From space with the images of the James Webb Telescope, to archeology with the findings of the bronzes, up to nuclear fusion: an incredible year.
Like every year, it’s time to take stock and we too in the Lega Nerd science editorial staff do not want to shirk, here is a brief summary of the scientific news that characterized 2022 that has just passed.
The ranking at the beginning of the year for Lega Nerd is an essential must and also for the science editorial team it is time to take stock aware that there won’t be a real top 10, no flops and tops, but simply a selection of the most interesting and important news that we wrote in this past year. There are many topics that intertwine in the vast field of Science so as always in this particular ranking you will find news of space, archeology, technology, medicine and much more to give you the broadest possible picture of 2022 now behind us.
Mars and deepest space with the James Webb Telescope
As far as space is concerned, 2022 has been truly eventful. Let’s start with our tools that work at astronomical distances, one I know all Perseverance . This year, the latest NASA rover sent to Mars continued its search for clues of past life in the Jezero crater, a 45-kilometer-wide impact crater that probably once held water. Crossing the bottom of the crater, the rover identified some surprising aspects, such as a thin purplish patina on some rocks, which resembles a sort of rocky layer that is generated by microorganisms on Earth. The rover also made progress in its rock sample collection, locating and sealing 14 samples whose location on the surface of Mars will be stored for retrieval on a future mission. In September, the rover embarked on a long-awaited exploration of the delta of an ancient water stream at the edge of the crater.
As for the James Webb Telescope , the first photographs that reached Earth from this special “telescope” drove enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts crazy. NASA ‘s James Webb Space Telescope ( JWST ) , the giant infrared instrument now parked 1.5 million km from Earth, has spent half of 2022 preparing to take its first images. In July, these photographs were finally unveiled , revealing a detailed view of the cosmos like never before.
New details on the impact that killed the dinosaurs
Sixty-six million years ago, a 10km-wide asteroid slammed into the waters of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, and that collision triggered a mass extinction that wiped out more than three-quarters of all species., including all dinosaurs except birds, leaving behind a giant underwater crater known as Chicxulub. However, research on this event never stopped, in fact in February 2022, some researchers who were studying a series of fossil fish that died in that event concluded that the asteroid struck during the northern hemisphere spring. In March, scientists provided more information about the devastation wrought by the asteroid: Within minutes of the impact, rocks formed in those extreme temperatures rained down more than 1,600 kilometers from the center of the crater.
But the extraordinary news came when in August the same research team announced that they had found signs of another possible underwater crater off the coast of West Africa, which is about the same age as Chicxulub, perhaps therefore evidence that a fragment of the incoming asteroid broke off and crashed into Earth at another point.
San Casciano dei Bagni: 24 bronzes re-emerge from the mud
Perhaps the most incredible archaeological discovery after the Riace bronzes: in San Casciano, bronzes have re-emerged from the mud in perfect condition. According to the team of archaeologists, a discovery that will change history and that will be able to tell many more details of that period. Lying on the bottom of the large Roman tub, the beautiful young ephebe almost seems to be sleeping. Next to him is Hygieia, the goddess of health who was the daughter or wife of Asclepius, a snake coiled on her arm. In Tuscany, 24 bronzes have been found in perfect conditioni, an exceptional find which confirms once again that Italy is a country made up of immense and unique treasures. The stratification of different civilizations is unique to Italian culture. The statues have been perfectly preserved in the hot water of the spring which has preserved marvelous inscriptions in Etruscan and Latin, engraved before their creation.
These discovered masterpieces can be dated between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, a historical period of important transformations in ancient Tuscany, in the transition between the Etruscans and Romans. An era of great conflicts between Rome and the Etruscan cities, but also of struggles within the social fabric of the city, in the sanctuary of Bagno Grande the noble Etruscan families, in a phase in which the expansion of Rome also means osmosis culture, they dedicated the statues to the sacred water.
Artemis 1 took off and returned to the Moon
Launched the SLS rocket of Artemis 1, the first unmanned mission of the Artemis program, directed to lunar orbit. It took three launch windows to see the giant SLS rocket detach from the launch pad of NASA’s Space Launch System took place from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. After a long wait, a mission thus begins in which European and Italian technology also play a leading role. After the disappointment of the failed launch on August 29, and of the subsequent attempts, when the departure of Artemis I was postponed due to a problem with one of the four RS-25 engines, the long-awaited moment arrived at 7:47 (Italian time) of November 16, 2022: the wonderful huge SLS rocket (Space Launch System), a rocket 98 meters high (almost close to the mythical Saturn V) carrying the unmanned Orion capsule), detached as scheduled from the launch pad of complex 39 of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (USA).
So the Artemis I mission has finally begun, a historic mission because the destination, after decades, is again the Moon at a distance of 450,000 km . Or rather, a series of orbits that the Orion will perform around our natural satellite (with different amplitudes), before resuming its way home, about twenty-five days later, on December 11, after having covered a total of about 2,100. 000km. This is the first of three missions that should allow the United States and its allies (including Europe, with Italy) to be brought back to the moon.
Microplastics found in the human body
Plastic fragments have been found on the top of Mount Everest and in the deepest depths of the ocean and now, for the first time, also in the blood and lungs of a human body. Inside bags of donated blood, the researchers found nanoplastics — fragments smaller than a micron in size — that may have been inhaled or ingested.
Plastic fibers up to two millimeters long have also been found in the lungs of surgical patients. It is not yet clear whether and how these small pieces of plastic can harm our health, but “yes, this should worry us”, says ecotoxicologist Dick Vethaak, “plastic should not be in our blood”.
Spiders can dream
Daniela Roessler, an ecologist at the University of Konstanz, usually carries out field research in the Amazon rainforest. But during the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the scholar turned her attention to the jumping spiders that inhabit a field near her home in Trier, Germany. Roessler noted that when these tiny arachnids doze , dangling from the wire with their legs folded, they sometimes jump as if from vivid dream activity.
The movements I observed – says Roessler – reminded me of those of dogs and cats when they dream.
So he set up a lab to take a closer look at them, and the results of his study, which were published this year, reveal that jumping spiders experience a sleep-like state with rapid eye movements similar to those seen in humans while dreaming.
The legendary Spanish wreck
The remains of a 17th-century Spanish galleon have been identified on the northern Oregon coast. They probably belong to the Santo Cristo de Burgos , a galleon that was sailing from the Philippines to Mexico in 1693 when she changed course and disappeared.
Known as the ‘Beeswax Wreck’, due to the ship-borne blocks of beeswax that occasionally surface and wash ashore , the lost galleon has been a part of local legend for centuries. Some remains of the ship’s hull, however, remained unidentified until researchers analyzed planks found in a sea cave near Astoria and discovered they were made from a type of hardwood used to build ships in Asia during the the seventeenth century: a clue that points precisely to the missing Santo Cristo de Burgos.
Nuclear fusion, producing energy like in the Sun
Putting the Sun in a box is no easy feat. Since the 1950s, physicists have been trying to harness the reaction that powers our star to produce endless energy on Earth as well, but no one has ever managed to generate more energy with nuclear fusion than is consumed to cause the reaction .
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which according to rumors has managed to hit this mythical target in the last two weeks, would have produced about 2.5 megajoules of energy, or about 120% of the 2.1 megajoules of energy consumed, say the well informed. The lab confirmed that a successful experiment recently took place at its National Ignition Facility, but said analysis of the results is still ongoing. If the results are confirmed, as expected with the government’s official announcement, this is a historic turning point.
The violent eruption of the Tonga volcano
In January, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai submarine volcano in the Kingdom of Tonga erupted in the most powerful eruption in decades. The explosion generated a shock wave that rippled across the globe and massive tsunamis that hit coasts near and far. Even before the volcanic dust had settled, scientists rushed to collect data on the intense eruption, hoping to better understand the mechanism behind this extraordinary explosion and the cascade of consequent effects. “This eruption is extremely unique and strange in every way,” says volcanologist Janine Krippner, who was part of the Smithsonian Institution ‘s Global Volcanism Program at the time of the event..
The eruption carved nearly 10 cubic km of rock into the seabed, making it the most powerful volcanic explosion of the century. The blast also triggered avalanches of hot ash and volcanic debris – known as pyroclastic flows – that traveled over 80 kilometers across the seabed.
The virus that triggers multiple sclerosis
Just at the beginning of the year, and right on the pages of Science , a research was published that seemed to put a stop to a long-standing question in the field of neurology: the link between the Epstein-Barr virus and multiple sclerosis . Long known to have an association between the two, the study showed that there was a causal link between the infection and the disease, although mononucleosis virus infection alone was not enough to trigger the disease, which is itself multifactorial. Research into the causes, both environmental and genetic, of multiple sclerosis continues.
Found the oldest African dinosaur fossil
In August, a research team funded by the National Geographic Society discovered an extraordinary fossil: the oldest dinosaur found in Africa . The ancient creature, named Mbiresaurus raathi , lived about 230 million years ago, during the Triassic period, and was found in the Pebbly Arkose rock formation in Zimbabwe.
Though one of the earliest known ancestors of sauropods, the group that includes iconic long-necked giants like brontosaurs, Mbiresaurus was not a giant. Experts estimate the animal’s hip length was no more than 60cm, revealing the humble evolutionary beginnings of a group of animals that would later include the largest creatures to ever inhabit land.