2022 The top ten moments in science

See the list of the ten most important achievements of science and technology this year.

Man's mighty eye in the Universe

After three decades of work, postponements and serious chances of ending the effort finally in December 2021 the most powerful and most advanced space telescope ever built by mankind was launched. James Webb traveled to a point in Space where the conditions (eg gravitational interactions of the Earth and the Sun, the open horizon in the Universe, etc.) allow him to make his observations in the most seamless way.

After six months of testing in the summer of 2022, James Webb sent to Earth its first images of various types of cosmic structures and phenomena in the Universe, leaving not only public opinion open-mouthed but also the scientific community, which although aware of its potential telescope, not even she could imagine the level of clarity and detail of the images she can record even from the reaches of the Universe. Almost every day, James Webb makes impressive recordings and discoveries that reveal hitherto unknown regions of the Universe with primordial galaxies and stars that illuminate its evolution from the first moments after the Big Bang, the mysterious phenomenon that gave birth to the Universe. James Webb also reveals very important information about planets and satellites of our solar system as well as about exoplanets with the ability to analyze their atmospheres and detect among others the presence of water which is a crucial factor in the presence of life.

Deciphering proteins

The existence of life is inextricably linked to the presence of proteins in the cells of living organisms. Understanding their structures and mechanisms is one of the holy grails of medicine since any light that falls on proteins can lead to the development of new effective treatments and drugs for various diseases and especially for those for which science has not been able to find ways to treat them .

Two years ago the artificial intelligence company Deep Mind, co-founded by the Greek-born scientist Demis Hassambis, announced that the company had developed an artificial intelligence program called AlphaFold with the aim of deciphering about 350.000 protein structures belonging to humans and other organisms.

The company, which was later acquired by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, initially published the protein structures for 20 species, including 20.000 proteins expressed by the human body, in an open database accessible to all scientists. Last July, Deep Mind gave the scientific community the predicted structures of 200 million proteins, an achievement that essentially creates a "toolbox" of colossal proportions for researchers in both the medical and technological fields to make new breakthroughs.

Return of man to the Moon

After a mini-thriller that lasted two months and three failed attempts last November, NASA's Artemis I mission launched and completed a successful 25-day mission to the Moon. It is the first mission of the Artemis program, which is the successor to the legendary NASA Apollo program, which is known to have led to the conquest of the Moon by man. As part of the Artemis mission, manned missions to the surface of the Moon will be carried out until the end of the decade with the ultimate goal of creating permanent bases, while in the meantime a space station will be created in orbit around our natural satellite. Both the bases and the space station on the Moon are planned to be part of the planning for manned missions to Mars within the next decade.

The first step in nuclear fusion

The production of energy through nuclear fusion is considered the holy grail in the field of energy production since if a way is found to tame this process that occurs in the core of the stars creating their energy what will happen will be the emergence of unlimited, cheap and environmentally friendly energy understandably bringing about an unprecedented revolution in human civilization.

In mid-December the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced that its researchers had succeeded in producing a net gain of energy by fusing two light hydrogen atoms into a heavier one. the scientists managed to produce about 2,5 megajoules of energy, which is about 120% of the 2,1 megajoules used by the lasers. The achievement creates new data and optimism for the rest of the nuclear fusion research programs that are either underway or in the final design phase.

"This is the first time an experiment has produced more energy from nuclear fusion than the input energy (of the laser). In all previous experiments the final result of fusion was less than the energy used. This experiment is a scientific proof that it can be achieved by using nuclear fusion energy for our society" said the head of the experiment Alex Zylstra to Naftemporiki.gr.

Protecting Earth from Armageddon

On September 26, NASA's DART mission spacecraft crashed at a speed of 24 thousand km/h into the asteroid Dimorphos. The craft started eleven months ago on its journey from Earth and reached the asteroid Gemini which has a diameter of 800 meters and is located at a distance of about 11 million km from Earth. A space rock with a diameter of 160 meters, Dimorphos, is in orbit around Didymos thus acting as its satellite.

The aim of the mission was for the vessel to crash into Dimorphos to slightly divert it from its course. According to the calculations of NASA scientists, the collision will change the orbital motion of Dimorphos and it will orbit Gemini at least 73 seconds faster.

The mission was organized as a "planetary defense" test, as it was called, to see if scientists could use this method to deal with space rocks threatening Earth and humanity.

The use of missiles, explosives and even nuclear weapons to destroy an asteroid that is dangerously close to Earth have been on the table but are not currently considered safe and effective solutions. Deflecting an asteroid's orbit in a manner similar to that of the DART mission solves a variety of problems that can arise from a missile strike or other types of destruction equipment.

The fall of a large space rock to Earth can cause incalculable devastation on a planetary level. According to the prevailing theory, the fall of a huge asteroid 66 million years ago caused the disappearance of 80% of life on land and sea, including dinosaurs, paving the way for the dominance of mammals on the planet and the eventual appearance of man.

Electric drive with direct charging

The advantages of using electric cars are many and important, but while in some areas electric vehicle technology has evolved very quickly, the area of ​​autonomy, both at the level of charging the vehicle's batteries and at the charging points, has not progressed at a similar pace. In the field of charging, however, important steps are constantly being taken with research groups both from universities around the world and from car manufacturers. New methods are being developed that promise rapid charging of cars. The most interesting presented in 2022 was the method presented by a research team at its State University which promises to charge an electric car in just ten minutes. This method offers a range of 500 km with a ten-minute charge.

Human's wireless with aliens

After 30 years of planning and negotiations, it was announced on December 5 that construction of the world's largest telescope begins. This is the ultra-sensitive Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope, which will consist of two separate giant, interconnected telescopes, one in Western Australia and one in South Africa. It is one of the largest international scientific projects of the 21st century.

The SKA will pick up radio signals from various celestial objects and it is hoped that it will shed more light on some of the most puzzling phenomena in astronomy and astrophysics, such as the first stars of the cosmic "dawn", the formation of galaxies, the expansion of the universe and the nature of invisible dark matter. Among other things, he will look for traces of intelligent extraterrestrial life, trying to answer the question "are we alone in the Universe?".

The person in charge of the telescope will be the UK-based intergovernmental organization SKAO, in which eight countries are already full members: Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa and China. France, Spain and Germany are also planning to participate, while a few more countries (Canada, India, Sweden, South Korea, Japan) have also expressed their intention to participate in the future.

Artificial intelligence "baby".

Last July, a group of researchers from the US and Britain, including researchers from Deep Mind, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company that owns Google, announced that it had developed an artificial intelligence system that thinks analogously to a baby. . The researchers report that the system learns the basic rules of interaction of the phenomena and objects of the physical environment through the mechanism of "intuitive physics".

The system is called PLATO and the researchers started showing it animated images of balls moving in different directions. The system was beginning to understand the way the balls moved, and at some point it began to recognize when a ball was moving in a way that it is impossible for it to do, and even express its surprise at this unnatural behavior. As the researchers report, the progress they have made with PLATO is very important in the effort to create artificial intelligence systems that have the same understanding of the natural world as that of adult humans.

The approach followed by the researchers was proposed by Alan Turing, the so-called "father of computer science" who formulated, among other things, the concept of algorithms which form the core of artificial intelligence systems. He also developed the famous Turing Test, a method to determine whether a machine has developed human-level intelligence.

Turing had proposed the development of machines whose creators would give it the intelligence of a small child and then train it in such a way that it would gradually increase its intelligence to reach that of an adult, a process that would simulate the physical process of developing intelligence by humans.

The revelation of our galaxy's black hole

The phenomena occurring in the Sagittarius A* region of the center of our galaxy at a distance of 27 thousand light years from us had indicated the existence of a black hole which received the same name as the region. The studies carried out in the last decades in the disputed area showed that the black hole has a mass of about 4 million times greater than that of the Sun.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which three years ago recorded the first photo of a black hole, managed to photograph the black hole at the center of our galaxy, thus proving its existence beyond any doubt. The existence of the black hole is revealed by the ring of cosmic matter (gases, dust) that surrounds the black hole which, being dark, cannot be visually captured.

The discovery announced last May confirms, among other things, Einstein's theory of General Relativity. Scientists say that although the black hole at the center of our galaxy is much closer than the black hole they photographed three years ago in another galaxy, the task of photographing it was much more difficult because there is much more dust in the Sagittarius A region. *. The final image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy released to the public was created by combining the different images taken by scientists in successive phases. More than 300 researchers from 80 research institutions in many countries participated in the entire effort, which lasted five years.

The quantum internet

Researchers in the Netherlands announced last May that they had succeeded in teleporting quantum information in a simple three-node network, a "first" that is a major step forward for a future quantum Internet. The achievement was made possible thanks to the improvement of the quantum memory and the quality of the quantum links between the three nodes of the network.

The researchers from Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) explained that the widespread use of teleportation in a quantum network will take time, as several more technical advances will be needed before a large-scale quantum internet is finally developed. The future quantum internet will be based on its ability to send quantum information (quantum bits or qubits) between the nodes that make it up. This will enable various applications such as the absolutely secure exchange of data and confidential information, as well as the simultaneous interconnection of several quantum computers and high-precision quantum sensors of various kinds.

 

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