In a new year comes the new science. Here is an overview of the events, projects and perspectives our presenters are watching or want to see in 2020.
When astronomy writer Lisa Grossman and physics author Emily Conover predicted in 2018 that the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) would soon capture an image of Sagittarius A *, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, they are on the right. The first image of EHT lasted until 2019, but it was in the black hole in the middle of the M87 galaxy. Grossman and Conover cross their fingers that Sagittarius A * 2020 is having a great time.
Another cosmic hermit, dark matter, could also be seen in 2020. The LUX Zeplin or LZ experiment, set up in a former gold mine in South Dakota, will start looking for weakly contacting WIMPs in very large particles. These theoretical grains are still “the preferred candidate for an explanation of dark matter,” Conover said. Other research has failed, but LZ is 20 times more sensitive than previous WIMP research.
Grossman plans to launch two missions in the middle of the year to Mars: Mars 2020 from NASA and ExoMars, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Mission rovers will look for signs of past life. NASA’s robotic researcher will also collect rocks to collect on a potential future mission that will bring parts of the Red Planet to Earth.
Physicist Maria Temming is now preparing for a more distant visit. This year, astronomers have identified a comet, the second-known interstellar object in the solar system (SN: 11/09/19, p. 13). (The first guest, Oumuamua, was spotted in 2017.) This guest must show up once a year, Temming said.
Biomedical author Aimee Cunningham is awaiting the results of a clinical trial with a male birth control pill. An early examination showed that the hormonal pill is safe and inhibits the levels of hormones needed for sperm production (SN: 04/14/18, p. 10). The new study examines the effectiveness of the pill.
A potential drug for Alzheimer’s disease, aducanumab, may soon be approved. Pharmaceutical company Biogen is expected to file for approval with the US Food and Drug Administration – “a move that would be controversial due to the drug’s proven history,” said neuroscience writer Laura Sanders. Aducanumab was included in our Top 10 list in 2016 after preliminary studies indicated that the drug could clear the amyloid beta plaque seen in Alzheimer’s disease (SN: 12/24/16 & 01/07 / 17, p. 27). The results were disappointing later, however, until recently it was reported that the higher dose of the drug appeared to slow memory loss (SN Online: 12/5/19).
The molecular level
Companies that send genetic tests directly to consumers can create their own controversy, predicts molecular biology author Tina Hesman Saey. Many of these companies, such as AncestryDNA, are expanding their services to offer more health information, and the FDA may restrict the type of information that can be provided, Saey said.
Behavioral science author Bruce Bower expects molecular biology to play a larger role in studies of human evolution. Increasingly, researchers are covering old studies of DNA obtained from fossil hominids with tests for proteins obtained that are better preserved than DNA in fossilized bones and teeth, he said. . As with DNA, proteins can help identify new species and resolve evolutionary relationships.
Science and politics
2020 will be a great year for science and politics. The United States Census is being offered online for the first time, and farm workers who visit the homes of insensitive people are recording their responses on smartphones. Social science writer Sujata Gupta wonders how this will develop. “Many people still do not have reliable access to the Internet. Will this lead to undercoverage? And under whom? What about cyber attacks? ”
The impact of wildlife policy has been felt in the minds of life science authors Susan Milius and Jonathan Lambert. At the end of the United Nations Biodiversity Decade in 2020, a draft report indicated that the world had missed most of the targets in a decade, Milius said. He watches how the experts come together. For Lambert, the application of the United States changes. The Endangered Species Act, announced by President Donald Trump’s administration in August, has raised questions about the future of some species.
By the end of 2020, “the world will be able to get a feel for how it is committed to tackling climate change,” says Carolyn Gramling, author of Earth and Climate. In 2015, the signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement agreed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 above pre-industrial levels. However, current promises to reduce CO2 emissions will not succeed. By December 2020, countries must submit updated publication targets. The US exit from the deal will be finalized by November 2020, but this month’s US presidential election could determine whether the country will join the 2021 deal.