The journal Nature named among the most important scientific events of the outgoing year the victory of Joe Biden and the protests of scientists in the framework of the Black Lives Matter movement (the publication itself also staged a strike in honor of this). We're not advanced enough to go that far. But all the more space is left to tell readers about the really important scientific events of the coronavirus year. By the way, you can choose which one should become the main one.
No. 1 Scientific Achievement of the Year: Coronavirus Vaccine
If the rest of the places in the top ten most important scientific discoveries and achievements of the year can be disputed, then this undoubtedly takes the first place. The coronavirus not only killed millions - as we already wrote, in Russia alone, it caused hundreds of thousands of excess deaths - but also limited the freedom of movement of hundreds of millions of people. A large-scale economic collapse was avoided, but even here everything is not very good. Obviously, the means that will allow life to return to normal is of great importance for the whole world.
Today, there are several widely used coronavirus vaccines on the planet, and each of them was registered and approved for use even before the end of the third phase of clinical trials. The first was Sputnik-V, developed by the NF Gamaleya Research Center; the second, a Pfizer drug created by a German startup run by two German citizens of Turkish origin; the third is the American one from the Moderna company. The first vaccine is adenovirus, the other two are mRNA.
All three vaccines share a common approach to creating immunity against SARS-CoV-2: they deliver genetic "instructions" to human cells that make them produce the proteins that make up the coronavirus envelope for a week or two. These proteins enter the bloodstream, immune cells recognize "outsiders" in them and learn to "neutralize" them.
The difference between the leading vaccines is that the adenovirus "Sputnik" delivers adenovirus DNA into the cell - and it is it that produces the proteins of the coronavirus. Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, on the other hand, distribute messenger RNA in the human body. This is a much smaller molecule of ribonucleic acid in terms of length and capabilities. Most likely, it forms an immune response faster, but it is possible (so far no one knows for sure, since too little time has passed) that immunity from it will remain less than from the adenovirus vaccine.
In addition to these two types of drugs for the prevention of Covid-19, the Chinese company Sinopharm has created its whole virion vaccine, and the UAE authorities have allowed its use in their country. However, it can be called the scientific breakthrough of the year with less justification. Adenovirus and mRNA vaccines have shown an efficiency of 94% or more - that is, no more than 6% of those vaccinated can become infected with coronavirus. The Chinese vaccine uses a more traditional method: it contains the killed coronavirus. It seems that this is not as effective as the first two: the effectiveness of the drug is only 87%, noticeably lower than that of the leading vaccines.
All of these vaccines, taken together, suggest that most countries will be free of the Covid-19 epidemic by 2021.
Unfortunately, Russia is unlikely to be among them. Although the vaccine in our country is already produced in millions of copies (there were two million at the beginning of December), thanks to the “benevolent” coverage of the domestic vaccine in a number of leading media outlets, about 38% of those wishing to be vaccinated in our country. If you vaccinate them all even today, this will not be enough to achieve group immunity and stop the epidemic in Russia. Alas, this is apparently the price we have to pay for the problems of school education and the inability of the domestic media to be objective about the scientific achievements made at home.
How many people will die due to such anti-vaccination sentiments in our country is unknown. However, given today's coronavirus mortality, it is unlikely that less than tens of thousands will be discussed. It is not often that the media achieve such large-scale results.
№ 2 It seems that scientists have solved the riddle of dark matter - although it will not be definitively recognized soon
More than 20 years ago, it became clear to scientists that it is impossible to explain the observed Universe without dark matter. There is simply too little visible, "ordinary" matter in it to make the observed rotation speeds of stars at the edges of galactic disks, including in our Galaxy, possible.
Until the 2010s, the leading candidates for explaining these oddities were particles that do not interact with photons (light), but have mass and thus gravity. They were called dark matter.
By the end of the last decade, it turned out that there were no such particles: all attempts to find them at accelerators had failed. At the same time, another explanation emerged: dark matter is just black holes. A similar approach has already been proposed, but it was rejected: astronomers quickly calculated that evenly distributed black holes in the Universe would be noticeable, since their gravity would distort the trail of the stars behind them.
But a new explanation unexpectedly got around this problem. According to a set of close hypotheses by a number of authors at once, black holes with masses tens of times larger than the Sun each should gather in globular clusters on the outskirts of galaxies. Such "dark clusters" are compact (like globular star clusters), so they do not distort the light of distant stars and are difficult to detect. Nevertheless, they are quite possible - now that we know where to look.
By the way, according to calculations from an article by a Russian physicist that is being prepared for publication, there can be up to 200 billion black holes of this kind in the Galaxy alone - almost like stars. Where does so much come from? Read about this in our material at the link below.
# 3 The unexpectedly ancient New World: people settled in North America even before the ice age
We remember from childhood: America was settled by the ancestors of the Indians, about 10-15 thousand years ago. The discovery by Mexican archaeologists in 2020 turned this picture upside down. It turned out that already 33,220 - 31,475 years ago people lived in the mountains of Central Mexico - experts discovered their stone tools. By the way, the earliest Americans visited these caves for more than 12 thousand years in a row, up to 19 thousand years ago.
It would seem, so what? In fact, the discovery dramatically changes our understanding of antiquity. If people appeared in the New World so long ago, it turns out that for the time being they were not particularly comfortable there - otherwise it is difficult to explain why they became numerous only after the end of the ice age. It seems that the hypothesis according to which primitive man was ideally adapted to the glacial climate, gave a leak. As well as general naive ideas about what it costs our species to get somewhere, how it will certainly and quickly begin to flourish there.
The discovery points to another point: in fact, the first people in the New World could not have been the ancestors of the Indians, but the descendants of the Australian aborigines.How did they get there? Read about it in the material at the link below.
№ 4 "Signals from alien civilizations" turned out to be stars the size of a city
Since 2007, astronomers have recorded powerful and ultra-short - thousandths of a second - radio bursts, usually emanating from sources outside the Milky Way. It was extremely difficult to understand what it is. Radio emission from such fast radio bursts in thousandths of a second produced as much energy as our Sun did in 80 years of glow.
This energy made such events so conspicuous that a number of scientists suggested: before us are the signals of powerful extraterrestrial civilizations. Others have hypothesized: these are traces from a powerful space vehicle, a kind of photon sail, accelerated by a super-powerful source of radio emission.
True, already in 2014, Yuri Lyubarsky from Israel proposed a less exotic and more logical explanation: fast radio bursts are simply "starquakes" on magnetars. This is the name of neutron stars (compact objects more massive than the Sun, but only 25 kilometers in diameter) with a particularly powerful magnetic field. Sometimes analogs of our earthquakes can occur on neutron stars.
In this case, the dense crust of the neutron star bursts, and a significant number of protons break through the crack. The super-powerful magnetic field of such a neutron star captures these protons, and they begin to emit in the radio range. According to the calculations, everything agreed: the calculated concussion on the magnetar should have produced approximately the same energies that radio telescopes could see from fast radio bursts.
But only in 2020 it was possible to record fast radio bursts within the Milky Way, and it is much easier to study the parameters of the event from a shorter distance. Due to this, an international group of researchers was able to confirm the correctness of Lyubarsky's hypothesis: fast radio bursts are magnetars, in other words, unusual and periodically shaking neutron stars.
№ 5 Japanese lunar probe confirmed the hypothesis of the Russian physicist about the formation of the Moon
This spring, Science Advances published a paper by Japanese researchers with the results of observations of the Kaguya lunar probe. They managed to show the previously unknown: from each square centimeter of the lunar surface, 50 thousand carbon ions are emitted per second. Moreover, most of all - from lunar basalts, which rose from the bowels of the Moon, and not from regolith, where the contribution of carbon meteorites can be noticeable.
It would seem, what the matter: well, there is carbon there, so what? The significance of this discovery is given by the fact that it is almost impossible to reconcile it with the dominant concept of the formation of the Moon as a result of the collision of the Earth and the planet Theia. Such a collision would reliably strip future lunar material of all light elements, including carbon.
If they tried to explain the water on the Moon by cometary influx, then this does not work with carbon: the required amount of it to the Earth's satellite simply would not have been able to be delivered by meteorites. It turns out that carbon was on the moon from the very beginning.
The "carbon footprint" on the Earth's satellite directly indicates the correctness of the hypothesis of physicist Nikolai Gorkavy, first expressed by him back in 2007 and then independently put forward by two more scientific groups: the Moon was formed as a result of millions of impacts of large asteroids on the ancient Earth. A sufficiently strong blow will inevitably throw part of the earth's material into orbit, and there a significant part of it inevitably falls on the surface of Selena. In other words, the mechanism of its formation is not mega-, but multi-pact - that is, exactly the same as that of the extremely numerous satellites of asteroids.
№ 6 People will begin to die out in half a century - earlier than expected until now
For many decades in a row, humanity has been concerned with what is often called the "overpopulation of the Earth."As we have already noted, in fact, there are no signs of overpopulation on the planet in the ecological sense of the word: it is absolutely certain that the Earth can feed much more people than live on it today or will live tomorrow. However, this was usually answered: but the day after tomorrow there will be 15 billion or more people, so what then?
However, the 2020 work that came out in the Lancet shows that we were afraid of the paper tiger, not noticing the real one. Its authors were able to show that the current decline in the birth rate is so serious and deep that already from 2064 the number of people will begin to fall. Perhaps Elon Musk is right when he says that the real problem of the 21st century will not be "overpopulation" (which does not exist), but the lack of people.
And in many cases it is very acute: China, a modern factory of the whole world, by the end of the century may lose half of its population. Many countries will suffer in a comparable way. For this reason, the few young people they have will have to work harder - or live poorer than their predecessors.
However, this is perhaps the most innocent of the consequences of the "Great Extinction": with a significant probability it will end with the victory of religious forces, since it is ultra-religious members of society who have every chance to naturally displace secular citizens into an insignificant minority. Read more at the link below:
№ 7 Discovery of Phosphine on Venus: Is There Life on the Second Planet?
A September paper published in Nature Astronomy showed that the second planet in the solar system, at altitudes of 50-60 kilometers, contains phosphine gas (PH3). This is a compound that cannot sustainably exist on Venus, but it is known as a sign of life. Terrestrial microbes can produce phosphine and maintain trace amounts of it in the atmosphere, even though processes constantly decompose this compound.
In the clouds of Venus, at an altitude of 55 kilometers, the temperature and pressure are extremely similar to those on Earth - and, in principle, life there is quite possible. What does she eat there and how is all this connected with the unexpected throwing of "Roskosmos"? Details are below.
# 8 Heyerdahl Was Right: The Indians Discovered Polynesia Before The Europeans
In the middle of the last century, Thor Heyerdahl, a man without a complete higher education, put forward an unusual hypothesis, according to which the sweet potato (and a number of other cultures) and stone statues on the Polynesian islands are the result of the "export" of the culture of pre-Columbian America there. He suggested that the South American Indians on their rafts reached Polynesia, and it was from there that cotton, a mass of edible plants and calabash (pumpkin-like fruits, whose dried shells served as bottles), got into it.
His hypothesis was met with hostility: the science of that time believed that pre-Columbian America was not the land of sailors. And their discovery of Polynesia was therefore considered unrealistic. In 2020, an article was published in Nature that showed: Heyerdahl was still right. In the genes of the Polynesians there are clear traces of pre-Columbian mixing with the genes of the South American Indians, moreover, quite extensive and ancient.
Unfortunately, the popular science account of the researchers' discovery of the "popular" part of Nature turned out to be frustratingly inaccurate. They did not read Heyerdahl's work, so they wrote that he was still wrong. According to them, the Norwegian considered Polynesia colonized by the South Americans, and the Polynesians - the descendants of the Indians. Why this is not so and why Thor Heyerdahl was really right - in our text at the link below.
# 9 Could Neanderthals Make Throwing Weapons?
This spring, Scientific Reports published an article about an unusual find in the south of France - a cord that was made by spinning, moreover, by the Neanderthals. Spinning is an advanced technology in itself, and that alone would be a significant discovery.
But even more important is that, most likely, this yarn was not for clothing, but for the creation of complex throwing weapons.The presence of such is a sign of technological development, not inferior to Homo sapiens. The more mysterious is the displacement of the Neanderthals by our ancestors - however, in the text below there are also assumptions about why the immigrants from Africa still defeated the European aborigines.
# 10 Early Earth had a Mars atmosphere - and this is very good news, with important practical implications for all of us
One of the worst nightmares of the scientific world, which Stephen Hawking feared, is the unstoppable greenhouse effect. This is the name for such a strong influence of greenhouse gases, in which water begins to enter the stratosphere, where the ozone layer no longer protects it from splitting by ultraviolet light. From this, it can decay into oxygen and hydrogen, and the latter, as a very light gas, flows into space.
This is the scenario that made the surface of modern Venus a desert, where it is so hot that lead melts. Scientists have expressed concern that modern carbon dioxide emissions from our civilization could lead to an equally inglorious end on Earth.
The work, published in the winter of 2020 in Science Advances, shows that we have nothing to fear. For the Earth, this scenario is unrealistic for the entire foreseeable future. The thing is that 2, 7 billion years ago on our planet, the atmosphere was> 70% CO2. This is extremely close to the composition of the Martian today (however, on Mars it is much less dense).
On our planet, it is unrealistic to achieve the same high concentration of carbon dioxide as 2, 7 billion years ago. Therefore, even though the Sun has become 20% brighter over these billions of years, there will be no "runaway greenhouse effect" on Earth - and this is good news. It turns out that 2020 was able to bring good news.
The main scientific event of 2020
A vaccine against coronavirus The mystery of dark matter Population of the New World Fast radio bursts are magnetars Formation of the Moon Population decline since 2064 Discovery of phosphine on Venus Discovery of Polynesia by Indians Neanderthals knew how to spin. Almost like norns Earth had a Mars atmosphere