For this week’s Upside, we’ll be hearing about awesome progress related to the stars. That’s right, our news this week concerns amazing events in outer space. Stay tuned to hear three different stories, at 2:30, 3, and 3:30pm.
2:30pm Webb Images Move Scientists to Tears
Now, onto our first story: the James Webb Space Telescope was launched into orbit six months ago as a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. It is the most powerful telescope ever launched into space and intended to succeed the Hubble as NASA’s flagship mission in astrophysics. It has apparently now reached its observation point more than 1 million km from Earth.
This was a hugely ambitious and risky project that took over 20 years to realise. However. Things are going well – very well. Let me read you a quote from NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy:
“What I have seen moved me, as a scientist, as an engineer, and as a human being,” she said of the images the Webb telescope has sent back to earth.
NASA is going to release the first set of photos taken by this massive, complex telescope soon – on July 12th 14:30 UTC (12:30am on Wednesday 13 July in eastern Australia). Mashable just reported a few days ago that the telescope took ‘the deepest photo of the universe ever’. The images have apparently evoked feelings of awe and in some cases tears from seasoned scientists.
NASA’s head of scientific programs, Thomas Zurbuchen, said that as a result of this imagery, “It’s really hard to not look at the universe in a new light and not just have a moment that is deeply personal,” he said. “It’s an emotional moment when you see nature suddenly releasing some of its secrets. and I would like you to imagine and look forward to that.”
What exactly do scientists hope to discover in these images? Well, nothing less than evidence of life out there: astronomers will be looking for planets that might support life. The telescope will be able to give a detailed view of planets we haven’t really been able to inspect as of yet, such as “seven Earth-size planets that could potentially harbor life… orbiting a tiny star” called Trappist-1 (NYTimes).So how do you see these images once they’re released? NASA has a nifty countdown clock for the release date to spare you from doing time zone and calendar arithmetic. The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope will be released here: https://www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages
For our next story, another new development in space brings a more recent launch, this time not related to a powerful telescope but a mission to the moon.
The New York Times reports that a joint US/NZ mission, through NASA, launched a small spacecraft “about the size of a microwave oven” from the east coast of New Zealand on the 28th of June. This is part of a plan to send people back to the surface of the moon in a few years. The spacecraft, called CAPSTONE, will orbit the moon to test a new orbital path for a proposed space station currently in the works called the Lunar Gateway, which will act as a staging area for astronauts on future missions to and from the moon.
CAPSTONE, btw, apparently stands for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment. It is part of a bigger collaborative project called the Artemis program, a partnership between NASA, some private commercial space companies, and the space agencies of Luxembourg, Japan, Canada, Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea and New Zealand.
The Artemis program plan has humans landing on the moon by 2025, which would be the first time that has happened since 1972! Significantly those humans will include the first woman and the first person of colour to land on the moon, ever. Looking further into the future, it is hoped this program will allow for settlement of some kind on the moon, and a way station for further missions to Mars.
This is all very exciting. We’ll have to stay tuned to see how CAPSTONE progresses with its orbital study over the next 6-12 months, and then the greater Artemis project in a few years. It makes me happy to see nations working together on projects furthering the human endeavour in science, too.
For more on CAPSTONE and Artemis, check out https://www.nasa.gov/artemisprogram
3:30pm Back on Earth
For our final story, moving from outer space to the only planet we currently know to support life.
More progress has been made reducing the amount of single-use plastic around the world: according to the Washington Post, Canada has banned them as of December 2023, and The Guardian reports that US state California has passed a new law reducing single-use plastics by requiring 30% of plastic goods made or sold in the state to be recyclable by 2028.
An indigenous community in Ecuador has successfully defended 32,000 hectares of their land against being used in a number of commercial mining projects. A bold experiment in Argentina has restored over 800,000 hectares of land to the wild, seeing the return of jaguars and capybaras. The story is pretty fascinating, long and complex, so I encourage you to read the full article in the Guardian that discusses the origins and methods of this inspiring project.
Japan is making good on its 2020 promise to spend no more money on new coal programs by ending “financing for key coal-fired power plant projects in Bangladesh and Indonesia under efforts aimed at accelerating a global phase-out of the dirtiest fossil fuel,” as reported by Bloomberg UK.
And China has started toughening environmental regulations on pollution and has a new goal of half its car sales being electric by 2030.
Finally, we’ll close with some local, good for the only planet we can currently call home news: the total capacity of renewable energy generation and storage in Australia has reached a new milestone, 150GW, for the first time. Our energy market operator, AEMO, has called the move to a renewables-based energy grid here in Australia “irreversible” in its 2022 Integrated System Plan, with its chief executive saying, “Recent international events and Australian market events have further strengthened the case for the shift to renewables.”