1. Woman surfs the year’s biggest wave off the Portuguese coast
The Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira rode the biggest recorded wave of 2020, becoming the first female surfer with that distinction. The wave, off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal, measured 73.5 feet. Gabeira’s ride was certified by the World Surf League and the Guinness World Records.
2. American officials slap global terrorist label on Russian white supremacist group
In April the Trump administration designated the ultranationalist Russian Imperial Movement as a global terror threat. It was the first time the government applied the label to a white supremacist group.
3. In a first for the luxury industry, Louis Vuitton debuts a face shield
While many fashion houses sold protective face masks in 2020, Louis Vuitton became the first to release a face shield, as part of its 2021 cruise collection. The item, which will cost $961 and features the luxury brand’s signature monogram design on its trim, can be worn with the shield flipped up or down depending on social distancing requirements.
4. K-pop band tops the charts in the United States for the first time
BTS, a South Korean pop band that has been making tweens squeal since 2013, nabbed the No. 1 spot on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 singles ranking in September with “Dynamite,” a song sung in English.
5. France’s first transgender mayor takes office
The council of Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes, a village of about 600 residents, elected the first openly transgender mayor in France in March. Marie Cau, ran on a platform that emphasized ecological sustainability.
6. Japanese flying car soars in test flight
The tech company SkyDrive completed the first successful public test of a flying car in Japan in August. The manned vehicle, named SD-03, circled the Toyota Test Field, home to the company’s development base, for four minutes. SkyDrive plans to make the car available to consumers by 2023.
7. Scientists use gene-editing tool inside a human
In March a blind patient in the United States underwent a procedure using the gene-editing tool CRISPR. It was the first time the technology was used inside a human. In a bid to restore the patient’s vision, doctors injected microscopic drops containing the editing tool inside the eye of the patient, who has a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from making a protein necessary to convert light into signals to the brain.
8. Police in Hong Kong make first arrests under controversial new law
Less than a day after a contentious new security law went into effect in Hong Kong on June 30, the local police made the first arrests under the measure. Critics say the law will undermine the territory’s autonomy and give the Chinese government more power to tighten restrictions on the press and protests there.
9. Telescope’s pictures detail the surface of the sun
In January astronomers released the most detailed pictures of the sun to date, taken by the new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the world’s largest. The telescope was built in the Hawaiian volcano Haleakala, which appropriately means “house of the sun.”
10. German and Israeli fighter jets train together in German airspace
In August Germany and Israel held joint military exercises on German soil for the first time — an event underlining the complex tie between two countries that share a deep and painful history. The exercises came at a critical time for Germany’s military, which has been struggling to modernize and deal with concerns that far-right extremist sentiments have infiltrated the ranks of the armed forces.
11. Hajj is canceled for first time in modern history
Saudi Arabia announced in June that pilgrims outside of the country would be barred from traveling to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, effectively canceling the hajj for what may be the first time in known history. Although war, treacherous travel conditions and previous plagues have affected the hajj , a pilgrimage that has happened since 632, this was the first time that an official travel ban upended the holy ritual.
12. Black photographer shoots Vanity Fair’s cover
Dario Calmese, who took photographs of the actor Viola Davis for the July-August cover of Vanity Fair, became the first Black photographer to shoot the cover in the magazine’s history, according to its editor. The decision trailed the controversy surrounding Vogue’s August cover photo of Simone Biles, a decorated gymnast, shot by the celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Critics said that the photographs of Ms. Biles were not flattering to her skin tone, suggesting that a Black photographer should have been hired instead of Ms. Leibovitz.
13. Cancer discovered in dinosaur bone
Scientists at the Royal Ontario Museum and McMaster University identified osteosarcoma, a malignant bone cancer, in a specimen of Centrosaurus apertus, a herbivorous horned dinosaur that lived about 76 million years ago. It’s the first confirmed diagnosis of malignant cancer in a dinosaur, according to a paper published in the medical journal Lancet Oncology.
14. Balloons deliver internet in Kenya
High-altitude, solar-powered balloons were used to deliver internet service to Kenya, a first for Africa. A subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, launched 35 balloons in July to provide a 4G LTE network across most of the central and western parts of the country.
15. China launches mission to Mars and lands first reusable spacecraft
The state-owned China Aerospace and Technology Group launched its first solo Mars mission, called Tianwen-1, in July. Tianwen-1’s payload includes a rover, a lander and an orbiter; the probe is expected to land on Mars in early 2021. In September, China’s space agency reported another major achievement: It successfully landed a reusable spacecraft for the first time, using experimental technology.
16. Former Mexican military official arrested in the United States on drug charges
In October, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, a former defense minister of Mexico, became the first high-ranking Mexican military official taken into custody in the United States on drug-related charges. Authorities arrested General Cienfuegos, who served in the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto from 2012 to 2018, after he and his family landed in Los Angeles.
17. Gold prices top $2,000 per ounce
With traders looking for safer places to invest amid the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, gold prices reached a record high in summer 2020, topping out at more than $2,000 per ounce. Other precious metals, such as silver and platinum, have also seen surges in value.
18. Pontiff says he supports same-sex civil unions
For the first time in his papacy, Pope Francis indicated support for same-sex civil unions. In an interview for the documentary “Francesco,” which premiered in October at the Rome Film Festival, Francis spoke about how gay people have the right to be in a family and described them as “children of God.” He is the first pontiff to voice support for civil unions.
Looking ahead to 2021
India’s first crewed space mission
India plans to send a flight crew into space in December 2021. The project, called Gaganyaan, relies on India’s own technology and will launch three astronauts and a humanoid robot into orbit for a week, according to India’s national space agency.
L.G.B.T.Q. awareness in Scotland’s school curriculum
By May 2021, every school in Scotland is expected to include L.G.B.T.Q. history and awareness in its curriculum, the first country to do so. Scotland legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.
Robot ship to sail across the Atlantic
The Mayflower Autonomous Research Ship was unveiled in September on the 400th anniversary of the original Mayflower’s journey to the New World, and it is set to undergo sea trials in preparation for its maiden voyage in April 2021. It will be the first robot-powered ship to sail across the pond, roughly retracing the wake of its namesake.