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The Perseverance rover is about to have a big first on Mars

<i>NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS</i><br/>The Perseverance rover is about to build a sample depot on Mars.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The Perseverance rover is about to build a sample depot on Mars.

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

Some of our favorite space missions are closing out the year in a big way.

Artemis I made a literal splash(down) when it successfully returned to Earth on December 11. Engineers are studying the data collected by the Orion spacecraft now to prepare for the first crewed flight of Artemis II in 2024.

Meanwhile, the latest images and findings from September’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test are in. Everyone can now see the indelible mark DART left on the asteroid Dimorphos.

And the James Webb Space Telescope captured a new image featuring a dazzling array of never-before-seen galaxies.

Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover is preparing for its next big step on Mars — and we can’t wait to follow where it roams.

Other worlds

Perseverance isn’t letting any dust gather under its wheels. The rover is about to build the first depot on another world as it drops a collection of rock and dust samples on the Martian surface.

These samples are part of a matching set that will remain stowed on the rover — and either cache could be the collection that makes its way back to Earth in 2033 through the Mars Sample Return program.

The rover is also plotting a course up the steep bank of an ancient river delta and will begin studying the intriguing material there in February.

While Perseverance was investigating Jezero Crater on Mars in 2021, a towering whirlwind of dust passed right over it. The rover’s microphone happened to be turned on at the time, and the robotic explorer captured the eerie sounds in an audio recording released this week.

We are family

Wild chimpanzees in Tanzania have provided researchers with new insights on our ability to walk upright. Bipedalism may have started up in the trees.

Previous studies have suggested that ancient human relatives evolved to walk on two legs because they lived in an open savanna — but the latest research contradicts that popular theory.

Scientists spent more than a year observing adult chimpanzees in an environment similar to what our early human ancestors encountered — a mix of open land and dense forest. Much of the time, the chimps walked upright among the trees.

The study doesn’t draw a direct comparison between chimps and our early ancestors, but it has suggested scientists need to take a deeper look at the anatomy of ancient humans and how they moved.

Explorations

Marine archaeologists have found a well-preserved medieval shipwreck resting at the bottom of Mjøsa, the largest lake in Norway.

Researchers believe the ship, with unique stem posts and overlapped planks, dates to between the 1300s and 1800s. The ship was discovered during a sonar survey, which has been used to locate dumped munitions.

The lake’s freshwater environment has caused the ship to appear frozen in time, apart from a little corrosion on its iron nails. The Norse-built ship likely sank during bad weather.

Researchers plan to capture more footage of the wreck next year and hope to find more shipwrecks during their ongoing survey.

Going green

How many tote bags do you own?

My colleague Katie Hunt recently posed this question, and many of us were surprised to discover just how many reusable bags are stashed in our homes and vehicles.

Reusable bags are preferable to single-use plastic bags, but hoards of reusable bags pose their own issues. Being conscious of how you use your bags, as well as what you put in them, can offset these unintended consequences.

And it’s not just humans who can do their part for the environment. New research has suggested whales play an important but oft-overlooked role in tackling the climate crisis.

For ideas on how to minimize your role in the climate crisis and reduce your eco-anxiety, sign up for CNN’s Life, But Greener limited newsletter series.

Wild kingdom

Images of a sassy penguin, smiling fish and a toppling lion cub are some of the winners of the 2022 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

The photos are great for a laugh, but they also raise awareness for wildlife conservation and support the Whitley Fund for Nature, a UK-based charity.

Meanwhile, scientists have discovered that female snakes have a clitoris. This overlooked aspect of their anatomy could serve multiple purposes for the snakes — and the finding suggested female animals likely have a much more active part in mating than they are given credit for, the researchers said.

Curiosities

Linger over these new revelations:

— Scientists achieved a milestone for the future of clean energy this week when they produced more energy from nuclear fusion than the laser energy used to power their experiment.

— Were dinosaurs capable of creating sonic booms when they whipped their long tails? Researchers have finally settled the debate with an unexpected find.

— Jupiter’s moon Io, the most volcanic place in the solar system, is about to become the main focus of NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Wonder Theory will be on hiatus next Saturday as the team enjoys the holidays, but we’ll return with a special edition on New Year’s Eve!

The-CNN-Wire
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