2020 in science

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A number of significant scientific events occurred in 2020.

Events[edit]

January[edit]

February[edit]

March[edit]

April[edit]

May[edit]

June[edit]

June 2020 in science
1 June: Geologists identify the largest known eruption in the Yellowstone hotspot track, which occurred around 8.72 Ma.[1]
Extinction intensity.svgCambrianOrdovicianSilurianDevonianCarboniferousPermianTriassicJurassicCretaceousPaleogeneNeogene
Marine extinction intensity during the Phanerozoic
%
Millions of years ago
Extinction intensity.svgCambrianOrdovicianSilurianDevonianCarboniferousPermianTriassicJurassicCretaceousPaleogeneNeogene
1 June: Researchers publish a study using data on verterbrates on the brink to extinction, in which they conclude that a human-caused potential sixth mass extinction is likely accelerating.[2]
  • 1 June
    • Astronomers report narrowing down the source of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), which may now plausibly include "compact-object mergers and magnetars arising from normal core collapse supernovae".[3][4]
    • The existence of quark cores in neutron stars is confirmed by Finnish researchers.[5][6][7]
    • Geologists report two newly identified supervolcano eruptions associated with the Yellowstone hotspot track, including the region's largest and most cataclysmic event – the Grey's Landing super-eruption – which had a volume of ≥2800 km3 and occurred around 8.72 Ma. According to the study the Yellowstone hotspot may be waning, with another eruption of this scale not likely up to around 900,000 AD.[8][1][9]
    • Researchers studying corvids report that extended parenting and extended childhood is crucial for the evolution of cognition and is having profound consequences for learning and intelligence. These may create longer developmental periods in which life-history is combined with social and ecological conditions such as via continuous exposure to role models that are relatively tolerant of the children as well as continuous opportunities for learning. Earlier research on primates showed that across species relative brain size covaries with cognitive skills and that adaptations that compensate developmental and energetic costs of large brains are critical for their evolution.[10][11][12]
    • Findings of studying the spin direction of more than 200,000 spiral galaxies presented at the 236th American Astronomical Society meeting may suggest that the universe could have a defined structure and that the early universe could have been spinning. According to the researcher spiral galaxies in different regions of spacetime have been found to relate through their spin-directions and even though the asymmetry of spin-directions is just over 2%, the probability to have such asymmetry by chance is less than 1 to 4 billion.[13][14][15][additional citation(s) needed]
    • Researchers publish a study using data on verterbrates on the brink to extinction and on verterbrates that recently became extinct, in which they conclude that a human-caused potential sixth mass extinction, which was claimed to be emerging by researchers of the study in 2015, is likely accelerating and suggest a number of reasons for that including extinctions causing further extinctions. They reemphasize "extreme urgency of taking much-expanded worldwide actions".[2][16][17]
  • 2 June – A study investigating the emergence of life on Earth and possibly other locations demonstrates a continuous chemical reaction network of simple organic and inorganic feedstocks that, in water and under high-energy radiation, generates compounds proposed to be precursors for early RNA, modelling how they may emerge spontaneously from a simple reagents mixture under conditions of early Earth through natural geochemistry.[18][19][20]
3 June: Researchers show that compared to rural populations urban red foxes (pictured) in London are mirroring patterns of domestication similar to domesticated dogs, as they adapt to their city environment.[21]
10 June: Scientists report evidence that females' follicular fluid's consistent and differential attraction of sperm from specific males constitutes a distinct post-mating choice.[54]
  • 10 June
    • Scientists report evidence that females' follicular fluid's consistent and differential attraction of sperm, an ability of human egg cells first reported in 1991, from specific males constitutes a post-mating choice and report that this mechanism did not reinforce pre-mating human mate choice decisions.[54][55]
    • Researchers report that the most successful – in terms of "likelihood of prizewinning, National Academy of Science (NAS) induction, or superstardom" – protégés studied under mentors who published research for which they were conferred a prize after the protégés' mentorship. Studying original topics rather than these mentors' research-topics was also positively associated with success.[56][57]
11 June: Scientists report the generation of Bose–Einstein condensates (BECs) in the Cold Atom Laboratory (pictured) aboard the ISS under microgravity which could enable improved research of BECs and quantum mechanics.[58]
15 June: Scientists estimate that about a fifth of the world population, belong to a vulnerable group which has at least one underlying condition that raises the risk of severe disease when contracting COVID-19. The image shows the severity of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in China.[81]
17 June: Possible first detection of Solar axion by particle physicists[93] (image of a xenon atom, used in the experiments).
19 June: Scientists warn that worldwide growth in affluence, measured by GDP (pictured), is associated with the problematically high increase of resource use and pollutant emissions.[114]
19 June: News reports the first NASA-funded search for technosignatures from advanced extraterrestrial civilizations other than radio waves only.[115]
22 June: Scientists demonstrate that it is possible for fish to migrate via ingestion of fish eggs (pictured) by birds.[128]
30 June: J2157 is identified as the fastest-growing black hole in the Universe.[162]
  • 30 June
    • Two surveys of 85.9% and 71.5% of the population of the small town of Vo', the location the first coronavirus death in Italy, find that according to the surveys 42.5% (95% CI 31.5-54.6%) of the confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections of the surveys were asymptomatic. The published unedited manuscript also shows that individuals older than 50 showed a higher infection prevalence, that the average time to viral clearance was 9.3 days (8–13 days) and that viral load tended to peak around the day of symptom onset.[163][164][165] In mid-March the scientists of the study, whose survey began on 6 March, reported that the research led to the discovery of the decisive role in the spread of the novel coronavirus by asymptomatic people.[166]
    • Scientists report, after they publicized the first version of a preprint in April 2019, a possible explanation for the origin of high-energy cosmic neutrinos observed[which?] by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, suggesting that emissions of coronae of supermassive black holes, such as possibly the active galactic nucleus of Messier 77, may be their source.[167][168]
    • Astronomers report that J2157, discovered in 2018, is now known to have 34 billion solar masses and is consuming the equivalent of nearly 1 solar mass every day, making it the fastest-growing black hole in the Universe.[169][162]
    • Scientist at CERN report that the LHCb experiment has observed a four-charm quark particle never seen before, which is likely to be the first of a previously undiscovered class of particles.[170][171][172]

July[edit]

July 2020 in science
8 July: Researchers report that they succeeded in using a genetically-altered variant of R. sulfidophilum to produce spidroins, the main proteins in spider silk.[200]
10 July: Scientists report that the Moon formed slightly earlier than thought (4.425 ±0.025 bya) and that it hosted an ocean of magma for much longer than previously thought (~200 My).[214] Image: the thermal state of the Moon at age 100 My (from the study)
13 July: Researchers report the development of a reusable aluminium surface for efficient solar-based water sanitation.[223]
15 July: In two studies of the Global Carbon Project researchers summarise and analyse new estimates of the global methane budget and provide data and insights on sources and sinks for the geographical regions and economic sectors where the rising anthropogenic methane emissions have changed the most over recent decades.[227]
  • 15 July
    • Researchers report the discovery of chemolithoautotrophic bacterial culture that feeds on the metal manganese after performing unrelated experiments and named its bacterial species Candidatus Manganitrophus noduliformans and Ramlibacter lithotrophicus.[228][229][230]
    • In two studies researchers of the Global Carbon Project summarise and analyse new estimates of the global methane budget and provide data and insights on sources and sinks for the geographical regions and economic sectors where the rising anthropogenic methane emissions have changed the most over recent decades. According to the studies, global methane emissions for the 2008 to 2017 decade increased by almost 10 percent compared to the previous decade.[231][227][232][233]
16 July: Scientists, using public biological data on 1.75 m people with known lifespans overall, identify 10 genomic loci which appear to intrinsically influence healthspan, lifespan, and longevity and identify haem metabolism as a promising candidate for further research within the field.[234]
22 July: Astronomers publish the first photo of multiple exoplanets orbiting a sunlike starTYC 8998-760-1.[240]
22 July: Scientists confirm the first detected active leak of sea-bed methane in Antarctica.[241]
28 July: Marine biologists report that aerobic microorganisms (mainly), in "quasi-suspended animation", were found in organically-poor sediments, up to 101.5 million years old, 68.9 metres (226 feet) below the seafloor in the South Pacific Gyre (SPG) ("the deadest spot in the ocean"), and could be the longest-living life forms ever found.[261]
29 July: Scientists report that work honored by Nobel prizes clusters in only a few scientific fields.[264]
  • 29 July
    • Scientists of the NA62 experiment at CERN claim to have presented first evidence of a highly rare process – a decay of a charged kaon – predicted in the Standard Model which may help identifying possible deviations from the model.[265]
    • Scientists report that they have transformed the abundant diamagnetic material known as "fool's gold" and pyrite into a ferromagnetic one by inducing voltage, which may lead to techniques with potential applications for devices such as magnetic data storage ones.[266][267]
    • Scientists report that work honored by Nobel prizes clusters in only a few scientific fields with only 36/71 having received at least one Nobel prize of the 114/849 domains science could be divided into according to their DC2 and DC3 classification systems. Five of the 114 domains were shown to make up over half of the Nobel prizes awarded 1995–2017 (particle physics [14%], cell biology [12.1%], atomic physics [10.9%], neuroscience [10.1%], molecular chemistry [5.3%]).[264][268]
    • Scientists report that geochemical data shows that the origin of 50 of the 52 sarsen megaliths used to construct Stonehenge is most likely West Woods, Wiltshire, 25 km north of Stonehenge.[269][270]
  • 30 July – NASA successfully launches its Mars 2020 rover mission to search for signs of ancient life and collect samples for return to Earth. The mission includes technology demonstrations to prepare for future human missions.[175]
  • 31 July

August[edit]

August 2020 in science
1 August: Brazil's NISR reports that satellite data shows that the number of fires in the Amazon increased by 28% to ~6,800 fires in July compared to the ~5,300 wildfires in July 2019.[274] (Image acquired by MODIS on NASA's Aqua satellite on August 1, 2020.)[275]
10 August: The dwarf planet Ceres is confirmed to be a water-rich body.[306]
13 August: Melting of the Greenland ice sheet is shown to have passed the point of no return, based on 40 years of satellite data. The switch to a dynamic state of sustained mass loss resulted from widespread retreat in 2000–2005.[319]
  • 13 August
    • Scientists at the University of Southern California report the "likely" order of initial symptoms of the COVID-19 disease: "fever, cough, muscle pain, and then nausea, and/or vomiting, and diarrhea".[320][321]
    • Unexpected dimming of Betelgeuse is explained by NASA as a "traumatic outburst", caused by an immense amount of hot material ejected into space, forming a dust cloud that blocked starlight.[322][323][324] On 30 August 2020, astronomers reported the detection of a second dust cloud emitted from Betelgeuse, and associated with a secondary minimum on 3 August in luminosity of the star.[325]
    • Universal coherence protection is reported to have been achieved in a solid-state spin qubit, a modification that allows quantum systems to stay operational (or "coherent") for 10,000 times longer than before.[326][327]
    • July 2020 is tied as the second-warmest July on record, with a record low Arctic sea ice extent for the month, in a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.[328]
    • Melting of the Greenland ice sheet is shown to have passed the point of no return, based on 40 years of satellite data, by scientists at Ohio State University. The switch to a dynamic state of sustained mass loss resulted from widespread retreat in 2000–2005.[319][329][330]
  • 14 August – Scientists report the discovery of the oldest grass bedding from at least 200,000 years ago, much older than the oldest previously known bedding. They speculate that insect-repellent plants and ash layers, sometimes due to burned older grass beddings, found beneath the bedding have been used for a dirt-free, insulated base and to keep away arthropods.[331][332][333]
  • 16 August – Astronomers report the detection of asteroid 2020 QG, a small Earth-crossing near-Earth asteroid of the Apollo group that passed the Earth about 2,950 kilometres (1,830 mi) away, the closest known asteroid to pass the Earth that did not impact the planet.[334][335]
  • 17 August
  • 18 August
  • 19 August
    • An analysis indicates that sustainable seafood could increase by 36–74% by 2050 compared to current yields and that whether or not these production potentials are realized sustainably depends on factors such as policy reforms, technological innovation and the extent of future shifts in demand.[349][350]
    • Researchers report that widespread declines in Pacific salmon size resulted in substantial losses to ecosystems and people, which they estimate, and are associated with factors that include climate change and competition with growing numbers of wild and hatchery salmon.[351][352]
    • Researchers provide explanations for variations in the rate of global mean sea-level rise since 1900 and report that dam building in the 20th century offset factors that would have led to a higher rate during the 1970s, implying that no additional processes are required to explain the observed major variations.[353][354][355]
20 August: Scientists report that the Greenland ice sheet lost a record amount of ice during 2019.[356]

September[edit]

September 2020 in science
14 September: Scientists announce the detection of phosphine in Venus' atmosphere, which is known to be a strong predictor for the presence of microbial life.[399] (This image is the first received photo sent from the surface of another planet, Venus).[400]
18 September: Astronomers report evidence of an exoplanet located in the Whirlpool Galaxy.[473]

October[edit]

Science Summary for this section (October)
7 October: A quantification of global N2O sources and sinks.[548]
13 October: Betelgeuse is shown to be 25% smaller and closer than previously thought.[549]
  • 7 October
    • The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their work on genome editing.[550]
    • Researchers reveal a new high-temperature superconducting cable, named VIPER, capable of sustaining higher levels of electric current and magnetic fields than previously possible.[551][552][553]
    • Researchers in demonstrate the first passive radiative device that absorbs heat from the hotter inside of an enclosure and emits it on the outside. The system has potential to cool vehicle and building interiors, and solar cells, without using electricity.[554][555]
    • Medical researchers conclude the SARS-CoV-2 can remain on common surfaces for up to 28 days in laboratory conditions that include darkness.[556][557]
    • Scientists present a comprehensive quantification of global sources and sinks of the greenhouse gas N2O and report that human-induced emissions increased by 30% over the past four decades and is the main cause of the increase in atmospheric concentrations, with recent growth exceeding some of the highest projected IPCC emission scenarios.[548][558]
  • 8 October
  • 12 October – Medical scientists report, for the first time in the U.S. and fifth worldwide, confirming evidence of reinfection with the SARS-CoV-2.[564][565]
  • 13 October
    • The red supergiant star Betelgeuse is shown to be 530 light years away, about 25% closer than previously thought. Additionally, its estimated size is revised downwards, from the semi-major axis of Jupiter to around two-thirds of this diameter.[566][549]
      • Scientists report in a preprint the possible detection of glycine in the atmosphere of Venus with the ALMA radio telescope. The amino acid may be relevant to the origin of life and was found on meteorites earlier.[567][568]
      • On 15 October BepiColombo conducts a fly-by of Venus, having instruments possibly sensitive enough to detect the gas, without a detection or non-detection being declared by 10 November.[569]
      • A data analysis released as a preprint on 19 October shows no statistical evidence for an apparent detection of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus reported in September and that "at least a handful of spurious features" which can be obtained with the data processing method that was used in the study.[570][571]
      • On 27 October scientists release a preprint according to which the detection via JCMT can be explained by the presence of other gases and the ALMA interferometric data is invalid due to calibration issues of the used data processing scripts. Independent processing of the ALMA data by several teams varied from the original study's authors'.[how?] They also claim to have found an inconsistency between the proposed photochemical model and data about the altitude of the gas in the original study.[572][573]
      • On the same day, other researchers publish a paper according to which no phosphine was discovered between 2012 and 2015 at the cloud tops and the lower mesosphere above, putting an upper limit of PH3 abundance there.[570][574]
      • On 28 October science journalists reported that ESO ALMA scientists found separate, unspecified issues – later reported to be a calibration error that was found as a result of the study "No phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus"[575] – with the data that was used by authors of the study that claimed an apparent detection of phosphine in September, and took those data off the observatory's public archive so that the European ALMA Regional Centre Network, who originally calibrated the data, scrutinises it in detail and reprocesses it.[576][570][additional citation(s) needed]
14 October: Room-temperature superconductivity is demonstrated at 15°C, an improvement of 35°C on the previous record. The image shows a magnet levitating over a superconductor
15 October: The discovery of cyclopropenylidene in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan is announced.[591]
20 October: NASA's spacecraft OSIRIS-REx collects a sample from asteroid Bennu, becoming the world's third spacecraft to do so.[605]
28 October: the study "Water, energy and land insecurity in global supply chains" explained by a video
  • 28 October
    • Scientists report finding a coral reef measuring 500 m in height, located at the northern tip of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the first discovery of its kind in 120 years.[585][622]
    • Scientists publish estimates of the occurrence rates of rocky habitable zone planets around Sun-like stars with updated data and criteria for habitable zones – including ∼4 such exoplanets around G and K dwarf stars within 10 pc of the Sun and ~300 million in the Milky Way.[623][624][625]
    • Scientists report in a preprint that a variant of SARS-CoV-2, 20A.EU1, was first observed in Spain in early summer and has become the most frequent variant in multiple European countries. They also illustrate the emergence and spread of other frequent clusters of sequences using Nextstrain.[626][627]
    • A systematic, and possibly first large-scale, cross-sectoral analysis of water, energy and land in security in 189 countries that links national and sector consumption to sources shows that countries and sectors are highly exposed to over-exploited, insecure, and degraded such resources with economic globalization having decreased security of global supply chains. The study finds that most countries exhibit greater exposure to resource risks via international trade – mainly from remote production sources – and that diversifying trading partners is unlikely to help countries and sectors to reduce these or to improve their resource self-sufficiency.[628][629][630][631]
29 October: Scientists recommend a healthy preparation procedure of rice.[632]

November[edit]

Science Summary for this section (November)
4 November: Scientists announce the discovery of Kylinxia which could be at the evolutionary root of arthropods.[642]
11 November: Scientists report the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RBD antibodies as early as 3 September 2019, which could establish a substantially earlier start time of the C19 pandemic.[666]
  • 11 November
    • Astronomers report newly found evidence for volcanic activity as recently as 53–210 kya on the planet Mars. Such activity could have provided the environment, in terms of energy and chemicals, needed to support life forms.[667][668]
    • Scientists report the detection of SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain antibodies in 111 (11.6%) of 959 asymptomatic individuals of a lung cancer screening trial in Italy, starting from 3 September 2019, apparently establishing a substantially earlier start time of the COVID-19 pandemic.[666][669] However, the journal published an expression of concern in March 2021 due to possible issues with the peer review.[670]
  • 12 November – Scientists report the development of a microalgae-based fish-free aquaculture feed with substantial gains in sustainability, performance, economic viability, and human health.[671][672]
  • 13 November – Scientists report that Mars' current loss of atomic hydrogen from water is largely driven by seasonal processes and dust storms that transport water directly to the upper atmosphere and that this has influenced the planet's climate.[673][674]
  • 16 November
    • Results of phase III trials of Moderna's mRNA vaccine are announced, the company claims to 94.5% reduction of COVID-19 cases based on interim results, including severe illnesses. The vaccine is easier to distribute than BNT162b2 as no ultra-cold storage is required.[675]
    • ALMA staff release a corrected version of the data used by other scientists in a study published on 14 September that claimed an apparent detection of phosphine in Venus' atmosphere. On the same day authors of this study publish a re-analysis as a preprint using the new data that concludes the planet-averaged PH3 abundance to be ~7 times lower than what they detected with data of the previous ALMA processing, to vary by location and to be reconcilable with the JCMT detection of ~20 times this abundance if substantially varying in time. They also respond to points raised in a preprint that challenged their conclusions in October and find that so far no other compound can explain the data.[676][677][678][679] ALMA is reported to be expected to restart in early 2021 after a shutdown due to the COVID-19 crisis and may enable further observations that could provide insights for the ongoing investigation.[678]
  • 18 November – Researchers report that CRISPR/Cas9, using a lipid nanoparticle delivery system, has been used to treat cancer effectively in a living animal for the first time.[680][681]
  • 21 November – Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is launched into orbit, to monitor sea levels in higher detail than ever before. The satellite's resolution will allow measuring of water depths closer to the shore, which has long been an area of uncertainty.[682]
  • 23 November
30 November: The 50-year problem of protein structure prediction is reported to be largely solved with an AI algorithm.[689]

December[edit]

Science Summary for this section (December)
1 December: the Arecibo telescope collapses.[705]
  • 1 December
    • The Arecibo telescope collapses after several hurricanes, storms, and earthquakes over the 2010s raised concerns over the stability of the Arecibo observatory and two cable breaks in August and November led teams of engineers to assess a high risk of collapse. One of the three teams determined there to be no safe way to repair the damage due to which the NSF announced the decision for a controlled decommissioning of the telescope on November 19, a few days before the collapse, which was challenged by scientists worldwide who, with a public petition subsequent to this announcement, asked for it to be repaired instead.[706][707] The telescope built in 1963 was Earth's largest single-aperture telescope until 2016 and the source technology for many significant scientific discoveries, SETI as well as of the 1974 Arecibo message.[706][705]
    • The Chinese experimental nuclear fusion reactor HL-2M is turned on for the first time, achieving its first plasma discharge.[708]
2 December: The world's first regulatory approval for a cultivated meat product is granted.[709] (Image shows other cultured meat)
2 December: Scientists confirm 2020 SO to be rocket booster space junk.[710]
8 December: Second successful retrieval of pristine asteroid-samples via Hayabusa2.[721]
16 December: Chinese Chang'e 5 spacecraft return the first lunar sample since 1976.[753]
18 December: News reports about the detection of candidate ETI radio signal, BLC1, apparently from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun.[757]
  • 18 December
    • Media outlets report that astronomers detected a radio signal, BLC1 (Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1), apparently coming from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun. Astronomers have stated that this and other, yet unpublished, signals, "are likely interference that we cannot fully explain" and that it could be the strongest candidate for an extraterrestrial radio signal since the "Wow! signal" of 1977.[757][758][759]
      • A paper by other astronomers released 10 days before the news report about BLC1 reports the detection of "a bright, long-duration optical flare, accompanied by a series of intense, coherent radio bursts" from Proxima Centauri also in April and May 2019. Their finding has not been put in direct relation to the BLC1 signal by scientists or media outlets so far but implies that planets around Proxima Centauri and other red dwarfs are likely to be rather uninhabitable for humans and other currently known organisms.[760][761][762]
    • Ecologists report that the driest and warmest sites of 32 tracked Brazilian non-Amazon tropical forests have moved from carbon sinks to carbon sources overall ~2013.[763][764]
    • Researchers report a deep learning approach to identify gene regulation at the single-cell level, which previously had been limited to tissue-level analysis.[765][766]
  • 21 December
  • 22 December
  • 23 December – A study finds that face masks reduce the risk of spreading large COVID-19-linked droplets when speaking or coughing by up to 99.9 percent.[779][780]
  • 30 December – Scientists report finding microvascular blood vessel damage in tissue samples of brains without any detected SARS-CoV-2 as well as olfactory bulbs from patients who died from COVID-19.[781][782][783]
  • 31 December – Scientists determine that desalination membranes are inconsistent in density and mass distribution, and show a way to increase efficiency in the membranes by up to 40%.[784][785]

Awards[edit]

  • 20 December – VinGroup announced the launch of the global VinFuture Prize for authors of breakthrough research or technology inventions that have been shown to make people's lives better and improve a sustainable living environment.[790]

Deaths[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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