This year has produced an unprecedented news frenzy. As the deadly coronavirus pandemic raged around the world, lives were uprooted. Readers eagerly anticipated every bit of progress toward a vaccine. The killing of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Wildfires rampaged across western North America, including five of the six largest fires in California since 1932, and hurricanes tore through coastal cities, with so many forming that scientists ran out of names for the storms. In the final few months of 2020, a historically divisive election dominated headlines.
Yet among these pivotal events were an array of scientific discoveries that slipped under the radar. As 2020 comes to a close, we look back at ten significant developments that you might have missed.
1. Oldest material found on Earth is more ancient than our solar system
Billions of years before our sun winked into existence, a dying star flung dust out into space. Now a bit of that stardust, trapped in a meteorite that collided with Earth, was dated as the oldest material yet found on our planet. The dust coalesced with other rocks inside what would become the Murchison meteorite, which lit up skies over Australia in September 1969 as it careened to the surface of our planet.
A fresh analysis of these ancient rocks found grains of stardust that are between 4.6 billion years and roughly 7 billion years old. Scientists estimate that these early dust pieces lurk only in about five percent of meteorites, but that hasn’t discouraged them from continuing to hunt for these clues to our galaxy’s history.