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December 31, 2019 - What has been the most significant scientific development of the year? The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has drawn up a shortlist of breakthroughs of the year.
Just five years after the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014, two drugs developed by Merck and Johnson & Johnson have been successfully tested this year during the outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Developing vaccines traditionally takes 10 to 20 years.
Following on the AAAS list is an image of a flaming ring of starlight surrounding a dark circle. Black holes had long been theorised to exist but never directly observed. Astronomers combined observations from dozens of radio telescope dishes around the globe to generate the first-ever image of a black hole. The supermassive black hole is at the heart of the galaxy Messier 87, 53 million light-years from our Sun.
Back on Earth, neuroscientists have restored circulation and molecular and cellular functions in pig brains four hours after death, making them appear relatively normal but for the absence of brain waves indicative of consciousness.
A team of physicists claimed in the journal Nature that it had achieved the milestone of “quantum supremacy.” Google’s Sycamore microchip performed a calculation in 200 seconds that would take today’s most advanced classical computer some 10,000 years to crunch.
A stunning fossil skull from Ethiopia is the oldest and most complete specimen of Australopithecus anamensis, a 3.8 million-year-old human ancestor and predecessor of “Lucy,” Australopithecus afarensis. Lucy confirmed our ancient relatives were bipedal -- the ability to walk upright may have offered survival benefits and perhaps crucially, left the hands free to carry food and use tools.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft started the year by relaying images of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 -- an icy object from the far reaches of the Solar System, 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto. The Kuiper Belt is a vast region of space containing billions of small objects thought to be leftover from the formation of the Solar System that could hold keys to understanding planetary formation.