A dozen stories of note in 2020

Campfires on the Sun

New up-close images reveal some remarkable features.

Scientists studying the first images returned from a new European Space Agency spacecraft have found a remarkable array of never-before-seen solar features, including a large number of mini-flares they have dubbed “campfires”. Full story.

During lockdown we were light on the Earth

Scientists record the seismic noise of social distancing.

The lack of activity during the COVID-19 lockdown between March and May caused human-linked vibrations in the Earth to drop by up to 50%. It was the longest and most pronounced quiet period of seismic noise in recorded history. Full story.

Rise and rotate

Australia’s bushfire smoke reached new heights.

The intense bushfires in Australia in late December and early January spawned at least 18 huge pyrocumulonimbus clouds, and the smoke plumes from these produced “several previously undocumented phenomena in the stratosphere”. Full story.

200622 pyrocumulonimbus cloud
A pyrocumulonimbus cloud generated by the Orroral Valley bushfire burning to the south of Canberra on 31 January. Credit: Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

Earth ‘wobbled’ before two major earthquakes

It’s not clear, though, whether this will happen again.

The earth “wobbled” before two of the largest earthquakes in recent history, according to a new study. Both events occurred at the Pacific Rim where oceanic plates dive beneath the continental crust in a process called subduction. Full story.

Big carbon gains from restoring forests

Sabah study shows degraded doesn’t mean lost.

An international study shows that actively restoring degraded forests in Southeast Asia improves carbon storage recovery by more than 50% when compared with just letting them regenerate naturally. Full story.

200403 cranium
The re-assembled cranium with stylised projection of the outline of the rest of the skull. Credit: Andy Herries, Jesse Martin and Renaud Joannes-Boyau

Homo erectus keeps getting older

Researchers make an important find in fossil-rich South Africa.

An international team led by Australia’s La Trobe University has discovered the earliest known skull of Homo erectus, the first of our ancestors to be nearly human-like in its anatomy and aspects of its behaviour. Full story.

CRISPR scientists take away a Nobel

Chemistry prize won for revolutionary genetic scissors.

The scientists who gave us the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and US biochemist Jennifer Doudna, were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Full story.

It happened in just a few zeptoseconds

Physicists measure the shortest unit of time.

German physicists say they have measured the shortest unit of time ever – a mere 247 zeptoseconds. That’s 247 trillionths of a billionth of a second, and it’s the time it takes for a photon to cross a hydrogen molecule. Full story.

It’s confirmed. There is water on the Moon

Flying telescope detects unique spectral signature.

US researchers have presented the first unambiguous evidence of molecular water on the Moon – and it could be more abundant than previously thought. The discoveries may have direct implications for future Moon missions. Full story.

Science from the top of the world

Two months, 10 teams, troubling discoveries.

The science is in from an ambitious interdisciplinary expedition to Mt Everest – and the results are appropriately chilling. Published as a series of papers, they span plastic pollution, glacial losses, precipitation changes and more. Full story.

201121 everest
Expedition climbers and Sherpa at the Balcony, the highest point from which microplastics were collected during the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition (www.NatGeo.com/Everest). Credit: Baker Perry, National Geographic

The evolution of flowering plants

‘Time tree’ shows delayed diversification of families.

Around 140 million years ago, flowering plants first burst into life on Earth, heralding the birth of what have become the most diverse, ecologically important plants on the planet. But it took another 40 to 50 million years for this diversification to occur. Full story.

Multi-screening may mess with your memory

Study looks at why some of us don’t remember things.

In a study, people who engage in multiple forms of digital media at once, such as watching TV while texting and browsing social media, showed worse sustained attention just before remembering and were more likely to forget. Full story.

Please login to favourite this article.