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It’s time for our 10th annual romp through the greatest (and weirdest) discoveries of the year, from space exploration and biology to artificial intelligence and medicine


Matter and space

1 One of the first images to come from the James Webb Space Telescope, which began operating this year, features an exquisite view of Stephan’s Quintet. In which seasonal film does the same group of five distant galaxies also make an appearance?
a. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
b. A Cosmic Christmas (1977)
c. Gremlins (1984)
d. The Polar Express (2004)

a. A black and white image of Stephan’s Quintet appears at the very beginning of the film when the “angels” are talking to one another. If you compare that to the Webb telescope photo you can see how far astronomers have come in 76 years.

Stephan’s Quintet, as shown by It’s a Wonderful Life in the 1940s and the James Webb telescope in the 2020s. (The James Webb image has been rotated to make the comparison clearer.)

2 This month marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 17, the last mission to take people to the moon. The crew included Harrison Schmitt, the only scientist to have walked on the lunar surface. What was his specialty?
a. Astrophysics
b. Botany
c. Geology
d. Quantitative finance

c. Dr. Schmitt received his PhD in geology from Harvard University in 1964. He was the only member of a cohort of scientist-astronauts that NASA trained as part of the Apollo program to actually get the chance to be on a lunar mission.

Harrison Schmitt in 2019, with fellow ex-astronaut Charlie Duke. Mr. Schmitt, Gene Cernan and Ronald Evans made up the crew of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

3 University of Montreal researcher Gilles Brassard was a co-winner of this year’s US$3-million Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics. In what field of study does he specialize?
a. Cosmology
b. Particle physics
c. Quantitative finance
d. Quantum cryptography

d. Together with IBM researcher Charles Bennett, Dr. Brassard is known for coming up with quantum key distribution, a way of sending encrypted information that is eavesdrop-proof.

University of Montreal professor Gilles Brossard works on a problem.

Amelie Philibert/University of Montreal

4 Which of the following is not one of the three newly discovered minerals reported this year after the examination of a meteorite that landed in Africa.
a. Elaliite
b. Elkinstantonite
c. Olsenite
d. Vibranium

d. That’s right. Scientists at the University of Alberta, together with U.S. colleagues, had three chances to name a mineral found in an African meteorite after the fictional ore of Marvel comics fame. Did they do it? They did not. Boo scientists. Boooooo!

In the Marvel universe, vibranium is a rare metal used in, among other things, the armour of the Black Panther, protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

Marvel Studios via AP

Earth and climate

5 In which location did post-tropical storm Fiona break the Canadian record for lowest barometric pressure when it struck Atlantic Canada?
a. Channel-Port aux Basques, N.L.
b. Escuminac, N.B.
c. Hart Island, N.S.
d. Red Head Harbour, PEI

c. The island, located near the port of Canso, was almost exactly on the path of the storm’s centre line. As Fiona passed over it, the pressure recorded at a weather station there dipped to 932.7 millibars.

Hurricane Fiona as it looked to NOAA satellites on Sept. 24, when it struck Atlantic Canada and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of households.

NOAA/RAMMB/AFP via Getty Images

6 Which Maritime location recorded the highest coastal water level during post-tropical storm Fiona?
a. Channel-Port aux Basques, N.L.
b. Escuminac, N.B.
c. Hart Island, N.S.
d. Red Head Harbour, PEI

b. The recorded water level of 2.82 metres (nine feet, three inches) shattered the previous high-water mark.

A Newfoundland fisherman recovers a tire from the water on Sept. 29 after Fiona passed.

John Morris/The Globe And Mail

7 What was record-breaking about Tonga’s spectacular underwater volcanic eruption of January, 2022?
a. World’s deepest eruption
b. Highest ash cloud from a volcano
c. Biggest tsunami caused by a volcano
d. Volcano with most followers on Twitter

b. Based on satellite images, the plume from the eruption on Jan. 15 reached an altitude of 58 kilometres. That’s more than halfway to space!

8 What is the name of the ship that was abandoned by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1916 and rediscovered this year at the bottom of the Weddell Sea?
a. Endeavour
b. Endurance
c. Enterprise
d. Erebus

b. With the help of underwater robots, the storied shipwreck ship was located on March 5, 2022, by the Endurance22 expedition.

The stern of Endurance, the ship of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, lies 3,000 metres underwater off Antarctica.

Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Georgraphic via AP

Ecology and evolution

9 What emerged from the Yukon permafrost this year after being lost in time for 30,000 years?
a. A baby mammoth
b. The oldest known fungus
c. An extinct ancestor of the horse
d. Running up that Hill by Kate Bush

a. Dubbed Nun cho ga (big animal baby) by members of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation, the mummified mammoth is thought to have been about one month old when it was submerged in the mud near a prehistoric riverbank.

The baby mammothʼs remains were found on the territory of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation, whose language, Hän, was used to name the specimen.

Government of Yukon/CP

10 What migratory North American species was declared endangered this year?
a. Barn swallow
b. Canada goose
c. Monarch butterfly
d. Snowbird

c. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the population of the migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) has shrunk by between 22 per cent and 72 per cent over the past decade. (If you answered snowbird you may be taking the U.S. exchange rate a bit too personally.)

A monarch butterfly at Montrealʼs Insectarium. These insects migrate each year between southern Canada and central Mexico.

Paul Chiasson/CP

11 What surprising theory did scientists propose this year to explain how dinosaurs came to dominate the world starting about 200 million years ago?
a. They were kind of rude
b. They nurtured their young
c. They survived a global pandemic
d. They were well adapted to the cold

d. Based on fossils unearthed in China, an international team of scientists concluded that early dinosaurs were living in polar regions and well adapted to Arctic conditions at the beginning of the Triassic era. When cold weather spread during a series of global volcanic eruptions, they were able to supplant earlier reptiles who needed warmer weather to survive.

These dinosaurs look chilly in the overcast weather, but if the recent findings in China are correct, cold may not have been a fatal problem for their ancestors in the Triassic era.

University of Western Ontario/CP

12 At this month’s United Nations conference on biodiversity, countries agreed to conserve at least 30 per cent of the Earth’s land and waters by 2030 to protect nature. About how much land had Canada protected by the start of 2022?
a. 3 per cent
b. 13 per cent
c. 23 per cent
d. 33 per cent

b. In other words, Canada has a long way to go to get to “30 by 30.”

Indigenous people and allies demonstrate at the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal on Dec. 10, where nations agreed to a new framework for protecting the natural world.

Alexis Aubin/AFP via Getty Images

Biology and medicine

13 Which household pet was shown to be capable of driving a vehicle this year?
a. Cat
b. Dog
c. Goldfish
d. Parrot

c. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel reported that they built a “fish operated vehicle” (FOV) capable of responding to the movements of a goldfish swimming inside a tank on a wheeled platform. Fish learned to successfully navigate to targets they could see through the tank.

14 What unexpected behaviour did researchers observe in octopuses this year?
a. Early voting
b. Collecting plastic
c. Spending time on land
d. Throwing things at each other

d. As documented in a study published this year, scientists in Australia, Canada and the United States observed octopuses deliberately throwing shells and debris at other octopuses.

15 According to a large scale study published this year, what medical condition may result from infection by the Epstein-Barr virus?
a. Cystic fibrosis
b. Multiple sclerosis
c. Sickle cell anemia
d. Tooth decay

b. The conclusion is based on a Harvard University study using two decades of health data from 10 million U.S. military personnel.

For elderly people, the new findings about multiple sclerosis and the Epstein-Barr virus may serve as a warning, or as hope for future discoveries about the degenerative illness.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP

16 With what medical breakthrough is UBC researcher and 2022 Canada Gairdner International Award winner Pieter Cullis associated?
a. Gene editing for macular degeneration
b. mRNA COVID-19 vaccines
c. Spinal cord injury repair
d. Stem cell treatment of diabetes

b. Dr. Cullis developed the lipid nanoparticle envelope that contains the messenger RNA and allows it to enter human cells and ultimately trigger an immune response to the coronavirus.

Pieter Cullis speaks at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto after winning his Canada Gairdner International Award.

Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Technology and civilization

17 This year, Earth’s population topped eight billion. How long has it taken the population to double since it reached four billion?
a. 12 years
b. 24 years
c. 36 years
d. 48 years

d. That’s about the same amount of time it took for the population to double from two billion (in 1927) to four billion (in 1974). The doubling before that, from one to two billion, took more than a century.

Last-minute Diwali shopping in Mumbai on Oct. 21. India is set to surpass China in 2023 as the most populous nation on Earth.

Indranil Mukherjee/AFP via Getty Images

18 What substance did rulers of the Wari Empire of ancient Peru employ to maintain political control, according to evidence published this year?
a. Cocoa
b. Gold
c. Hallucinogenic beer
d. NFTs

c. In a study published in January, archaeologists from the Royal Ontario Museum documented botanical remains that suggest hallucinogenics from the vilca tree may have been added to beer during ritual feasts as a political strategy.

This beer is not a hallucination.

Peter Nicholls/Reuters

19 What activity did an AI-assisted study find evidence of at a site used by Homo erectus, a human ancestor, at least 800,000 years ago, according to study published last June?
a. Animal domestication
b. Beer drinking
c. Cave painting
d. Fire use

d. In the Canadian-Israeli study, an AI-guided technique identified small bits of flint that had been heated by fire at a site where animals had been butchered by Homo erectus. While there is good evidence for fire associated with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens by 200,000 ago, evidence has recently started emerging for the much earlier use of fire by members of the genus Homo.

A flint tool from the Evron Quarry archaeological site in Israel had microscopic traces of heat, suggesting the hominids who made it used fire early as a million years ago.

Michael Chazan

20 What AI-powered algorithm gained notoriety this year for its ability to generate novel images from text?
a. BLOOM
b. ChatGPT
c. DALL-E 2
d. Lensa

c. But all of the algorithms mentioned here made a splash in 2022, which will likely go down in history as the year that “generative AI” officially arrived. It should be noted that an algorithm capable of generating The Globe and Mail science quiz remains out of reach at present.

How well did you do?

Answer all of the questions to see your result
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Quiz design by Evan Annett
Additional photography: Sean Gallup/Getty Images, Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images, Susana Vera and Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

2022 in science: More from The Globe and Mail

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