Thursday, September 16

Milestones of space exploration in recent years | Digital Trends Spanish

As the Earth continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth looking up to the sky and remembering the landmarks of space exploration of the last years. From the findings of the Hubble telescope, exploration on Mars to the development of space tourism, these are the most important events.

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The Hubble space telescope reveals the beauty of the universe

The Hubble Space Telescope is the pretty girl in the world of astronomy, providing a seemingly endless trove of data and images about space, especially since the high-definition Wide Field Camera 3 was installed in 2009. The Hubble data have helped establish the expansion rate of the universe, measure the age of star clusters, and taught us more about the dark matter, to name just a few of the achievements of the telescope. He also helped spark public interest in astronomy by capturing some really beautiful images from deep space.

Although Hubble was projected to end operations in 2021 to be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope, the two are likely to operate together for a few months.

Visiting bodies in our solar system


The Juno probe reached Jupiter in 2016, Dawn made its first visit to the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, while the Messenger probe became the first to orbit Mercury in 2011, and the New Horizons mission became not only the first. spacecraft to explore Pluto in 2015, but also to visit the most distant object ever explored, Arrokoth, in 2019. In 2020, the Solar Orbiter probe revealed the first images of the Sun, in a mission that aims to carry out the closest study of the star .

Cassini Grand Final

Cassini probe

Cassini’s 19-year mission to Saturn began in 1997 and was a great success and ended equally spectacularly. To top off the spacecraft before running out of fuel, its orbit was deliberately diverted into Saturn’s atmosphere in 2017, and in its final minutes the probe came closer to Saturn than any other spacecraft before, collecting data down to the last possible second. that are still being analyzed. The latest maneuver ensured that the spacecraft was safely destroyed and would not contaminate the planet or any of its moons with biological matter.

Hayabusa 1 and the first sample of an asteroid to Earth

Rover Hayabusa

The Japanese Hayabusa 1 spacecraft became the first to bring an asteroid sample to Earth in 2010, having visited a small near-Earth asteroid called 25143 Itokawa in 2005. This sample has been an invaluable resource for scientists who observed asteroids, since it is usually difficult or impossible to determine their origin when analyzing meteorites.

Voyager 1: the first man-made object to reach interstellar space

Voyager probe

In the late 1970s, farsighted scientists undertook an ambitious project: launching the Voyager 1 space probe into deep space. The probe spent the 1970s and 1980s traveling through our solar system, and in the early 2000s, it reached the edge of space. In 2012, the probe crossed the boundary of space affected by the Sun’s solar wind, called the heliopause, and entered interstellar space, becoming the first man-made object to do so. The small probe is expected to continue its mission until 2025.

First detection of gravitational waves

LIGO team

Physicists had for many years predicted the existence of waves in space-time called gravitational waves, but no one had ever been able to observe one. The instrument built to detect them, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) had been operating since 2002 without success, but in 2015 LIGO finally observed gravitational waves when two black holes (each about 30 times the mass of our Sun) collided and they sent out waves that could be detected from Earth. The LIGO team won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for their efforts.

SpaceX landed its first orbital rocket

Falcon 9

The expansion of the private space sector has been led by SpaceX. In 2015, the company landed the first phase of its Falcon 9 rocket, marking a major milestone for the development of reusable rockets. Organizations like NASA have considered reusable rockets since the 1960s, but it was SpaceX that finally pulled it off.

First image of a black hole

Black hole

An international team of astronomers made headlines in 2019 when they accomplished something previously considered impossible: taking pictures of a black hole. Since black holes absorb everything that comes close to them, even light, it was thought to be impossible to observe them visually. Taking the photo of M87 in the Messier 87 galaxy required the use of radio telescopes around the world from Hawaii to Antarctica, making Earth a virtual platform powerful enough to observe for the first time the event horizon of a black hole.

Rovers on Mars

Rover Curiosity on Mars

Several have arrived rovers to Mars from Sojourner in 1997, but none had been as complex as Curiosity, the NASA rover that landed in the Martian crater of Gale in 2012. Curiosity was much larger and heavier than the preceding rovers (899 kilos), which made his arrival difficult. It is equipped with sophisticated instruments that captured haunting images of the Martian landscape, uncovering organic molecules in rock samples, and even found evidence that the planet may once have supported microbial life.

Completion of the International Space Station

International Space Station

The ISS was finally completed in 2011, allowing humanity to maintain a continuous presence in space throughout this decade. It’s easy for us to take it for granted, but the construction of the ISS is possibly the most important scientific achievement of the 21st century. This station has not only provided a place for scientific research in many fields, from experimental cancer drugs down to understanding dark matter and how to make future space missions safer for astronauts, it is also a truly remarkable achievement of international cooperation at a time of general mistrust and uncertainty.

First flight on Mars

Ingenuity's second flight on Mars

A decade after the arrival of Curiosity another American rover arrived at Mars: Perseverance. Although they share many characteristics, the vehicle is almost twice the weight of its predecessor (2,250 kilos) and is equipped with 23 cameras. But it also had another surprise inside: the Ingenuity helicopter. On April 19, 2021, the drone soared about three meters and for 39.1 seconds, completing the first flight on Mars on record. Although it was scheduled to make at least five flights, as of September 2021 it had completed 12.

spacial tourism

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin
2021 also marked the launch of the
private space tourism. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin companies successfully completed their first suborbital space flights with their VSS Unity and Blue Sheppard spacecraft, respectively. VSS Unity – with Richard Branson as a passenger – rose 80 kilometers above sea level, while Blue Sheppard exceeded 100 kilometers, where the Kármán line is located. SpaceX is expected to join this trend, with the Inspiration 4 mission, which on September 15 aims to reach 540 kilometers in height.

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