With a new coronavirus devastating the world since spring, the year 2020 was tough. Yet, even in these difficult times, some moments of joy have crept in – and some of them have been unleashed by awesome scientific discoveries and phenomena. From the incredible efforts of scientists to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in record time to seals and swimming dinosaurs, here are ten ways in which science has made a struggling year suck less.
This year, scientists around the world have made a massive and unprecedented effort to develop vaccines to fight the new coronavirus; and they did so on unprecedented timescales. Less than a year after the mysterious group of pneumonia-like diseases was identified in Wuhan, China, scientists have developed 223 coronavirus vaccines to fight the virus that caused them; 57 of these vaccines are already being tested on humans, According to the WHO. Two of the vaccines are already being deployed in the US; those use a relatively new technology based on a synthetic string of genetic code called messenger RNA that replenishes the immune system to fight the new coronavirus. The COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna are 95% and 94.1% effective, respectively. In addition, experts say that this technology could be a game changer for vaccine development in the future.
[Read more about the incredible accomplishments and mRNA vaccines]
Return of blue whales
Nearly 100 years after critically endangered blue whales became nearly extinct as a result of industrial whaling, they are returning to the waters of the South Georgian island near Antarctica. Only a single blue whale was seen in this area between 1998 and 2018, which was once a center for industrial whaling until its practice was banned in the 1960s; between 1904 and 1971, about 42,000 blue whales were killed in southern Georgia. But a recent survey had a lot of hopeful news: scientists aboard a research ship in January and February 2020 counted dozens of blue whales returning to the area. In total, they detected 58 individual blue whales, according to a study published in the journal on November 19. Endangered Species Research. “We have had indications in recent years that more blue whales may be returning to South Georgia,” Susannah Calderan, a marine mammal ecologist, told WordsSideKick. “But we were very pleasantly surprised at how much we saw this year.”
[Read more about the return of this endangered creature]
Possible life on Venus
Scientists have detected a mysterious, inexplicable chemical in the upper atmosphere of Venus and suggested that it may be a sign of life. The chemical, a phosphine gas (PH3), is produced on our planet by bacteria and by “anthropogenic activity”, or activities that humans do. Phosphine also exists in the atmosphere of gas giant planets due to known chemical processes. But it is not known that such a chemical process exists on Venus. Do not even go looking for ET on Venus, as phosphine could have been made by a chemical process unknown to us, the researchers wrote in the journal on 14 September. Natural Astronomy.
[Read more about life on Venus]
For the first time, a seal was recorded that fluttered in nature (or fluttered with the flags), unsolicited through training or treats of zoos, according to a study published in the journal. Marine Mammal Science in January. This particularly entertaining creature was gray seal men and swam (and clapped) near the Farne Islands in the north east of England. Only male seals appear to snap, and tend to do so when other seals are nearby; this clapping seal swam near a female and a male seal. Biologists therefore recommend that the gray seals clap to get mates or to chase away competitors.
[Read more about this clapping seal]
Dinosaurs are not thought to swim. That is, until this year, researchers discovered a paddle-like tail in southeastern Morocco that belonged to a predatory, sharp-toothed dinosaur. Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. This new tail, which was long and flat like a fin, is reminiscent of those found in modern crocodiles, the researchers reported in the April issue of the journal. Earth. Yet researchers say that because the fossils were found in the interior, this dinosaur was probably more comfortable on land and only swam in shallow water without straying too far.
[Read more about these water dinos]
‘Stink flirt’ male lemurs
Male lemurs produce a fruity scent in their wrists, rub it on their tails and wave a scent cloud to a potential mate. Male lemurs usually use such secretions to communicate with other males to mark their territory, show social rank, or announce that they are ready to breed. But scientists have recently discovered that they also use these chemicals to stink ‘women’. Secretions of the wrists usually smell “bitter”, “leathery” and “green”, but during the breeding season they smell “more fruity, floral and sweeter”, the authors write in an article published in the magazine in April. Current biology. This may be the first evidence of sex pheromones in primates.
[Read more about stink flirting]
‘Great collaboration’ of Jupiter and Saturn
On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn appear so close to each other in the night sky that they look like one star. This rare phenomenon, called ‘Great Conjunction’, occurs every 20 years, but the two gas giants have not been so close since July 16, 1623, when the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei lived. The last night sky where Saturn and Jupiter appeared so close to each other was in 1223.
[Read more about this rare phenomenon]
Parrot becoming a champion in memory games
A gray parrot named Griffin outwitted 21 Harvard students in a classic memory game, according to a study published in the journal in May. Scientific reports. African gray parrots (Psittacus erithacus) can live longer than 50 years and has always been known to be impressive; they can still memorize dozens of words. But now Griffin has shown that impressive is an understatement. Researchers gave Griffin and the Harvard students a memory task in which he had to find a colorful pom-pom under a plastic cup after it had been shuffled around the table several times. Griffin performed as well or better than the students in 12 out of 14 trials. To detect the pompom, both Griffin and the students use a feature of their working memories called ‘manipulation’, which is based on Griffin’s amazing performance, could be an evolutionary ancient ability, according to the researchers.
[Read more about Griffin]
Ancient female hunters
A recent 9,000-year-old funeral of a female hunter has been discovered and other analyzes of hunter-gatherer burials suggest that early hunter-gatherers in ancient America hunted just as much wild game as men. These findings suggest that the accepted story of old men hunting large game while women gather herbs and plants is not always true. “These findings underscore the idea that the gender roles we take for granted in society today – or that many take for granted – may not be as natural as some thought,” said lead author Randy Haas, an assistant professor in anthropology. at the University of California, Davis, told Live Science. The team identified 429 skeletons from various ancient cemeteries in the Americas; 27 of the skeletons were buried with large hunting tools. Among those buried with large game hunting gear were 11 females (including the newly discovered female) and 15 males, according to a study published in the journal on Nov. 4. Scientific progress. Further statistical analysis suggested that between 30% and 50% of the hunters in these populations were female. “What we are seeing is that female and male funerals are just as likely to be associated with hunting gear for large game,” Haas said.
[Read more about these fierce female hunters]
Octopus catches fish
Another weird story of 2020: octopuses sometimes fish, because why not? Great Blue Octopuses (Seekat cyanea) sometimes work with fish to get food. But sometimes when they are dissatisfied with the fish, or do not want to share the joint hunted food, they use a “quick, explosive movement with one arm”, in other words, they hit in the head, according to a new study published on December 18 in the magazine Ecology. “I laughed out loud and almost choked on my own regulator,” said lead author Eduardo Sampaio, a Ph.D. student at the University of Lisbon and the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior, Live Science said in an email. His later reactions were more muted, “but I was still amazed at it every time I saw it,” he added. The researchers observed this behavior eight times between 2018 and 2019 while diving in Eilat, Israel and in El Quseir, Egypt.
[Read more about punching octopuses]
Originally published on Live Science.