the main scientific advances of 2021

Posted on December 28, 2021 at 12:51, updated yesterday at 05:02

In memories blurred by a feeling of using the perpetual present, the Covid-19 will again constitute, after 2020, the major event of the year 2021. For this retrospective in images, we had promised ourselves to try to escape this vampiric news, but we had to face the facts: after Delta, the irruption of Omicron was essential with his spicule with multiple mutations. Our selection, which is not exhaustive, illustrates the discoveries and breakthroughs that may have been overshadowed by the coronavirus – even if one of the most promising, with the launch on December 25 of the James-Webb space telescope, managed to pierce the wall of the pandemic news. We will therefore discuss Martian exploration, the progress of artificial intelligence, the prospects in nuclear fusion, archaeological surprises or various medical advances, excluding Covid – because there is of course a life beyond SARS-CoV- 2.

As of December 22, 2021, according to the World Health Organization, the Omicron variant was present in 110 countries. Its meteoric progression is due in particular to the peculiarities of the spicules (Spikes) which surround it and allow it to infect the target cells. In this 3D view produced by the Institut Pasteur, we can visualize, in red, the multiple mutations (32 compared to the initial SARS-CoV-2) which characterize the Omicron Spike. Present throughout the protein, these mutations accumulate in the receptor binding zone (Receptor Binding Domain or RBD, colored yellow) which serves as the gateway for the virus to its host, and in a region called N- terminal Domain (NTD).

Two additional rovers on Mars

Two new mobile robots joined the Curiosity rover on Mars in this year 2021. First of all, the American Perseverance, which landed on February 18. Then the Chinese Zhurong, who landed on May 14, a first for China. If the stakes of the light Zhurong (240 kg) are more technical than scientific, this is not the case of its American counterpart. Astromobile weighing more than one ton, Perseverance is a mobile laboratory which aims in particular to select and place in tubes Martian samples, which should be recovered and brought back to Earth within ten years, in the hope to detect traces of past life. Perseverance also carried with it a small demonstration helicopter, Ingenuity, which became the first man-made craft to fly on a planet other than Earth.

The Perseverance rover captured this image of the turret loaded with scientific instruments at the end of its robotic arm, near the rock nicknamed

SpaceX succeeds in landing its Starship launcher

May 5, as the United States celebrated the 60e anniversary of the first American in space (Alan Shepard), SpaceX finally managed to land its Starship launcher safely at its Texas base at Boca Chica, after a six-minute flight during which the rocket climbed to about 10 kilometers above sea level. The first four flights of the Starship – which is actually the second stage of an overpowered rocket – had all resulted in the machine exploding around the time of landing, either before, during, or just after. This success came at the right time for Elon Musk’s company because NASA selected a spacecraft derived from the Starship as the future lunar lander. The first stage of the launcher, named “Super Heavy Booster”, has not yet been tested in flight.

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