The Rosalia star has not been the only one that has shone this year. The scientific community has also shone on its own stage. Tra tra. One more year, as a summary of these last 365 days, 'Science' and 'Nature', two of the world's most prestigious and media scientific journals, have published their selection of scientific advances of the year. In addition to these, EL PERIÓDICO says goodbye to 2019 with its particular collection of science news that more clamor has provoked among the readers of these pages. Without this serving as a 'spoiler' for the lines that follow, the first image of a black hole, the last day of the dinosaurs, the discovery of already extinct species and the most hopeful and controversial lines of research are part of the scientific news most surprising that has left us this season.
But before delving into the elite scientific advances selected by the editors of the scientific journals, a brief review of the selection of the readers of this newspaper. The most read report on these pages has been 'The danger of positive thinking', about the counterproductive imposition of a 'dictatorship of happiness'. In line with this skepticism, works on false (and pseudoscientific) proclamations included in cosmetics, alcohol labels and miracle diets. In these places, human stories have also managed to be made with the hearts of the readers. The 'project of a lifetime' of Luis Peragón, the inventor grandfather who devised a machine to squeeze the excess energy from the batteries; and the initiative of Sassy Science as an informant, scientist and activist stand out among the most distinctive pieces of the year. And now, once in full frenzy for disclosure, the official tour of the science of 2019 begins.
Tour of the universe
The journey through the most important scientific advances of the year begins, as it could not be otherwise, through the universe. This has been the year in which, finally, it has been possible to obtain the first image of an 'invisible' phenomenon about which astronomers had been theorizing for decades: a black hole. The protagonist of this story, located 50 million light years from Earth (in the M87 galaxy), was photographed thanks to the collaboration of eight observatories around the world who for a week pointed their antennas towards the same point thus creating a Earth-sized telescope. The presentation of the snapshot, presented in April, was followed with great enthusiasm throughout the world and, as if that were not enough, managed to cross the barrier of the research community and position itself among the topics that shone most on Twitter. An achievement that, in the case of astrophysics, is in itself a jewel.
Following this tour of the cosmos, another of the spectacular images of the year is the first profile of Ultima Thule, A mysterious celestial body located in the confines of the Solar System, about 6.4 billion kilometers from Earth. The image of this relic, captured by the mission New horizons from NASA, has meant a new look at the farthest world ever explored. On this path through the stars, there has also been a scientific breakthrough that has managed to leave the world speechless only with its headline: the detection of the origin of a powerful burst of cosmic radio waves, one of the most intriguing (and mysterious) phenomena studied since astrophysics.
And, it seems, everything that happens in the cosmos instinctively arouses the interest of earthlings. Proof of this, the fact that most of the most read news in this scientific section are related to the universe. The lunar eclipse, the rain of stars, the transit of the planets and the mystery of the asteroids that roam our stellar neighborhood have stood out as the scientific events most read of the year in this newspaper. In the rifirrafe category, the scientific zasca to Trump's man at NASA for Pluto takes all the honors. And, following the space theme, how to forget the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of man on the moon. A commemoration that the, curiously, the most read news It has to do with the conspiracy theories surrounding this milestone. In critical key, of course.
Journey to the past
The next destination of this journey through science is in the past. Before the Earth and its inhabitants became what we know today. The last day of the dinosaurs after the impact of a huge rock 10 kilometers in the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico) has been able to be rebuilt minute by minute thanks to the analysis of the rocks extracted from the "zero zone". The event happened 65 million years, triggered the fifth mass extinction of species and, as far as we are concerned, its reconstruction stands out among the most impressive scientific developments of the year. Following this journey through prehistoric lands, this has also been the year in which the discovery of a skull has shown that Lucy's species did not live alone. 3.8 million years ago, on the planet wandered a species, hitherto unknown, baptized as 'Australopithecus anamesis'. Going one step further, and taking a small big leap in time, this year science has also allowed us to glimpse what the mysterious Denisovans looked like, the enigmatic species extinct 50,000 years ago.
If we go a little further in the timeline until we reach our era, the scientific developments that have marked the year also open a hope gap to solve the unknowns of the present and the problems of the future. This has been the year in which a clinical trial against Ebola has shown its effectiveness in up to 70% of infected patients. The scientific and medical community has also celebrated the approval of an effective treatment for most cases of cystic fibrosis. After more than a decade of research, this year it has been possible to develop a nutritional supplement low cost to stimulate the growth of bacteria in the intestine of malnourished children.
And, hand in hand with the scientific discoveries that have already managed to cross the target, the year also closes with research that, even being on the starting line, already promises. This is the case, for example, the advances in research in genetic editing tools such as CRISPR or 'Prime editing', which in the future could allow the correction of almost 90% of the genetic variants associated with diseases. It also highlights the development of a new technique with which it has been achieved resuscitate brain functions in dead animals. Or, in other words, a technique to 'resuscitate' brains of dead pigs four hours earlier. This finding, like many others in this area, prompted the debate among bioethics experts. Hence, this discipline focused on reflecting on the implications of advances in biomedicine also stands out as one of the protagonists of the scientific activity of the year.
Technology to power
In the technological world, scientific progress is, without a doubt, the achievement of quantum supremacy. This milestone, hitherto seemingly impossible, has been achieved by Google by creating a computer capable of executing operations in a conventional machine in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. 10,000 years. The secret of these quantum computers is to use the properties of microscopic particles (described by the theory of quantum mechanics) to achieve ultra-powerful devices. Following in the world of computers and their extraordinary circuits, another of the most amazing news of the year has been the victory of artificial intelligence algorithms in their competition with humans. At least as far as digitized board games it means. The machines have already won in multiplayer video games and, as if that were not enough, in poker. Without prior training or further instructions that any other player could have.
The awakening of the climate crisis
The scientific review of the year could not end without a mention of what has probably been one of the most debated topics of the year: the climate crisis and the state of environmental degradation of the planet. This year that has just ended has stood out as one of the most powerful in terms of scientific research focused on pointing out the damage the loss of biodiversity, the footprint of the thaw and the rise in sea level, among others. In this chapter, the magazine 'Nature' has pointed out the figure of the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg as the "climate catalyst" of the year. The decision, not without controversy, highlights the role of the young ecologist as an exalter of the debate about the climate crisis and its effects. This, in turn, links with what, according to the editors of the scientific journals, have been the big failures of the year: the loss of the Amazon after the increase in fires and deforestation rates. And, the darkest side of this story, the persistence of climate change denial despite the evidence that a disaster is coming.
And that, as Frank Sinatra would say, "this was a very good year". At least scientifically speaking.
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