News from the scientific world

What can we expect from 2020?

As I have anticipated last week (have a look here if you missed my post), with this second post of the year I would like to present some of the possible researches we should keep an eye on this 2020. So, let’s have a look at them together.

Mars – On July, NASA will send the rover Mars 2020, the heir of Curiosity, that will look for microbial life and past habitability of the red planet, but it will also test some new instrumentations for future human missions in the deep space (have a look below for a comparison of the two NASA rovers). Along with the US rover, also the European one, Rosalind Franklin (have a look here  if you do not know who she is), will land on Mars, if the recently discovered parachute problems will be solvable. Also, in July or August, the first Chinese lander, Huoxing-1, will launch to the red planet and a small orbiter from the United Arabs Emirates, Hope, will also launch this coming summer from Japan and it is supposed to reach Mars 9 months later.

Illustrations of NASA’s Curiosity and Mars 2020 rovers. The newest rover has a similar design of the Curiosity’s one, but each has its own role in the ongoing exploration of Mars and the search for ancient life. Modified from NASA/JPL-Caltech

Extra-terrestrial rocks – This year will collect a lot of rock samples from celestial bodies. China will send the mission Chang’e-5 on the Moon and it will be the first nation bringing back on Earth lunar samples after more than four decades. The asteroid explorer Hayabusa 2 is already on its way home with samples of the asteroid Ryugu, while, in the second half of this year, the NASA asteroid mission OSIRIS-Rex will draw some samples from the asteroid Bennu.

Black holes – As I already wrote in last week’s post, the scientific event of the year 2019 was the photo of a black hole (have a look at this post of you want to know how they took this picture). Nevertheless, new results are expected this year, this time regarding Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole lying at the centre of our Milky Way.

The hunt for elementary particles – The CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) will try to ensure the funding to construct the Future Circular Collider (FCC), a particle accelerator four times bigger and six times more powerful than the Large Hadron Collider. Moreover, new and interesting results are expected from the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, that is currently investigating muons (elementary particles similar to electrons) in a magnetic field: anomalies in their behaviour could reveal the presence of still unknown elementary particles.

Climate and biodiversity – The year 2020 is a crucial year for the future of our planet: the problems emerged during the COP25 in Madrid will be re-discussed in the next United Nations summit on the 9th of November in Glasgow. Before this appointment, the countries that signed the Paris Agreement will have to strengthen and improve their promises on the CO2 emissions cuts, to try to keep a maximum of 2°C (or better, 1.5°C) of global warming before the pre-industrial era. This will be the moment when the goals set with the Paris Agreement (that seem already out of reach, as Great Thunberg is incessantly and vigorously advocating – have a look here to get to know her – ) will be taken seriously or forever discarded.

Fight against pandemics – 2020 can gift us with great progress in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases. An important test against the diffusion of these diseases will be in its final phase in Indonesia: mosquitoes carrying bacteria that inhibits the replication of the viruses carrying dengue fever, chikungunya e Zika viruses were released in the environment and we will soon collect the first data. Moreover, a new vaccine against malaria will be tested for the first time on 2100 people living on the island of Bioko, in Equatorial Guinea.

DIY human tissues – On the more experimental and controversial side of Medicine, huge steps forward will be made on how to grow human tissues for transplants in other animals. According to Nature, scientists from Tokyo University will grow tissues obtained from human stem cells in rat and mouse embryos and then they will try to transplant these embryos in surrogate animal mothers (this last step has only been allowed by Japanese law recently). The goal of these human-animal studies, that are currently generating a big ethical discussion, is to increase the organs availability for transplantation. Moreover, this year we will also hear about two drugs that will fight ageing: they will soon reach the last phase of the clinical trial and the first one tackles aged cells that are somehow connected with Alzheimer’s disease and arthrosis; the second one is a drug imitating the blood transfusions with “young” blood, that gave contrasting results on animal models.

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