This year, NASA will launch a mission to a valuable, unexplored world


I carry the optimism of “Back to the Future” with me as each new year begins. This quote rings especially true as I look at the possibilities awaiting us on the horizon.

If you thought 2021 was an exciting year for discoveries, buckle up: 2022 is expected to deliver even more wonder.

As Doc Brown reminds us in the 1985 film, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” It’s a fitting mantra for the year ahead.

Happy New Year from the CNN Space and Science team. We wish you a safe and spectacular 2022.

Defying gravity

This illustration shows the metal-rich asteroid Psyche. A new NASA mission is setting a course for the unusual world in 2022.

This year is going to be out of this world.

We’ll see a new mission set out to study an unexplored world, cheer on Europe’s first planetary rover as it heads to Mars and watch a NASA spacecraft deliberately crash into an asteroid’s moon.

The Psyche mission, launching in August, will set a course for a metallic asteroid of the same name — one that may be highly valuable.

Those are just a few of the new missions to anticipate. Multiple countries are also planning to send robotic explorers to the moon as they prepare for returning humans to the lunar surface.
And don’t miss our outlook for all of the full moons, meteor showers and eclipses to see in 2022 — including the Quadrantid meteor shower this weekend.

Dig this

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of an ancient mystery at a quarry.

The bones of five mammoths were discovered alongside Neanderthal stone tools. Together, these finds provide a revealing look at life in Britain during the ice age 200,000 years ago.

The dig site and its finds, the subject of a new Sir David Attenborough documentary, seem to represent a mammoth graveyard — but the investigation is ongoing.

The bones and tools were also found in proximity to other shockingly well-preserved remnants from a time period researchers are still trying to understand.

Fantastic creatures

This image depicts beautiful iridescent beetles, with the male (left) and female (right) side by side, discovered in India.

Scientists didn’t let the pandemic stop them from discovering new examples of our planet’s diverse life in 2021.

Shrimplike creatures, an extinct dinosaur called the “hell heron” and colorful beetles are among the 552 new species described this year by researchers at the Natural History Museum in London.

The species, all new to science, include those that are both living and extinct.

It’s a reminder that all creatures great and small contribute to the survival and success of Earth’s myriad ecosystems.

We are family

Scientists have digitally peeked beneath the wrappings of the mummified pharaoh Amenhotep I without removing a single item.

The 3,500-year-old mummy, decorated with a wooden face mask and flower garlands, was deemed too fragile to open. The research team opted for a noninvasive approach to glean more about the life and death of the Egyptian king.

Amenhotep I, who commissioned the construction of many temples during his largely peaceful reign, was about 35 when he died.

Researchers are still trying to determine what led to his demise, but they did uncover treasures within his bindings and learned more about his appearance.

Consequences

This is Kulusuk, Greenland, where winter now starts several weeks later and ends sooner.

Winter is disappearing, even when it shouldn’t, as our planet warms.

In Greenland, the 660,000-square-mile (1.7 million-square-kilometer) ice sheet has melted beyond the point of no return, and winter now begins late and ends sooner than before. And the world’s largest island isn’t alone in this.

Porter Fox, author of “The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World,” has been on a 10,000-mile (16,093-kilometer) tour around the Northern Hemisphere in search of vanishing snow and ice.

This Great Melt allows the planet to absorb more heat and release greenhouse gases, eventually leading to even more warming.

“I think of all the days I have spent in the cold this year — hiking across glaciers, skiing in neck-deep powder, climbing remote mountains,” Fox wrote. “I no longer see these snowscapes as individual places. Rather, they are knitted together in a white, protective blanket, insulating the stable climate human civilization had blossomed in.”

Curiosities

Stay curious, my friends:

— Doughnut-shaped beads made from ostrich shells have revealed a 50,000-year-old social network in Africa.
— An incredibly rare sea eagle from Asia has been spotted thousands of miles from home in Massachusetts.
— The James Webb Space Telescope is coming to life in space by unfurling a tennis court-size sunshield and unfolding the largest mirror NASA has ever built.
Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive in your inbox the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by CNN Space and Science writer Ashley Strickland, who finds wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.



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