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In 2022, keep an eye out for the following scientific events


The topics of Omicron, Moon missions, and particle physics will all affect study in the coming year

COVID is still going strong

As the globe approaches the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with no end in sight, one urgent task is to better understand the effect and threat of Omicron, a fast-spreading coronavirus variation discovered at the end of November. Early findings suggest that immunizations are less successful against Omicron; scientists are currently working to learn more about the disease’s severity.

Researchers and public-health officials will continue to track the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variations, as well as the long-term impact on those who have recovered from illness, in 2022.

Wealthy nations have begun administering booster injections of current vaccines to their citizens, and this trend is expected to continue as Omicron fears grow. However, over half of the world’s population has yet to get a single vaccination dosage. One major concern is whether pharmaceutical firms will relinquish patents or take other steps to make their vaccines more inexpensive for low-income nations, so helping to close the massive gap in worldwide coverage. Meanwhile, debates over the virus’s origins are certain to persist. By forming a team of 26 scientists, the World Health Organization has redoubled its attempts to answer the puzzle.

Vaccines have been improved

Vaccine makers are focusing on the next generation of vaccinations to guard against the coronavirus, which is constantly developing. Next year, messenger RNA vaccines targeting specific variations might be developed, and some public-health experts are looking for a bigger role for vaccinations based on other technologies. Protein-based vaccinations are a more traditional type of immunization — some have been used for decades to prevent illnesses like hepatitis and shingles — and in phase III COVID–19 clinical trials in 2021, they showed promise. DNA vaccines are less expensive to produce than mRNA vaccines and do not require cold storage, making them a viable option for low-income countries.

Other significant viruses and illnesses, such as HIV, malaria, and Lyme disease, are expected to make progress with vaccinations.

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Physicists are having a field day

The Large Hadron Collider is set to reopen in June at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, after a multi-year closure and major maintenance work. ATLAS and CMS, the LHC’s two principal experiments, were improved and enlarged with new layers of detector components. This will allow them to capture more data from the 40 million protons colliding per second that each of them creates.

The world’s four gravitational-wave detectors — one in Japan, one in Italy, and two in the United States — will begin a fresh observation period in December following their own modifications.

The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University in East Lansing is set to open in early 2022. The multi-stage accelerator, which will cost $730 million, will be used to create hundreds of new isotopes of known elements as well as study nuclear structure and the physics of neutron stars and supernova explosions.

Russia’s Luna 25 lander will begin its journey to the Moon next year.Credit: Sergei Bobylev/TASS/Getty

Missions to the Moon

In 2022, a real fleet of orbiters and landers from NASA and commercial firms will depart for the Moon. The Artemis I orbiter will be launched by NASA in the first test of the long-awaited launch technology that would eventually return men to the Moon’s surface. In addition, the agency’s CAPSTONE orbiter will undertake experiments in advance of the Gateway, which will be the first space station to circle the Moon.

Chandrayaan-3, India’s third lunar mission, aspires to be the first to accomplish a soft landing (one that does not harm the vehicle) and will be equipped with its own rover. With the SLIM mission, Japan will try its first soft landing on the Moon, while Russia hopes to resurrect the glories of the Soviet lunar program with the Luna 25 lander. South Korea’s Moon exploration will begin with the launch of the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.

On the private side, ispace, a Tokyo-based business, is launching the Hakuto-R lander, which will carry the Rashid Moon rover from the United Arab Emirates. Astrobotic Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Intuitive Machines in Houston, Texas, are both working on probes that will transport NASA sensors to the lunar surface.

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To the planet Mars and the stars

The combined Russian–European ExoMars mission, which is set to launch in September and will take the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover to Mars to look for clues of previous life, will be another dramatic space adventure to witness. The launch was initially intended for 2020, but was postponed due to concerns with the parachutes required for a safe landing.

China also intends to finish the Tiangong space station, with over 1,000 experiments planned for it, ranging from astronomy and Earth observation to the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on bacterial development.

Climate change could exacerbate droughts, such as the one that dried up this lake in California.Credit: David Swanson/Reuters

Taking action on climate change

Delegates from all around the globe will descend on Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022 for COP27, another round of United Nations climate negotiations, energized by this year’s COP26 meeting in Glasgow, UK. Countries are expected to make climate pledges that are in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Meanwhile, researchers will track greenhouse-gas emissions in the wake of the COP26 agreements, which included commitments to limit coal consumption and lower methane emissions. Carbon emissions have increased in 2021 after a pandemic-induced decrease in 2020.

Struggle to preserve biodiversity

Countries are developing a new set of goals to halt the loss of biological variety. The 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were set to expire in 2020, were substantially missed. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s next conference, initially slated for 2020, is set to take place in Kunming, China, from April 25 to May 8, but concerns over the Omicron strain of SARS-CoV-2 might derail those plans once more. An estimated one million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction due to habitat degradation and other human-caused causes.

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