This week in science

Orion's return powered flyby and more: Understand the world through 8 images

The Artemis I mission approaches its final step.

NASA

NASA’s Orion made a final flyby of the Moon on the way home the week of December 1–7, as researchers uncovered an important fragment of ancient DNA.

Here are the biggest science stories of the week, told in 8 incredible images

Lavinia Gandolfi

8. Inside information

David Ballot for the Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

December 1

Engineers created an ingestible pill-shaped device that could let scientists monitor glucose in the intestines in real-time. The new sensor could be used to gain better data on gastrointestinal disorders with less discomfort to patients than current monitoring methods.

David Ballot for the Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

7. Take another look

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, J. DePasquale (STScI), A. Pagan (STScI), A. M. Koekemoer (STScI); CC BY 4.0

December 1

A composite image showed the Pillars of Creation in a spectacular new light. The star-forming region of the Eagle Nebula has been a compelling telescope target since Hubble captured its image in 1995. The new image combines JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera and Mid-Infrared Instrument to show a swath of wavelengths beyond human sight.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, J. DePasquale (STScI), A. Pagan (STScI), A. M. Koekemoer (STScI); CC BY 4.0

6. Older than we thought

David Whiteside, Sophie Chambi-Trowell, Mike Benton and Natural History Museum UK

December 2

Researchers determined modern lizards first appeared in the late Triassic, 35 million years earlier than previously thought. The researchers identified Cryptovaranoides microlanius, a lizard in the squamate order alongside modern snakes and lizards, from an unnamed fossil in London’s Natural History Museum.

David Whiteside, Sophie Chambi-Trowell, Mike Benton and Natural History Museum UK

5. Not dead yet

Adrien Broquet & Audrey Lasbordes

December 5

Researchers found a huge mantle plume — a jet of molten rock rising through a planet’s mantle — under the surface of Mars. The plume could explain recent volcanic activity on Mars, which was thought to be geologically inactive until the past few years.

Adrien Broquet & Audrey Lasbordes

4. Barrier breach

NASA

December 5

Researchers found 70 percent of Florida’s coral reefs are eroding. As the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S., Florida’s reefs are an important ecosystem that provides habitats for marine animals and protects the coastline from flooding.

NASA

3. Return trip

NASA

December 5

NASA’s Orion craft passed the Moon at a distance of 80 miles while performing a return powered flyby to begin its journey home. Orion is now on schedule to splashdown off the coast of California on December 11.

NASA

2. Small but mighty

A. Simonnet (Sonoma State Univ.) and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

December 7

Astronomers determined a long-duration gamma ray burst detected in 2021 was caused by a kilonova — an explosion smaller than a supernova made by merging stars. Unlike typical GRBs from kilonovae which last mere seconds, this lasted more than a minute, upending assumptions about how GRBs form.

A. Simonnet (Sonoma State Univ.) and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

1. Fragments of the past

Beth Zaikenjpg

December 7

Researchers discovered 2-million-year-old fragments of DNA in northern Greenland. The DNA, found in sediment dating to the Ice Age, predates the next-oldest known DNA by 1 million years. The fragments show ancestors of modern-day species along with mastodons, not previously thought to inhabit Greenland.

Beth Zaikenjpg