Eye on Science #2

5 min read

Unbeknownst to the general public, ground-breaking scientific discoveries are being made every day. From possible pandemic cures to discoveries of fascinating changes in distant planets, the last two months were no exception. Read on to learn about two of the latest, most intriguing scientific discoveries!

Experimental Drug for Treating COVID-19

For the last two years, COVID-19 has plagued our world, and while it seems most likely that it will become endemic, pharmaceutical company Merck has developed an antiviral pill known as Molnupiravir, which could be a potential game-changer in battling the pandemic. The name of the drug comes from the Norse God of Thunder (or MCU fans may know it to be Thor’s hammer), Mjolnir. It works by sabotaging the machinery that reproduces the virus, through a mechanism known as “lethal mutagenesis”.

The drug is taken orally every 12 hours for five days by adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms. Studies of this drug are in the very early stages, but interim analysis has shown that it cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death by about 50% in adults with mild-to-moderate cases. However, earlier this year, another study showed that Molnupiravir had little effect when given to patients who were already hospitalised with severe COVID. The interim analysis found no evidence of severe side effects or any more side effects than those typical of medicine, but Molnupiravir could potentially cause birth defects should the user become pregnant. However, more studies still need to be conducted to fully understand its safety and potential side effects.

The drug is already in high demand, with 10 million treatment courses expected to be made by the end of 2021, with more doses for production in 2022. Merck has agreed to supply deals with many countries, including Singapore, the USA and Australia. 

In summary, the drug is highly experimental, but could it be the ultimate cure for COVID-19? We will have to wait for more studies to be sure.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

The Great Red Spot is a high-pressure and high-speed storm larger than Earth that has been brewing on Jupiter for hundreds of years. Recently, a team of astronomers analysing data from the Hubble Space Telescope for 11 years discovered that the speed of the wind in the storm increased by around 8 percent between the years 2009 and 2020. Michael Wong, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lead author of the study published in the Geophysical Research Letters said, “When I initially saw the results, I asked, ‘Does this make sense?’ No one has ever seen this before.” Indeed, it is a strange occurrence.

The Great Red Spot extends 50 to 100 times deeper than the deepest ocean on Earth. However, its origin and maintenance has been a true mystery for years. The storm’s outer boundary, known as its high-speed ring, has wind speeds that exceed over 620 kilometres per hour. This is almost triple the speed of the biggest hurricane to ever hit Asia, Typhoon Haiyan, which had a maximum wind speed of 230 kilometres per hour. Thus, while an 8 percent increase may not seem significant, it is an increase of around 50 kilometres per hour, which is almost enough to be classified as a Category 1 Hurricane, in just the 11 years we have been observing it.  “We’re talking about such a small change that if we didn’t have eleven years of Hubble data, we wouldn’t know it had happened,” Amy Simon, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre and co-author of the study, stated. 

While the change is relatively small, it is still extremely significant, as very little is known about what fuels the storm, and this increase may help scientists get close to figuring out the mystery of its physics. Furthermore, this comes as a huge surprise because there has been a lot of speculation about it “shrinking”. For example, in the late 1880s, the Great Red Spot measured as wide as around 4 times the diameter of Earth. But when the Voyager spacecraft made it to Jupiter a century later, the storm appeared to be only twice the width of Earth, which sparked a great debate among scientists as to whether it was shrinking in size. Astronomers also observed that it seemed to be shedding flakes, believing that it may disintegrate into oblivion, but later observations showed that the Great Red Spot would still have centuries more to go.

Thus, while much is still unknown about this Great Red Spot, its origins, and how it is maintained, scientists hope that this new discovery can help answer some of the many questions. 

In conclusion, there have been a number of possibly ground-breaking scientific research and discoveries made this month, with much more to come in the future. These discoveries could end up saving the world from COVID or help us learn more about the mysteries of outer space. I believe that these scientific discoveries really bring hope into our world in such dark and troubling times, and I hope you have found them inspiring as well.

Citations : 
Covid-19: Molnupiravir reduces risk of hospital admission or death by 50% in patients at risk, MSD reports | The BMJ

Everything You Need To Know About Molnupiravir, Merck’s New High-hope COVID Drug – The Wire Science

Jupiter’s winds of change show increased storm speeds in Great Red Spot | Space

Written by Amber Moosa
Illustrations by Daphne Lim


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