Revisiting The Wildest Space Discoveries Of 2020
It’s not new information that the past year has been pretty wild in regards to, well, pretty much everything – but pandemic aside, the space industry made some huge discoveries in 2020.
From SpaceX sending people to the International Space Station to Nokia being given a contract to put 4G on the Moon, the likes of NASA and co are always surprising us.
So, with this in mind, UNILAD decided to accumulate a list of some of the strangest things to have been discovered or announced by scientists, researchers and astronomers over the past 12 months.
1) Multiple ‘water bodies’ were found on Mars
A study using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) sent by the European Space Agency (ESA) backed up previous findings fr0m 2018, which saw researchers announce they had found a vast lake beneath the Red Planet’s surface.
The MARSIS used techniques borrowed from Earth satellites to study the lakes beneath Antarctic glaciers, which later allowed researchers to confirm that there was in fact liquid on Mars. The 2018 study found one pool of water, while the 2020 one confirmed there were several ponds of water as well as several other ‘wet areas’. This was labelled a key part of ongoing investigations into potential life being on Mars.
2) Scientists found breathable oxygen in another galaxy for the first time ever
Back in February, breathable oxygen was discovered in another galaxy for the first time in history. The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal, where it detailed the discovery of molecular oxygen in Markarian 231, ‘an eternal galaxy’ located 581 million light years from the Milky Way.
In the past two decades, molecular oxygen has only been detected twice: once in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud, and another time in the Orion Nebula, respectively 350 and 1,344 light years from Earth. While it’s thought to have only been a reasonably small amount of oxygen, it was still a huge breakthrough.
3) A study found that 30 ‘active’ alien civilisations may exist in our galaxy
A study by the University of Nottingham saw researchers assume life develops on other planets in a similar way to how it develops on Earth. With the team stating that they believe it took a whopping five billion years for intelligent life to evolve on Earth, they concluded that intelligent life on other planets will have taken a similar amount of time.
With this in mind, they estimated that there’s the possibility that ‘there should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our Galaxy’.
4) Scientists found a new way to create oxygen on Mars
People have long been trying to find a way to make Mars habitable for humans, and this discovery may just be able to do it. Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis created a way to create oxygen on the Red Planet last month by splitting frozen brine into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis.
This added to NASA’s Mars Oxygen in Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) plans that were already underway, which were attempting to convert CO2 into oxygen.
5) A new planet that rains iron was discovered
A different take on The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men, scientists found a planet known as Wasp-76b, which has ‘bizarre’ environmental conditions and rains iron. Making the planet even stranger, one side of it is permanently daytime, while the other side is permanently nighttime. There’s also a difference of 1,000°C between the two sides.
Explaining how the iron rain occurs, Dr David Ehrenreich from the University of Geneva, said, ‘What we surmise is that the iron is condensing on the nightside, which, although still hot at 1,400°C, is cold enough that iron can condense as clouds, as rain, possibly as droplets.’
6) It was reported that Uranus apparently smells like farts
Not only does the planet have a joke-worthy name, it apparently smells pretty badly too, with scientists describing the aroma as smelling like rotten eggs… nice. A study of the planet was published in October, where Patrick Irwin established the nature of the clouds of the planet and what they would smell like.
The planetary physics professor at Oxford University explained, ‘If [a person] could survive the fall down to Uranus, they’d smell a horrible smell of rotten eggs.’ I don’t think Uranus will be becoming a holiday destination anytime soon, then.
7) A study found that the Moon is actually much younger than originally thought
A whole 85 million years younger, to be precise. It was previously believed that the Moon was created at a similar time to Earth, but it’s now thought it was actually made right at the end of the Earth’s formation. The discovery was made by scientists at the German Aerospace Center, who calculated how long it took the Moon’s magma ocean to cool, as it’s widely believed the Moon’s lunar surface was once molten.
Their findings estimated that the Moon was formed 100 million years later than previously thought, making it a whole 85 million years younger. They added that they believed the Moon was created after Earth was hit by protoplanet Theia while still developing. Who’d have thought?
Other notable things space-related to have happened in 2020 were the teams being sent to space becoming more diverse. Jonny Kim became the first Korean-American to become a NASA astronaut, while Victor Glover was the first Black astronaut to go to space. Hopefully that trend will continue throughout 2021.
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