Astronomical images, asteroid exploration and a long-awaited art arrival: Top stories of 2022

JWST Top 2022

This landscape of what looks like mountains and valleys speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA's Webb Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth. Called the Cosmic Cliffs, it is the edge of the giant, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image.


The University of Arizona led several high-profile research endeavors and celebrated the return of an abstract expressionist masterpiece in 2022.

Whether it was helping capture images of the universe with unprecedented clarity or identifying the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, UArizona scientists, scholars and students once again made a lasting impact on the world this year.

Here are some of the university's top stories of 2022.

Webb Telescope's stunning first images made possible by UArizona instruments and expertise: July 12

After decades of development, a nail-biting launch and months of space travel and commissioning, NASA released the first scientific images and spectroscopic data captured by the James Webb Space Telescope over the summer. The images are just the beginning of years of space science, which will be made possible in part by the 21 UArizona researchers who played a role in developing and managing the instruments onboard. (The New York Times, CNN, NPR)

Stolen painting returns home to UArizona: Sept. 27

Willem de Kooning's "Woman-Ochre" was stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art 37 years ago. This year, it finally came home for good.  The painting, which captured international attention following its shocking 1985 theft and its recovery more than three decades later, arrived on campus via 18-wheeler with a Homeland Security escort on the night of Sept 14. The truck had traveled 500 miles from the renowned J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where the painting was displayed over the summer following a complex restoration by Getty conservators to repair damage sustained due to the theft. (The Arizona Republic, The Associated Press, USA Today)

UArizona to provide tuition-free education for Native American undergraduates in Arizona: June 27

The new Arizona Native Scholars Grant program, the first of its kind for a public Arizona university, will cover tuition and mandatory fees for full-time undergraduate students from Arizona's 22 federally recognized tribes who are studying on the main campus. (NPR, The Hill, CNN)

UArizona astronomers lead efforts that reveal the black hole at the heart of our galaxy: May 12

Astronomers unveiled the first image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, yielding valuable clues about the workings of such giants, which are thought to reside at the center of most galaxies. The image was produced by a global research team called the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, using observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes. UArizona researchers played a leading role in the effort, providing two of the eight telescopes used to make the observations and performing data analysis that resulted in the image unveiled in May. (The Washington Post, Reuters, BBC)

Studies link COVID-19 to wildlife sales at Chinese market, find other scenarios extremely unlikely: July 26

An international team of researchers confirmed that live animals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, were the likely source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by UArizona virus evolution expert Michael Worobey, researchers traced the start of the pandemic to the market in Wuhan, where foxes, raccoon dogs and other live mammals susceptible to the virus were sold immediately before the pandemic began. (The Associated Press, CBS News, Los Angeles Times)

NASA gives green light for OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to visit another asteroid: April 25

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will swing by Earth to deliver a sample from asteroid Bennu on Sept. 24, 2023. But it won't clock out after that. NASA has extended the UArizona-led mission, which will be renamed OSIRIS-APEX, to study near-Earth asteroid Apophis for 18 months. Apophis will make a close approach to Earth in 2029. (Popular Science: The Brilliant 10 for 2022, CNET, Scientific American)

Gun culture expert Jennifer Carlson awarded MacArthur Fellowship: Oct. 12

University of Arizona sociologist Jennifer Carlson was awarded a prestigious 2022 MacArthur Fellowship in recognition of her work examining gun politics, culture and trauma in the United States. Carlson is among 25 scholars, scientists and artists from across the country who each will receive an $800,000 stipend from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The fellowships are awarded annually to talented individuals in a variety of fields who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits. (The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, NPR)

UArizona students confirm errant rocket's Chinese origin, track lunar collision course: Feb. 15

A presumed SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster that was on a course to hit the moon March 4 is actually a Chinese booster from a rocket launch in 2014, a UArizona team confirmed. Students in the university's Space Domain Awareness lab at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory had their eyes on the piece of space junk for weeks as they studied its rotation. They gathered other data as well, which they used to confirm the booster's Chinese origin. (Nature, The Verge, Forbes)

Cities are heating up. Urban planners should prepare, UArizona researcher says: June 14

As extreme heat becomes more persistent and prevalent, Ladd Keith, an assistant professor in the UArizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, says city planners can and should lead their communities in managing and mitigating extreme heat. (ABC News, The Washington Post, The Atlantic)

'The Linda McCartney Retrospective' is coming to the Center for Creative Photography: Oct. 20

The University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography will host the North American premiere of "The Linda McCartney Retrospective" from Feb. 25 to Aug. 5. The exhibition celebrates McCartney's 30-year, barrier-breaking career, as well as her connection to Tucson. (The Associated Press, FOX News, U.S. News & World Report)

Here are some additional stories that get honorable mention: