Retrospective: 7 impressive scientific discoveries from 2020

2020 was dominated by discoveries related to the new coronavirus. However, other sciences continued in their studies and several discoveries are worth mentioning. Therefore, the magazine Nature listed some of the main events of this year. Check out 7 of them.

1. The violation of matter-antimatter symmetry

In April, the Nature brought a possible explanation for one of the greatest mysteries of physics: whether matter and antimatter arose together in big Bang and therefore should be symmetrical, why is there so much more of the former today?

The experiment called Tokai to Kamioka (T2k) showed possible violations of symmetry through the use of neutrinos. The researchers needed 1 decade to show, by shooting neutrinos and antineutrinos in the subsoil of Japan, that there is a greater chance of neutrinos oscillating between physical properties during the 295 km path of the experiment. Even so, the results did not reach confidence levels in particle physics, requiring a few more repetitions of the experiment (something that can take years).

2. The recovery of the ozone layer and the restoration of wind circulation

A huge hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic drew attention in May, but the year 2020 also brought good news on this subject. Since the late 1980s, mankind has looked more closely at the ozone layer that protects the Earth.

In 1987, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were banned and today the results of this act are already more measurable. There was a global restoration of the layer and also a regeneration of wind circulation, mainly in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition, there was a decrease in the migration of air currents to the poles, eliminating some anomalies in the behavior of the winds, which were caused by the great fault in the ozone layer over Antarctica. Called jet streams, they circulate at high altitudes and interfere with rain patterns and, probably, also in ocean currents, that is, in the whole climate.

(Photo: Pixabay)Source: Pixabay

3. The power and incest of Irish kings

In Archeology, one of the greatest discoveries was that of hierarchical configurations during the Stone Age in Ireland – potentially one of the oldest ever documented. Between 8000 BC and 5000 BC, during the Neolithic period, civilizations began to grow food and settle in some places.

Thus, analyzes of DNA extracted from a man buried in the tomb of the Boyne Valley Archaeological Ensemble showed incestuous relationships, in which his parents are of first degree kinship, such as brothers, father and daughter or mother and son. Incest was very rare at that time, practiced only by dynasties considered divine by the people. Therefore, the existence of the practice shows that a very powerful clan was established there and that it followed its own rules. The preservation of the bloodline could be normalized by the clan, since the individual has genetic similarities with other men discovered across Britain.

The Newgrange tomb, in the Boyne Valley Archaeological Ensemble (Photo: Wikipedia)The Newgrange tomb in the Boyne Valley Archaeological Ensemble. (Photo: Wikipedia)Source: Wikipedia

4. Counting trees from space

In October, the Nature showed how satellites are helping to map Earth’s trees with impressive accuracy. High-resolution image analysis was able to count 1.8 billion treetops over 1.3 million km² of Western Sahara and Sahel in West Africa.

With more and more commercial satellites being used to detect terrestrial objects of less than 1 m², the field of deforestation analysis, for example, can benefit greatly from new technologies. This advance may show more real numbers of the impact of man on the planet.

5. The first FRB within the Milky Way

In April, an intense radio signal caught the attention of scientists. Called a rapid radio explosion (or FRB), it was the first of its kind detected in the Milky Way. The curiosity is that these phenomena were followed by X-ray explosions more intense than the average. Its origin was later detected as the magnetar SGR 1935 + 2154. In just 1 millisecond, it released as much energy as the Sun would in 30 seconds! The first FRBs were documented in 2007, but they were all extragalactic. Because they have a very short duration, they are difficult to capture and analyze.

(Image: ESO / M. Kornmesser)(Image: ESO / M. Kornmesser)Source: ESO / M. Kornmesser

6. Poking latent HIV

Antiretroviral drugs are extremely effective in controlling patients’ HIV. However, the virus has a latent stage in which it hides within cells, and is no longer detected by the immune system. Because of this, patients need to take their medication for life, in order to prevent these hidden viruses from circulating again.

In January, two studies showed advances in the detection of latent HIV, leading to a possible cure for AIDS. They are “shock treatments” in which the virus is pulled from its hiding place to be eliminated. It worked on animals, but it is still necessary to evolve the technique for the release of tests on humans, but still this is a sign of hope for the 37 million people worldwide living with HIV today.

HIV viruses coming out of a leukocyte. (Image: Wikipedia)HIV viruses coming out of a leukocyte. (Image: Wikipedia)Source: Wikipedia

7. The mechanism of white hair

Popular culture has always said that if you stress too much it will generate gray hair. This year, science has proved this to be true! Researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) and Harvard University, in the United States, analyzed what would cause the mouse hair to change color.

First, they ruled out that the immune system would be attacking melanocytes, that is, the cells that produce melanin and give color to the strands. Then they saw that cortisol, the stress hormone, had no influence either. However, when analyzing the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the organism’s “escape and fight” responses, scientists noticed the release of norepinephrine. It works by making us more alert, but it can also reach the wires through the branches of the sympathetic nerves to the hair follicles. In the wires, this substance accelerates the destruction of melanocytes, resulting in white hair. To make matters worse: after the wire is damaged, there is nothing more to do.

(Photo: Pixabay)(Photo: Pixabay)Source: Pixabay

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