Thrilling Science and technology discoveries, hurdles in the fight against Covid and advancements in space exploration defined the past year
The Covid-19 vaccine
Last year the biggest science story of the year was that scientists developed two mRNA Covid vaccines in record time. The Covid-19 vaccine has now become available for children as young as five. The fastest vaccine development-to-deployment period before this was the Mumps vaccine in the 1960s and that took four years.
Only 8 percent of individuals in low-income countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and a WHO Africa report from this fall said that on that continent, less than 10 percent of countries would hit the goal of vaccinating at least 40 percent of their citizens by the end of the year. Globally, less than 60 percent of the population has been vaccinated. The holes in vaccination coverage will allow the virus to continue to kill a large number of individuals, and allow an environment where possibly other dangerous variants can emerge.
WHO recommends groundbreaking malaria vaccine for children
In October, the World Health Organization approved the first vaccine against malaria. The approval was not only a first for that disease, but also for any parasitic disease. The recommendation was based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800 000 children since 2019. WHO recommends that in the context of comprehensive malaria control the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine be used for the prevention of P. falciparum malaria in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission as defined by WHO. RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine should be provided in a schedule of 4 doses in children from 5 months of age for the reduction of malaria disease and burden.
Launch of the James Webb Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most powerful space telescope ever developed, launched in December. It will travel nearly 1 million miles over 30 days to a stable spot in space, and then take another six months to unfold its instruments, align, and calibrate. The work to create the telescope started in 1996 by NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, and it cost around USD 500 million. The launch was delayed several times.
Dragon Man- a New Species of Human
Scientists have said a more than 140,000-year-old skull found in northeastern China belongs to new ancient species of humans called Homo longi and have nicknamed it “Dragon Man”. They estimate that the skull belonged to a man, who was about 50 years old when he died, between 146,000 and 296,000 years ago.
Blue Origin brought the first official tourists to space
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has flown straight to the border of space. The billionaire — carried in a rocket built by his spaceflight company Blue Origin and accompanied by three fellow space tourists — joins a small but growing number of people who have traveled to space but aren’t professionally trained astronauts.
Supermassive black hole in galaxy M87
In April 2019, scientists released the first image of a black hole in the galaxy M87 using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). However, that remarkable achievement was just the beginning of the science story to be told. Data from 19 observatories are being released that promise to give unparalleled insight into this black hole and the system it powers, and to improve tests of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
The first CRISPR gene-edited food has gone on sale in Japan
The first CRISPR gene-edited food has gone on sale in Japan recently, in the form of a tomato packed with an alleged increase in nutritional content. The Sicilian Rouge High GABA tomato, created by startup Sanatech Seed, sold gene-edited seedlings to any farmers that wanted them earlier in the year, and 4,200 farmers took up the offer. Now, the tomatoes are ripe for sale.
The tomatoes have around five times as much GABA in them, which some research suggests has a calming effect on the body and may improve stress and sleep. This research is debated, with many such studies having a conflict of interest, but so far evidence suggests supplemental GABA provides a limited effect on improvements in this area.
Major climate changes inevitable and irreversible
Human activity is changing the Earth’s climate in ways “unprecedented” in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, with some of the changes now inevitable and “irreversible”, climate scientists have warned. Within the next two decades, temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, breaching the ambition of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and bringing widespread devastation and extreme weather.
Only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent such climate breakdown, with every fraction of a degree of further heating likely to compound the accelerating effects, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science.
Antarctic is a new ocean now- fifth ocean
National Geographic announced that it is officially recognizing the body of water surrounding the Antarctic as the Earth's fifth ocean: the Southern Ocean.
The change marks the first time in over a century that the organization has redrawn the world's oceanic maps, which have historically only included four: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans. The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally. The Southern Ocean stretches from Antarctica's coastline to 60 degrees south latitude, excluding the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea, according to the National Geographic.
A spacecraft has touched the sun for the first time
NASA's Parker Solar Probe reached the sun's extended solar atmosphere, known as the corona, and spent five hours there. The spacecraft is the first to enter the outer boundaries of our sun.
The probe made the first direct observations of what lies within the sun's atmosphere, measuring phenomena previously only estimated. The sun's outer edge begins at the Alfvén critical surface: the point below which the sun and its gravitational and magnetic forces directly control the solar wind. Many scientists think that sudden reverses in the sun's magnetic field, called switchbacks, emerge from this area.
IBM announces development of 127-qubit quantum processor
IBM has announced the development of a 127-qubit quantum processor, both on its IBM Quantum page and during IBM Quantum Summit 2021. As part of its announcement, IBM also announced that computers running the new processor will be made available to IBM Quantum Network members and that the company has plans for launching two other, presumably more powerful processors it has named Osprey and Condor over the next two years.