JWST was the main topic of conversation for the science community this year, and for good reason. This next-gen telescope may take the cake, but there were plenty of other interesting developments in the search for life beyond Earth that we shouldn’t forget. Read on for our 2022 SETI highlights and what we’re looking forward to in 2023.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) turns its cameras on. Following its launch in December 2021, the next-generation telescope spends February booting up its instruments and aligning its mirrors.
The COSMIC SETI team finishes installing fiber optic amplifiers and splitters at the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA). COSMIC is a collaboration between the SETI Institute and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which operates the VLA, to bring a state-of-the-art search for extraterrestrial intelligence to the VLA for the first time. With the amplifiers and splitters installed, the COSMIC team can access a complete and independent copy of the data streams from the entire VLA. Read more.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover arrives at Jezero Crater, an ancient Martian river delta and one of the mission’s science targets. Perseverance quickly begins taking samples, which the science team hopes are full of organic material.
U.S. Congress holds a public hearing on May 17 regarding Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs. The hearing follows a government report on UAPs published in 2022. Public interest in these mysterious sightings builds and the science community continues to push for rigorous, methodical study of this phenomenon before jumping to conclusions about their origins.
China’s FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) detects intriguing radio signals that some thought might indicate alien life! However, the science community quickly concludes the signals were from Earth-based radio frequency (RF) interference.
The James Webb Space Telescope releases its first image! Really there’s little more to say. This was a monumental moment for science overall and of huge importance to the search for life. The image was an infrared portrait of galaxy cluster SMACS J0723.3-7327 located 5.6 billion light-years away and captured a snapshot of our universe, back through time to the birth of the first stars and galaxies. Following this first image, JWST fixed its next-generation eyes on many science targets in the following months. Read more.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover creates oxygen on Mars for the seventh time. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) produces oxygen from the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere. MOXIE is the first time we’ve used the raw materials of another planet to create a vital resource for future human missions. Read more.
JWST captures its first images of exoplanets. It also uses its spectrometer to determine the atmospheric composition of exoplanet WASP-39 b. This has never been done before and is a huge step forward for SETI, as understanding a planet’s atmosphere can help us understand if life could exist there. Read more.
NASA’s DART Mission comes to a fiery and successful conclusion when engineers intentionally crash a probe into Dimorphos, a small moon around asteroid Didymos. The impact changes the trajectory of both Dimorpohos and Didymos in the first planetary defense experiment completed in space. We have a long way to go before we can redirect an object on a collision course with Earth but this is a solid step in the right direction. Read more.
NASA announces the 16-member team charged with studying UAPs and creating an independent report of their findings. Members include former astronaut Scott Kelly, Nadia Drake, and Anamaria Berea, a SETI Institute affiliate. The report is expected in 2023. Read more.
NASA’s Artemis 1 mission launched successfully. This is the first mission in a series that will put humans on the moon by 2024. The goal of Artemis 1 is to test the Orion spacecraft’s systems before the first crewed mission, Artemis 2, in 2024.
In partnership with Breakthrough Listen, a supercomputer at the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa begins searching a million stars for signs of advanced alien technology. Read more.
Looking into 2023
The next year is full of exciting launches and potential discoveries. Here are just a few of the things we’re looking forward to:
- JWST will continue imaging and collecting data on science targets, including exoplanets.
- The plan to return Martian samples to Earth will continue to take shape.
- ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) scheduled to launch April 2023. This mission will study three moons: Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. Scientists have postulated that these moons may have bodies of water under their surfaces that could host life.
- The OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to return to Earth with samples of the asteroid Bennu.