Where the 2022 news was (mostly) good: the year’s top science news

Zoom in / The Web Mirror’s self-portrait also looks very sharp thanks to the improved alignment.

How often does something work exactly as planned, and it lives up to the hype? In most parts of the world, that’s the equivalent of stumbling across a unicorn holding a few winning lottery tickets in its teeth. But that pretty much describes our top science story of 2022, the successful publication and initial images from the Webb telescope.

Indeed, there was a lot of good news coming out of the world of science, with a steady stream of fascinating discoveries and potential technology excitement—more than 200 individual articles attracted 100,000 readers or more, and the topics they covered came from all areas of science. Of course, with a pandemic and climate change on the horizon, not everything we wrote was good news. But as this year’s top stories indicate, our readers have found interest in an impressive array of topics.

For better and worse, Anthony Fauci has become the public face of the pandemic response in the United States. Some trust him for his engaging and forthright advice on how to manage infection risks — and others revil him for his advocacy of vaccinations (plus a handful of conspiracy theories). So, when Fauci himself ended up on the wrong end of risk management and got a SARS-CoV-2 infection, that was news, too, and our epidemiologist, Beth Mole, was there for it.

It turns out that his infection path was a metaphor for the plague itself, with every silver lining seemingly coming with a few extra gray clouds. Fauci took Paxlovid, a drug that was developed because of some very fast scientific work that involved figuring out the structure of viral proteins and then identifying molecules that could fit into that structure. As a result of its design, Paxlovid quickly and effectively suppresses the SARS-CoV-2 infection that causes COVID-19.

But again, there are those gray clouds: Once a course of treatment is over, many people experience a relapse of symptoms for reasons we’re still working out. And Fauci was no exception, developing symptoms severe enough that he went back on the medication to stop them again — despite not being recommended by the FDA.

Neutron stars are probably the most extreme objects in the universe (black holes are more of an aberration in space-time than an object in themselves). They are places where taller “mountains” are less than a millimeter long, and cracks in the crust can create violent bursts of radiation. They are also places where the interior is a superfluid of rapidly spinning subatomic particles.

But in a handful of these stars, conditions get even more extreme, as any charged particles in the core of the superfluid can create a dynamo like the one in Earth’s core that creates our magnetic field. Except just a little stronger. Well, as Paul Sutter points out, 1016 times stronger. These are magnetars, a short-lived state of some neutron stars (they last about 10,000 years, which is short for astronomy).

There are many ways a neutron star can kill you, given its extreme danger and tendency to emit lethal levels of radiation. But magnetars have an extra trick: They end chemistry. Magnetic fields are so strong that they can distort atomic orbitals that determine how different atoms join together to form chemical bonds. Get within 1,000 kilometers or so of a magnetar, and that distortion is so intense that the chemical bonds no longer work. All of your atoms are left free to roam as they see fit, which is generally not conducive to life.

This article was a personal rumination by Eric Berger, reflecting on changes in NASA and the launch industry since he began covering both nearly two decades ago. For most of that time, NASA’s budget has been dominated by the Space Launch System, which finally made its maiden flight this year, sending hardware to orbit the moon and back in flawless flight.

In the wake of this launch, you might expect the article to focus on this success. Instead, Berger argued, the program’s many failures — countless delays and cost overruns — changed the entire launch industry, giving smaller companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin a chance to succeed while established competitors focused on getting all they could from the SLS downturn. . Without the problems of SLS, Berger argues, the vehicles that will eventually lead NASA into a successful future of manned exploration might never have been built.

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