that antimatter does indeed follow the laws of gravity just like everything else. This was the result scientists expected, but it would have been very important if they’d been surprised — which is why they had to check.
3. Webb Telescope detects well formed galaxies at the beginning of time
The James Webb Space Telescope continues to surprise and amaze with its ability to see farther back in time than any telescope before it.
This year it observed galaxies that formed less than a billion years after the big bang (the universe is 13.8 billion years old) which are more fully developed than previously thought. This revises our understanding of how — and when — stars and galaxies first evolved.
4. Record-breaking wildfires across Canada
In a year that had the hottest summer on record, a record amount of the Canadian landscape burned as wildfires raged across Canada.
Smoke from the fires spread cross the entire continent. The fires signal that climate change is no longer a thing of the future. Perhaps this will spur further developments of clean energy alternatives.
5. NASA releases UFO report
Unidentified flying objects have been the obsession of conspiracy theorists for decades, convinced that governments are hiding information and possibly alien bodies.
To tackle the issue, NASA assembled a scientific panel that issued a report on what are now considered UAPs, or unidentified anomalous phenomena. The report concluded that there is no evidence these phenomena are alien spaceships.
6. AI fears
ChatGPT introduced the world to the power of artificial intelligence, with its ability to compose essays, documents, even music without human intervention.
Canadian scientist Yoshua Bengio won Canada’s top science award for his work on AI, and while he agrees it is a powerful new tool that has become invaluable handling large data, he’s one of several prominent researchers with concerns about how the technology could be misused and how it needs to be regulated.
7. Asteroid return mission Osiris Rex
After eight years in space and a dramatic sampling of asteroid Bennu, the Osiris-Rex mission returned a capsule to Earth containing a surprising amount of pristine asteroid material.
Asteroids are extremely old and largely unchanged since the formation of our solar system providing a window into the past. A Canadian instrument was essential for gathering this treasure from deep space.
8. Titan submersible disaster
A tragic turn of events took the lives of five people when a privately built submarine imploded while attempting a visit to the wreck of the Titanic. The accident has prompted a re-thinking of how deep submersibles are built and certified before they are allowed to take tourists to the ocean floor.
9. Iceland volcanoes
Iceland is known for its volcanoes. In fact it takes advantage of its geological activity by harvesting geothermal energy to generate electricity and heat homes.
However, eruptions can threaten nearby communities, and this year the town of Grindavik was evacuated as earthquakes indicated an impending eruption, which did eventually take place. Iceland will always be active because the island country straddles the boundary between two of the Earth’s tectonic plates, which are constantly pulling apart, allowing magma from within the earth to break through the surface.
10. Starship blows up real good
After an explosive first test flight, the largest, most powerful rocket ever built, SpaceX’s Starship rocket made a second flight, which also ended in the vehicle’s destruction.
However, the people at SpaceX rejoiced over the fact that the rocket flew much higher than before after improvements were made to the rocket.
Failures are an option with the company which believes there is more to be learned when things go wrong, and they expect Starship to eventually carry astronauts to the moon and Mars.