Prospecting, experts call it. Prophecy, say critics, who know that true discoveries are just what no one has predicted. A classic as Christmas as the gloss of the discoveries of the year that ends is the prediction of next year, except that this is usually an exercise in risk. Saying "next year will emerge quantum computing" is one of the most reliable ways to make a historical ridiculous. However, there are predictions for next year that are as safe as tomorrow will dawn, as the three landmarks of space exploration what can you read in Matter. Due to the nature of this sector of science, the three ships are already heading to their destination. The missions have been perfect so far and, honey over flakes, some will be sending images soon after we eat the grapes. Or that you eat them, because I am unable to swallow that overdose of biomass in such a meager time, and I have not tried for years.
By an irony of fate, the three missions simultaneously cover the almost entire scale of our solar system, and in a way recapitulate the history of their exploration. The one that came before and has gone further is the probe New Horizons from NASA, which is already in the Kuiper belt, the swarm of stones of various sizes that orbit around the Sun beyond Pluto, and where comets come from. These "trans-Neptunian objects" are between ten and a thousand kilometers in diameter, and the objective of New Horizons It is one of the smallest (30 kilometers), Ultima Thule. When the probe reaches its proximity, Ultima will become the furthest object ever visited by a human device. And also in the most primitive. Since it is thought that comets were able to plant in the primordial Earth the chemical components of life, like the amino acids that form our proteins, this expedition will be able to clarify some points about that enormous region of space where comets originate, and therefore about our molecular ancestors.
At another much smaller scale, the probe Osiris-Rex, also from NASA, will begin New Year's Day to orbit an asteroid named Bennu. If Comets come from the Kuiper belt, from the asteroid belt, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, the asteroids come, naturally. One of these objects that went out of its orbit was the protagonist of the extinction of the dinosaurs, and of most of the marine life on our planet about 68 million years ago. Bennu is a witness to the origins of the solar system, and may also contain basic chemical components for life. In the third mission, perhaps the most romantic of the three, the chinese probe Chang'e-4 it will land for the first time on the hidden side of the Moon.
Three new year gifts for the reader who reads Matter.
THE SCIENCE OF THE WEEK It is a space in which Javier Sampedro analyzes scientific news. Subscribe to the newsletter of Matter and you will receive it every Saturday in your email, along with a selection of our best news of the week.