Ten scientific events of the year from the expulsion of dark matter to the Chinese catastrophe

(ORDO NEWS) — The past year was remembered for both serious scientific breakthroughs and one extremely sad scientific failure, which resulted in mass deaths of people. Naked Science will try to tell both the bad and the good.

1- Dark matter was banished from galaxies

The importance of dark matter for understanding the universe around us cannot be overestimated.

As we already wrote, not only the history of the Universe, but also its future directly depends on what exactly it is – particles or something else. Including, very likely, the future of the human species – since the integrity of our own Galaxy is also related to what dark matter really is.

And this year’s new scientific work summed up the accumulated evidence for many years: there is no dark matter around us. That is, she herself certainly exists, but she is very far from people and stars.

For example, as its authors rightly point out, if dark matter particles were found in the expected quantities inside the galactic disk of the Milky Way, there would be no jumpers in it (that is, in our Galaxy).

A bridge is a huge structure of many stars and gas, which usually passes through the galactic center and visually, as it were, crosses through the galactic disk. The peculiarity of the bars is that they rotate, and in most galaxies where they exist at all, they rotate quite quickly.

Meanwhile, if there were a significant amount of dark matter inside the galactic disk, distributed at least approximately evenly, any massive rapidly rotating structure passing through the disk would seriously slow down.

The fact that this does not happen is almost impossible to reconcile with the presence of dark matter in the galactic disk itself. At the same time, the conclusions of the authors of the work that this cannot be combined with the very existence of dark matter may be premature.

The fact is that a whole class of hypotheses does not require the presence of dark matter inside the galactic disk itself. For example, in Nikolai Gorkavy’s model , based on data obtained by the LIGO gravitational telescope, dark matter is dense globular clusters of black holes with a mass of tens of solar masses.

Such “dark globular clusters” cannot be located inside the galactic disk itself, instead they form a kind of “dark galactic halo” – an invisible “cloud” of dark matter, inside which the galactic disk is located.

In this sense, the “expulsion” of dark matter from galactic disks is quite interesting. It can become another argument in favor of perhaps the most promising solution to the problem of dark matter. We wrote more about it here .

2- The first ever change in the course of an asteroid by people

Large asteroids falling to the Earth, as we reliably know, cause mass extinctions and long-term global winter. Even smaller bodies set up planetary fires and massive deaths of people and animals (this was a dozen thousand years ago).

Not surprisingly, NASA conducted an “anti-asteroid exercise” on September 26, 2022, trying to divert at least the modest 160-meter asteroid Dimorph from its course.

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The extent to which the collision with the DART space probe changed the trajectory of Dimorph, scientists learned from the change in the period of its rotation around the asteroid host Didymus. The changes in the rotation period themselves were recorded by dips in the luminosity of Didyma at the moments when Dimorph passed between it and the earthly observer

The impact on the asteroid with a DART probe weighing only 0.6 tons turned out to be quite effective. Due to the high impact speed (six kilometers per second), Dimorph’s orbital parameters have changed dramatically. This near-Earth asteroid is a satellite of the larger asteroid Didyma.

If before the impact of the DART probe, Dimorph revolved around Didyma in 11 hours and 55 minutes, then after – in 11 hours and 23 minutes.

His overall speed has also changed. Although the magnitude of the change seems negligible, 0.4 millimeters per second, for asteroids with their usually huge time of approach to our planet, this is quite serious.

The fact is that astronomers, as a rule, can tell for many years which asteroid can collide with the Earth. After all, he first makes a lot of “circles” around our planet, gradually approaching it before impact.

By changing its speed in advance, even by a small amount, it is quite possible to achieve a “miss” on the part of a dangerous body.

Another thing is that there is a category of really “unpredictable” asteroids, such as interstellar ones. These can “appear out of nowhere without cutting circles around us. Then scientists will notice the asteroid too late to deflect it with a weak impact.

In this case, it will be necessary to detonate a powerful thermonuclear warhead. But even in this case, the first “anti-asteroid exercises” are very useful. To learn how to repel something really dangerous, it’s a good idea to start with at least something moderately dangerous.

3- Oxygen slides gave rise to complex earthly life

Even Charles Darwin wondered why life on Earth was at first quite simple for a long time, and then, about half a billion years ago, suddenly staged a “Cambrian explosion”.

The new work of 2022 shed light on the reasons for the sharp “acceleration” of terrestrial evolution in the last hundreds of millions of years. And the answer was completely unexpected.

The usual scheme for complicating life, assumed by scientists earlier, was as follows: as oxygen accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere, it became easier for living beings to build large, complex organisms that needed a large amount of an effective oxidizing agent, that same oxygen.

Oxygen gradually accumulated in the atmosphere from the advent of photosynthesis almost to the Cambrian explosion – and it was the increase in its concentration that made the evolutionary breakthrough possible.

Ten scientific events of the year from the expulsion of dark matter to the Chinese catastrophe 2
Bottom graph: The vertical axis shows the level of oxygen as a percentage of present day (black line), the horizontal axis shows millions of years before our time. One can clearly see the peak in the region of ~750 million years and the subsequent dip to almost zero in the region of the beginning of the global glaciation of Cryogenian

Now scientists have reconstructed the concentration of O 2 on Earth (comparing the number of carbon isotopes in different layers) for the last couple of billion years and found something unexpected. There was no “smooth accumulation of oxygen”.

On the contrary, the planet experienced “oxygen slides”, in which 750 million years ago there was 12 percent oxygen in the air (even a person can breathe like that), and already 720 million years ago it was only 0.3 percent, 40 times less.

Such fluctuations were repeated many times, and all this ended only by the time when life was fixed on land – less than 450 million years ago.

For some mysterious reason, the Earth went from being an “oxygen-rich planet” to being practically “oxygen-free” many times.

It seems that it was these sharp fluctuations that ended with the emergence of ecosystems with many complex metazoans. We wrote about the probable causes of these mysterious oxygen slides here.

4- The largest bacterium

In the French Antilles, the bacterium Thiomargarita magnifica (Magnificent Sulfur Pearl) was found. Moreover, it was found not at all like an ordinary bacterium, but visually, without a microscope.

This is because it is the largest bacterium known to man. Its thin cells reach 20 millimeters in length, which is an order of magnitude or more superior to previously known specimens.

Ten scientific events of the year from the expulsion of dark matter to the Chinese catastrophe 1
Thiomargarita magnifica

As we know from biology textbooks, bacteria cannot be too big, because the nutrient molecules in them are only spread by diffusion, and that happens very slowly.

Therefore, truly large cells – for example, muscle cells of people reaching tens of centimeters in length – can only be found in eukaryotes, organisms like you and me, which have a whole set of special organelles inside the cell that simplify the “turnover” of the necessary substances in the cell .

So: the Sulfur Pearl also has something similar to organelles. A huge (from two thirds of the volume) “pouch” with liquid creates an internal pressure that allows substances to spread faster throughout the rest of the cell.

Moreover, the DNA inside this bacterium does not float, but is isolated in another “pouch” – just like the DNA in the nucleus of our own cells.

Knowing all this, it is hard to be surprised that a bacterium was discovered a dozen years ago. But for the first five years, it was mistaken for a very strange fungus, and the second – they tried to understand how a bacterium of this size is even possible, and whether it is or is it some kind of strange eukaryote.

A huge bacterium is not just a freak of nature. It shows that the boundary between prokaryotes (which includes bacteria) and eukaryotes (ciliates or us) is not so impenetrable. And that life forms can be much more sophisticated and unusual than we think.

5- Most Practical Science Event: Perennial Rice

In fact, any rice, by definition, is perennial, unlike, for example, wheat. However, standard rice, which sprouts in the second year, yields too little.

Therefore, in practice, women and children in the third world manually plant young rice plants (they are too tender for mechanization), which is extremely laborious and adds a lot to the cost of the final product.

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2022, rice planting in China. Due to the delicacy of this work, machines here cannot yet successfully replace a person

Not surprisingly, attempts to create perennial rice have been going on since the 1990s. But the results obtained by the breeders had either a low yield or some other shortcomings.

In 2022, Chinese scientists summed up the rice-23 experiment, a new attempt to solve an old problem. The farmers involved in the experiment succeeded: they harvested eight crops in four years, and only in the fifth year the yield of rice began to fall so much that it had to be planted again.

The significance of this result is enormous. Costs for farmers with the new crop fell by about half, although the need for herbicide applications increased slightly. The main thing, however, is not even money.

Asian countries are rapidly getting richer, and with money, the birth rate also becomes a thing of the past. Demographers estimate China’s population by 2100 to be half what it is now, and most Chinese will inevitably be deeply retired by that time.

There may simply be no one to plant rice by hand every year. Therefore, the success of breeders is difficult to overestimate.

Separately, we note that neither CRISPR nor GMO methods would have made it possible to achieve such a result on their own, since the traits needed in this case are polygenic (encoded by many genes at once) and genetic engineering itself would not have been able to obtain the desired result in a reasonable time.

But crossing Asian annual rice lines with perennial African ones gave scientists the desired result.

This once again emphasizes that the potential of breeding in agriculture is still huge, and in many areas more than the seemingly hype and media promoted methods (still the same CRISPR and others), which in fact have serious practical shortcomings that still limit their usefulness.

6- Thermonuclear breakthrough

In December 2022, the United States managed to heat a fusion fuel target using 2.15 megajoules and get 3.22 megajoules. From a scientific point of view, the result is huge: before that, the best ratio achieved was 1.5 to 1, and not 1 to 1.5, as here.

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The record was set on an inertial fusion unit. rather than the usual tokamaks. That is, here the plasma was compressed and heated by pulses of many lasers

At the same time, it actually took 322 megajoules to power the laser system in the experiment (and this was not even all the energy consumption of the experiment). That is, from an engineering or energy point of view, the new experiment was not a breakthrough.

Yes, the lasers used in this experiment were not optimized for such a task. But even with the use of the most modern lasers, the energy efficiency of “ignition” of thermonuclear fuel in the experiment could rise no more than 20 times.

That is, from the point of view of technologies conceivable today, the energy costs should still exceed the return from a thermonuclear reaction according to the new “recipe” by at least five times.

Unfortunately, this is not the only or even the main problem that stands in the way of the introduction of thermonuclear reactors into real energy. We wrote about the main scientific and technical difficulties along the way here.

7- Ancient DNA

The group of the famous scientist Eske Willerslev made a real breakthrough in the study of the life of the past: she managed to isolate a lot of DNA two million years old from the soil of the northernmost point of Greenland (there is no more serious land on Earth to the north).

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Mastodon in the forest of high latitudes in the representation of the artist

The result is outstanding in two respects. First, it turned out that the ecosystem of the northernmost point of the land was then extremely exotic. No taiga – mostly broad-leaved forest of poplars, birches, although interspersed with arborvitae. And in this forest mastodons roamed, reindeer and hares jumped.

But the inhabitants of the coastal zone are most surprising – among them there were reef-forming corals. Today, not only in Greenland, but even in Canada, at shallow depths, you will not find any coral reefs: it is too cold.

From the presence of such reefs in that era, it indirectly follows that the Arctic Ocean then hardly froze even in winter (corals of the genus Merelindae simply would not have endured such temperatures).

And this in itself is a sensation, extremely important in the light of the fact that global warming is moving our climate just to the one that was a couple of million years ago. It turns out that there is a chance for a non-freezing Northern Ocean in our lifetime.

Second, this work is the first to identify DNA older than about a million years. This achievement is unique and is due to the fact that the main part of the last two million years in Greenland is very cold, so DNA degrades there slowly.

8- Ancient Amputation

Some branches of medicine are considered so complex that it is assumed by default that they could not have existed before the advent of an advanced civilization. This is exactly what happened with the amputation of injured limbs.

The patient must be anesthetized (or somehow securely fixed), muscles, skin and tendons must be cut so that there is no sepsis later. Again, without decontamination of amputation instruments, this is also unlikely to succeed.

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After the amputation, the person lived for another six to nine years and had to somehow adapt to moving on one leg

However, this year Nature published a paper showing that the first known successful amputation occurred 31,000 years ago, deep in the Paleolithic.

On the skeleton of a young man from the island of Borneo, traces of amputation of the lower third of the left leg are visible, but after the operation he lived from six to nine years, that is, the operation itself was carried out successfully.

Obviously, the inhabitants of Borneo already in that era had a very good idea about human anatomy, medicinal plants and basic surgery. All these are very unexpected discoveries, given the era to which they belong.

The key problem here is not even to get all this knowledge. Theoretically, a very capable medicine man can accumulate such knowledge over a long life. But the likelihood that archaeologists have stumbled upon the work of a single genius is very small.

It is more likely that at least in Borneo such highly complex knowledge was somehow passed down from generation to generation – even without the presence of writing, while maintaining all the details in oral form.

And this may indicate that other complex knowledge could well have been accumulated by people as early as the Paleolithic.

9- Scientist proposed a new hypothesis of the origin of earth’s water

The question of the origin of water on our planet is not simple. The Earth formed deep within the “snow line” – a region of the solar system where the radiation of a star evaporates water. That is, even at the stage of formation of its “bricks”, planetesimals, there could not be too much water in them.

In addition, the formation of the planet was in the course of the collision of huge asteroids. At the same time, a lot of heat was released, which should also have made the surface of the planet relatively anhydrous.

An additional serious problem of terrestrial water is Mars. Even during the period of formation, he received three times less solar radiation than the Earth. And at least at the beginning of its history, it should have had more water than our planet.

However, in practice, the former seabed occupies less than half of the fourth planet. And we have three quarters. How could this happen? It is unlikely that the matter is in the lower Martian gravity: on Ceres and the large moons of Jupiter and Saturn, gravity is even weaker than on Mars.

But there is a lot more water there, as it should be, given that Ceres and more distant bodies lie further from the Sun.

Ten scientific events of the year from the expulsion of dark matter to the Chinese catastrophe 7
Although early Mars had an ocean, it never occupied the main part of the planet’s surface

There were attempts to solve the questions with hypotheses-crutches. For example, that comets and asteroids from the outer regions of the solar system, beyond the snow line, brought water to Earth and Mars.

But the isotopes of hydrogen and nitrogen (and not only them) on bodies from the outer part of the solar system stubbornly did not coincide with either the terrestrial isotope ratio or the Martian one.

Using calculations , they found that modifications of one silicate (α-Mg2SiO5H2 and β-Mg2SiO5H2) retain stability and the ability to retain hydrogen and oxygen at about 2.6-3.4 million Earth atmospheres. Yes, and at temperatures of thousands of kelvins, that is, even in the center of our planet.

The first tens of millions of years of the earth’s history, when molten iron descended to the center of the planet, displacing lighter silicates to shallower depths, the predicted compound gradually began to decompose.

The pressure in the mantle where they moved from the core was too low for the compound to exist there. And during the decay, 11 percent of the resulting compounds (by weight) were water.

Ten scientific events of the year from the expulsion of dark matter to the Chinese catastrophe 1
Left: Earth in the first millions of years, small proto-core, rocky rocks with hydrous silicates, high-metal fragments above. Right: The Earth after the completion of the formation of the core. The iron-containing core “squeezed out” water-containing silicates into the mantle, they decomposed (the reaction is shown in the middle of the figure) into water and anhydrous silicates. Water vapor began to rise to the surface, providing it with water

The new hypothesis also solves the question of Mars. It is much smaller than the Earth: there has never been enough pressure in its core for the stable existence of such a compound.

Accordingly, there was no way to saturate the hydrosphere of the Red Planet with the products of the decay of this silicate discovered “at the tip of a pen”.

Very serious consequences follow from the discovery for the planets of other systems. Most exoplanets known to us are super-Earths, where the pressure in the core is higher than that of the Earth. This may mean that the proportion of water in the total planetary mass there is significantly higher than ours.

10- China disaster

In addition to the scientific achievements of the year, there are always – inevitably – scientific failures of the year. This year has been one of the biggest, so it will cost the lives of at least a million people.

We are talking about the end of the “zero covid” policy. Because of it, the level of infections in China, according to a number of reports, is measured in tens of millions of people a day.

The death rate has not yet been announced (it should be noted that it is hardly possible to quickly process data on such a huge outbreak), but it should be quite high.

To understand how high it is, it is worth referring to the omicron outbreak in Hong Kong. With a population of 7.4 million, 963 thousand people fell ill there, of which 6866 died. This is 0.7 percent – despite the fact that in Hong Kong.

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In general, the Chinese population tends to be vaccinated. Alas, no one explained to the locals that only a recent revaccination protects against hospitalization and death in the case of omicron

Mainland China has 186 times the population of Hong Kong. Due to the lifting of the zero tolerance policy, not every eighth person will get sick there, as in Hong Kong (where this policy was not canceled then), but almost everyone.

With a mortality rate of 0.7 percent, this would mean the death of 10 million – about the number of people who died on the battlefields of the First World War.

The real mortality will still be lower: some part of the population is children (they tolerate this disease a little easier), some will be revaccinated (the proportion of those revaccinated in China is noticeably higher than in Hong Kong).

Finally, Hong Kong is much closer to the Western way of life, so there is a significantly higher percentage of obese people, among whom coronavirus mortality is especially high.

However, even if we arbitrarily reduce the lethality of the coronavirus for China by ten times, it will still turn out that at least a million people will die as a result of the biggest scientific failure of 2022.

This is a huge figure, and this is a huge human tragedy. Most likely, China will lose as many people as died in the Vietnam War on all sides, only not in ten years, but in one or two months.

Why did we list this as one of the ten most important scientific events of 2022? Because it would not have happened without serious scientific errors.

The fact is that Chinese scientists analyzed the experience of the “micron” outbreak in Hong Kong, but drew the wrong conclusions from it.

Instead of concluding that Chinese vaccines based on the traditional platform of inactivated coronavirus were ineffective in protecting against the “omicron”, which caused the death of 0.7 percent of cases, Chinese researchers concluded almost the opposite.

They compared protection against hospitalization and death in people revaccinated with the Chinese vaccine and Fizer (a western mRNA vaccine). As a result, the researchers concluded that both vaccines provide 98 percent protection against infection and death.

This is a level close to the maximum possible, because among modern people, about two percent of the immune system does not react to anything, and it will still not work to protect them from the disease with a vaccine or something else.

Ten scientific events of the year from the expulsion of dark matter to the Chinese catastrophe 2
Tangshan, December 30, 2022. If the Chinese leadership had been correctly informed by their scientists, they would have known that the period of protection against a local vaccine is so short that it would be worth revaccinating the entire country before the removal of covid restrictions. Alas, this did not happen

But the problem was that the Chinese scientists compared the Chinese and non-Chinese vaccines in a suboptimal way.

In their work , the median time between a Chinese vaccine revaccination and a positive coronavirus test for people who still did not benefit from the revaccination (that is, they ended up in the hospital or died from the coronavirus) was only 44 days. For revaccination with Phizer, the same figure was 61 days.

However, both 44 and 61 days after revaccination is a period of almost peak levels of antibodies, peak vaccine protection against coronavirus. Protection against not-so-successful coronavirus vaccines is rapidly declining.

For example, for Pfizer, after four months, there is practically no protection against coronavirus infection. For Chinese inactivated vaccines, judging by the scientific literature, the rate of decline is even greater.

Therefore, based on the Hong Kong outbreak, it was a mistake to conclude that those revaccinated with the Chinese vaccine are reliably protected, if not from infection, then from death during the “omicron”. Certain vaccines do provide reliable protection against hospitalization and death.

For example, “Sputnik” during the period of dominance of “omicron” protected from hospitalizations and deaths by more than 97 percent, and the median time between the last injection and hospitalization was 183 days.

Of course, this indicator is difficult to compare with 44 days from the Chinese work: in China, they measured the time from the last vaccination to a positive test for coronavirus, and not to hospitalization with it.

And yet, even adding a couple of weeks to 44 days, we will get an idea of ​​the inequality of these vaccines. It turns out that for Sputnik, the typical hospitalization time for vaccinated people is only six months after vaccination. And for those vaccinated with a Chinese vaccine – less than two months.

This is a very big difference, and here’s why. As of early December 2022, only ~5 percent of the population in China had been revaccinated no later than six months ago.

Considering that the actual time of reliable protection against hospitalization and death for the Chinese vaccine is around a couple of months, this means that the vast majority of the Chinese at the time of the lifting of covid restrictions were not protected from the coronavirus.

If Chinese politicians had been aware that their scientists’ conclusion of “the protection against hospitalization and death for the Chinese vaccine is 98 percent” is not entirely accurate, they would not have lifted quarantine measures before mass immunization.

Moreover, it is quite possible that they would have chosen not the Chinese vaccine for it, but Sputnik (six months of protection from death or hospitalization) or, at worst, Pfizer (~ 2.5 months of the same protection).

Now, however, that train has left. It is unlikely that we will quickly get concrete figures for excess deaths in China. But even without them, we will soon notice the very fact of mass deaths there. Demand for oil in the world has been falling since the beginning of the removal of covid restrictions.

Soon there will be disruptions in the supply of goods from China: in many places, too many workers are sick. Finally, by the end of winter, more than a million Chinese will die from the coronavirus, which cannot but hit China’s GDP and the country’s demand for imported goods.

Accordingly, the world economy will receive a powerful negative impetus that will hit everyone to one degree or another. However, it is the Chinese who are the strongest.

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