Euclid telescope sheds light on distant galaxies
The Euclid blasted off into space in July on the world’s first ever mission to investigate dark matter and dark energy. The European Space Agency published the first five images captured by the Euclid telescope four months after it launched. They were stunning and enlightening.
One of the telescope’s observations, for example, depicted the Perseus Cluster, a massive and distant collection of more than a thousand galaxies. In the background, more than 100,000 additional galaxies were visible. Some of them are estimated to be some 10 billion light years away and had never before been seen before. Images also showed a horse-head nebula, which is part of Orion’s constellation.
ESA chief Josef Aschbacher described the pictures as “awe-inspiring” and a reminder of why it is so important for humans to explore space.
Breakthroughs in treatment of Parkinson’s disease
The year was also marked by several breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In April, a team of researchers presented a new technique they said could identify the build-up of abnormal proteins associated with Parkinson’s. The buildup of abnormal proteins is the hallmark pathology for Parkinson’s, and its detection may help to diagnose the disease long before any symptoms are visible. Up until now, there have been no specific tests to diagnose Parkinson’s.
“Identifying an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease pathology could have profound implications for the way we treat the condition, potentially making it possible to diagnose people earlier, identify the best treatments for different subsets of patients and speed up clinical trials,” said Pennsylvania University’s Andrew Siderowf, who co-authored the study.
There was more good news in November, when a long-term Parkinson’s disease patient who had long been confined to his home was given a neuroprosthetic and regained his full ability to walk. This implant consists of an electrode field that is placed on the spine and an electrical impulse generator underneath the abdominal skin. The spinal cord will be stimulated to move the legs.
WHO-backed vaccine raises hopes of ‘malaria-free future’
In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it had approved the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine -the second malaria vaccine to be cleared by the global health body and the first to meet its goal of a 75 percent efficacy.
“As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria,” said Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, for whom the vaccine will help “protect more children faster, and bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future”.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that claims around half a million lives around the world every year, mainly in Africa. The disease mostly affects children under the age of five, and pregnant women.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by doses, is already lined up to make more than 100 million doses a year and plans to scale up to 200 million a year. Available supplies of the other WHO-approved vaccine, RTS,S, are limited and more expensive.
Endangered antelopes, seals and squirrels fare better
When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued its annual Red List of threatened species in mid-December, the typically alarming report also featured some surprisingly good news.
Prospects for the scimitar-horned oryx, for instance, improved over the year thanks to a reintroduction programme in Chad, and the antelope’s status was moved from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”. The saiga, which is primarily found in Kazakhstan, has been reclassified from “critically threatened” to “nearly threatened”. This was due to the local anti-poaching efforts.
Things also improved for the monk seal and the red-bellied squirrel, while the African rhinoceros population grew 5 percent to more than 23,000.
Dinosaur fossil rewrites bird evolution theory
A tiny half-bird, half-dinosaur fossil found in the Fujian province in southeast China was presented to the public in September in what scientists described as a small revolution for bird evolution theory.
The creature, named Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, is believed to have lived during the Late Jurassic Period, 148 million to 150 million years ago. Its discovery bridges a gap in fossil records pertaining to the origin of birds, which diverged from two-legged therapod dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period.
Bird evolution theories had previously been based largely on the “oldest known” bird, the larger Archaeopteryx, that was discovered in 1860. The discovery of the Fujianvenator Prodigiosus which is from the same period but with very different characteristics, suggests that not only one dino-bird existed, but there were many.
Birds survived the asteroid strike that doomed the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
A much-needed respite for the Amazon
When Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva succeeded Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s president in January, he pledged to end the catastrophic deforestation of the Amazon – once known as “the world’s lungs” – by 2030. The incoming government has already begun to reap the benefits of its efforts, even though that goal remains far away.
In July, the national space agency INPE’s annual deforestation tracking programme reported that deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil had dropped by as much as 22. 3 percent year-on-year, reaching a five-year low.
According to the Brazilian government, the deforestation decrease prevented the emission of some 133 million tons of CO2, which accounts for around 7. 5 percent of the country’s total emissions.
COP28 launches ‘historic’ loss and damage fund
The COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates this year, started out with a historic announcement: the establishment of a loss and damage fund that will compensate vulnerable nations for disaster damage or irreversible losses linked to climate change.
The West and the United Arab Emirates immediately pledged money for the fund, racking up a total of $655 million. Although it is far from enough, it can at least be perceived as a good start.
“The launch will finally help populations affected by the worst impacts of climate change,” said Fanny Petitbon, spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Care France.
LGBT+ rights progress in Japan and Nepal
LGBT+ rights progressed in at least some parts of the world this year.
Japan’s supreme court issued a historic ruling in July condemning restrictions imposed by the finance ministry on a transgender female employee as to which toilet she could use. The ruling came on the heels of landmark legislation to promote understanding of LGBT+ minorities and protect them from discrimination.
In Nepal, the authorities recognised the country’s first ever same-sex marriage, uniting a transgender woman who is legally recognised as male and a cisgender man. The couple, who had married in 2017, were helped by a supreme court decision in June that allowed same-sex couples to register their marriages.
“The fight for rights is not easy. We have done it. And it will be easier for future generations,” said one of the grooms, Ram Bahadur Gurung. “The registration has opened doors to a lot of things for us.”
Love letters to French sailors finally opened, 250 years on
“I could spend the night writing to you … I am your forever faithful wife.” These lines were written by Marie Dubosc to her husband Louis Chamberlain, the first lieutenant of the French warship the Galatee, in 1758. Chamberlain did not receive them.
Dubosc’s letter, along with dozens of others, was confiscated when the British Royal Navy captured the ship and its crew en route from Bordeaux to Quebec during the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France. The letters were sealed in British Archives until Renaud Morais of University of Cambridge, a history professor, opened them.
The historian said the letters provided a rare insight into the lives of sailors and their families in the 1700s.
Ancient Egyptian mummies are exhumed
Two golden-laced mummies were found several metres underground in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, south of Cairo, at the start of the year.
The mummies, estimated to have been buried some 4,300 years ago, are among the oldest in the world and were discovered approximately one month apart in the Saqqara necropolis.
Saqqara was used as a burial site for more than 3,000 years and is considered one of Egypt’s most important historical sites, serving as the burial grounds for Egyptian royalty. The vast burial site stretches over more than 20 kilometres and contains several hundred tombs. The latest finds underscored the many ancient Egyptian treasures that are yet to be discovered.
This article was adapted from the original in French.
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