50 Years Ago

  1. Epstein-Barr virus
    Health & Medicine

    50 years ago, scientists found a virus lurking in human cancer cells

    In 1971, scientists were building a case for viruses as a cause of cancer. Fifty years later, cancer-preventing vaccines are now a reality.

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  2. a screen capture from a declassified video of an unidentified object
    Science & Society

    50 years ago, UFO sightings in the United States went bust

    In 1971, reports of unidentified flying objects were on the decline. Fifty years later, sightings have spiked thanks in part to pandemic lockdowns.

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  3. a photo of an astronaut at the Apollo 11 moon landing site

    50 years ago, NASA relaxed quarantine rules for returning moon missions

    Fifty years after NASA declared that moon missions returning to Earth weren’t a contamination risk, protocols for planetary missions are under review.

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  4. two people on a snowmobile
    Science & Society

    50 years ago, scientists predicted steady U.S. population growth

    The country’s annual population growth rate, mostly stable since the 1970s, is now the lowest it’s been in over a century.

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  5. hands rolling a marijuana joint
    Health & Medicine

    50 years ago, scientists claimed marijuana threatened teens’ mental health

    In the 1970s, scientists linked pot use to mental health woes in teens. Such concerns have helped keep the drug illegal for teens for 50 years.

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  6. a balloon being filled with helium
    Science & Society

    50 years ago, the United States wanted to deflate the helium stockpile

    An attempt to dismantle the Federal Helium Reserve in 1971 failed. Fifty years later, the U.S. government is still determined to run out of gas.

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  7. Perseverance parachuting down to Mars
    Space

    50 years ago, experiments hinted at the possibility of life on Mars

    In 1971, lab experiments suggested organic molecules could be made on Mars. Fifty years later, robots are searching for such signs of life on the planet itself.

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  8. a composite image of a person in a wheelchair progressing to walking with a walker
    Health & Medicine

    50 years ago, researchers treated chronic pain with electricity

    In 1971, doctors eased chronic pain by sending electrical impulses to the spinal cord. Fifty years later, improved techniques help paralyzed people walk.

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  9. a photo of a whaling ship hauling in a catch

    50 years ago, U.S. commercial whaling was coming to an end

    Commercial whaling has brought many whale species to the brink of extinction. But after bans, some show signs of recovery.

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  10. an illustration of a five-quark particle
    Physics

    50 years ago, scientists were on a quest for quarks

    In the 1970s, physicists confirmed particles called quarks existed. Fifty years later, many kinds of quarks in many combinations have been discovered.

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  11. an illustration of a Brontosaurus
    Animals

    50 years ago, scientists made the case for a landlubbing Brontosaurus

    In 1971, a scientist argued for a landbound Brontosaurus instead of a swampy swimmer. Recent evidence comes from studies of its ancient environment.

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  12. an illustration of the molecular structure of water
    Physics

    50 years ago, scientists poked holes in the existence of polywater

    In 1971, scientists were casting doubt on an anomalous form of water. Fifty years later, water’s odd properties are still mysterious.

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