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From archeology and physics to ornithology and climate change, this has been a busy year for research and discovery. How well can you deduce the answers in our annual look back at the science that made the news?

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A lot of rich and famous people blasted off into space in 2021. Do you remember which ones? Try the science quiz to find out.Mario Tama/Getty Images

1 What hidden message was encoded in the parachute design of NASA’s Perseverance rover, as revealed when the spacecraft touched down on Mars last February?
a. Dare Mighty Things
b. Look Out Below
c. On The Shoulders of Giants
d. We Came in Peace

a. The message, devised by Ian Clark, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, appears in binary code in the red and white pattern of the parachute.

An annotated image of the Perseverance parachute shows which sections translate into which letters in binary sequences of colour. The numbers at the outer edge are the GPS co-ordinates of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.


2 What is the recently launched DART spacecraft supposed to do when it reaches the asteroid Dimorphos late next year?
a. collect a sample of it
b. crash into it
c. fire a laser at it
d. land on it

b. The crash is expected to slightly alter the orbit of the tiny body around another, larger asteroid, providing an important test for future efforts to defend Earth against wayward space rocks.

An artist’s impression of DART’s arrival at Dimorphos, a football-field-sized asteroid.

NASA/Johns Hopkins/APL via The New York Times

3 What subatomic particle was shown this year to apparently violate the known laws of physics?
a. muon
b. neutron
c. omicron
d. sophon

a. The experimental result, obtained at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, could indicate the presence of a new force of nature – or it could be a statistical fluke.

A computer screen shows particle collisions at the Compact Muon Solenoid control room, part of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, in 2010.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

4 Which famous alpha male did not become a space tourist in 2021?
a. Jeff Bezos
b. Richard Branson
c. Elon Musk
d. William Shatner

c. Musk has indicated in the past that he will take a trip aboard his own Dragon capsule one day, but some speculate he is holding out in order to participate in a flight of historic significance.

Jeff Bezos and team, Richard Branson and William Shatner on their space trips in 2021.

Tony Gutierrez/AP, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin via Reuters

5 What did the island of La Palma experience this year for the first time since 1971?
a. rain
b. a “ring of fire” eclipse of the sun
c. a tsunami
d. a volcanic eruption

d. The Cumbre Vieja eruption began on Sept. 19 this year, nearly 50 years after a different volcanic vent named Teneguia erupted at the southern tip of the island on Oct. 26, 1971.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupts on La Palma in the Canary Islands on Dec. 13.

Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images

6 What did Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic experience this year for the first time in over a century?
a. rain
b. a “ring of fire” eclipse of the sun
c. a tsunami
d. a volcanic eruption

b. People working at Alert – Canada’s northernmost inhabited location – managed to witness the eclipse through broken cloud cover.

The eclipse as seen from Alert.

Jane Fonger, Environment and Climate Change Canada

7 What did Brazilian scientists discover about part of the Amazon rain forest in 2021?
a. it is 100 million years older than previously thought
b. it emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs
c. it contains the world’s largest fungus
d. it is hard to get wifi there

b. Based on remote sensing data, the southeastern Amazon basin, which makes up about 20 per cent of the total rain forest, has become a net source of atmospheric carbon owing to deforestation.

Smoke rises from an illegally lit fire in an Amazon rainforest reserve in Brazil’s Para state.

Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

8 The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has gone up by nearly 50 per cent since the start of the Industrial Revolution. According to data released by the World Meteorological Organization this year, what fraction of that increase was emitted after the Paris climate agreement of 2015?
a. about one-50th
b. about one-20th
c. about one-10th
d. more than half

c. About one-10th of the atmospheric CO2 humans are responsible for has been emitted since the Paris Agreement and more than half since climate change was first identified as a problem by scientists in 1979.

An activist with a replica Eiffel Tower symbolically burns German climate-change policy at the Reichstag in Berlin on Dec. 12

John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

9 Which North American bird species was declared extinct this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
a. Baltimore oriole
b. California condor
c. ivory-billed woodpecker
d. whooping crane

c. The last confirmed sighting of the woodpecker occurred in Louisiana in 1944.

The ivory-billed woodpecker.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology via AP

10 Which North American bird species spent less time near highways during COVID-19 lockdown according to a University of Manitoba analysis of bird sightings published this year?
a. barn swallow
b. great blue heron
c. red-tailed hawk
d. ruby-throated hummingbird

c. Most of the species spent more time near highways, which got quieter during the pandemic. Red-tailed hawks may have done the opposite because there was less roadkill to supplement their diets.

A red-tailed hawk looks at the fall colours in Nyack, N.Y., this past November.

Mike Segar/Reuters

11 What did researchers in Alaska say they found out this year when they sawed apart a woolly mammoth tusk along its length?
a. the tusk was an implant
b. enough DNA to clone the mammoth
c. evidence of domestication by humans
d. the mammoth walked nearly twice the distance around the world

d. Changes in isotope levels measured along the length of the tusk reveal where the mammoth was grazing. It is estimated to have walked about 70,000 kilometres – almost double Earth’s circumference – in its 28-year lifespan.

An artist’s imagining of an adult male mammoth navigating an Alaskan mountain pass 17,100 years ago.

James Havens

12 What discovery did a Laurentian University scientist report in 2021 after examining a section of 890-million-year-old rock from the Northwest Territories?
a. an abundance of metals needed for electric car batteries
b. the earliest known traces of animal life
c. signs of a giant asteroid impact
d. graffiti left by Farley Mowat

b. Branching patterns found in the sedimentary rock closely resembled fossilized sponge tissue.

A branching structure in 890-million-year-old rock is possibly fossilized sponge tissue.

Elizabeth Turner, Laurentian University

13 This year, Canada marked the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. On what kind of animal did Frederick Banting and Charles Best first demonstrate the action of insulin in the summer of 1921?
a. dog
b. mouse
c. pig
d. squid

a. After several setbacks, the pair demonstrated that an extract taken from the pancreas of one dog could be used to lower the blood sugar of another dog, prompting the famous rooftop photo with canine #408.

Charles Best and Frederick Banting with one of their lab dogs in 1921.

The Canadian Press

14 Part of the year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine involved the effects of the molecule capsaicin on the human body. In what consumable is this molecule typically found?
a. cappuccino
b. chili peppers
c. kale
d. squid

b. David Julius, a professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, used capsaicin, which gives chili peppers their heat, in his prize-winning study of human pain receptors.

There’s bound to be a lot of capsaicin in these peppers at a market in Chengdu, China.

Ted Anthony/AP

15 Which human movement produces the fastest acceleration, based on a study published this year in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface?
a. baseball pitch (by a major leaguer)
b. eye blink
c. finger snap
d. TV-remote button press

c) Researchers a the Georgia Institute of Technology found that fingers rotate at the equivalent of 7,800 degrees a second during a snap and accelerate 2.6 times faster than record-setting baseball pitches. Eye blinks are no match for this. TV watchers rushing to start the next episode of Succession may choose to argue the point.

According to the study’s lead author, the research arose over an argument about Thanos’s devastating finger snap from Avengers: Infinity War and concluded the snap would have been impossible for a hand clad in a bulky metal gauntlet.

16 This year, what did Hungarian researchers conclude is the message that a dog communicates to a human when it tilts its head sideways?
a. I am cute and lovable
b. I understand what you are saying
c. I don’t understand what you are saying
d. I question your definition of “formal attire”

b. The study found that a small subset of dogs, called “gifted word learners,” were best at learning the names of objects that they were asked to retrieve and also more likely to tilt their heads. The researchers postulate that the gesture may have something to do with the lateral processing of human vocalizations.

Border collies Miley and Tiara take part in a test of their mental agility in Vienna in 2018.

Alex Halada/AFP/Getty Images

17 Based on an archaeological study published in October, by which year were Vikings present in Newfoundland?
a. 993
b. 1021
c. 1066
d. 1215

b. Scientists were able to use isotopes generated by cosmic rays to date the tree rings in scraps of wood that the Vikings left behind at the L’Anse aux Meadows site in Newfoundland. This allowed them to figure out the year the wood was cut. Remarkably, it turned out to be exactly one thousand years ago.

A microscope view of one of the wood fragments from l’Anse aux Meadows, N.L., used to date the arrival of Vikings in Newfoundland.

Petra Doeve via The New York Times

18 Based on a set of ancient footprints discovered near White Sands, N.M., and revealed in September, by which year were humans first in North America?
a. by 11,500 years ago
b. by 13,500 years ago
c. by 16,000 year ago
d. by 21,000 years ago

d. The footprints, discovered on the surface of an ancient lakeshore, were left between 21,000 and 23,000 years ago – pushing back the arrival of humans to the continent by at least 5,000 years.

These fossilized footprints in New Mexico date back long before the end of the last ice age.

National Park Service and Bournemouth University/AFP/Getty Images

19 What two words did archaeologists speculate might be written on 3,500-year-old pottery sherds that were discovered in Israel and that bear some of the earliest known example of alphabetic writing?
a. “barley” and “god”
b. “honey” and “slave”
c. “return” and “deposit”
d. “wine” and “temple”

b. The terms could also be interpreted as “nectar” and “servant” and they may have made up part of a person’s name.

20 During the first seven months of the pandemic, by how much did face-mask litter increase according to a multicountry analysis published this month by researchers at the U.K.’s University of Portsmouth?
a. 9 per cent
b. 90 per cent
c. 900 per cent
d. 9,000 per cent

d. Are you surprised?

A discarded face mask in Vancouver.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

How well did you do?

Answer all of the questions to see your result
Well done! Have a safe and happy 2022.
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Listen, we’ve all had a lot of science to process in 2021, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Give it another try!

2021 in science: More from The Globe and Mail

If you liked this year’s quiz, try the ones from 2020, 2019, 2018 or 2017 to test your knowledge further or dig into more of science reporter Ivan Semeniuk’s recent work in the links below.

How an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine might breathe life into fight against the pandemic

Launch of James Webb Space Telescope will offer scientists a glimpse into the outer edges of the universe

New ROM gallery showcases the weird, wonderful first drafts of animal life on Earth

What lies beneath: Exploring Canada’s invisible carbon storehouse

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