Well, here we are at the end of another year, and what a great year it’s been! The science world is rife with all kinds of cool, interesting, and even tragic news stories from this year, and we want to review them with you now. Our list includes both the most profound scientific discoveries as well as some of our personal favorites. So we present to you now the top 10 science news stories from 2014!
1. Ebola. Perhaps the most well-known science story from this year, this West African virus scared people around the world when it began to spread across the globe. What started as an epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea threatened to become a pandemic when cases of it started showing up in Europe and the United States. By the time the World Health Organization and others in the medical community began work on containing the disease, it had already become a global threat. Fortunately, the outbreak of the disease also led to increased study of its effect on the body and how it spreads, leading to some medical improvements in that area. Thank goodness for all those mad scientists out there (and the fear of zombies)!
2. Comet Landing. A robot named Philae made history on November 12 this year by becoming the first probe to land on a comet. The little robot may have been a little too eager to explore this strange new world, though. On landing, it bounced a few times before coming to a final resting place. Unfortunately, it ended up just under the shadow of a cliff, where its solar panels couldn’t get enough sunlight to recharge its batteries. The little robot that was supposed to scratch the comet’s surface until May 2015 only provided about 50 hours of data from the surface before powering down. The ship that transported it there, Rosetta, is still orbiting the comet, however, beaming information back to Earth.
3. Antares. The launching of a rocket into outer space is an event that has captured attention and wonder of people the world over since the mid 1900s. And when the rocket Antares was set to launch on October 28, it gained just as much attention. Unfortunately, the launch did not go as planned. After already being pushed back numerous times for technical and personnel reasons, the rocket was doomed from the start. Antares exploded a mere six seconds after launch for reasons still being investigated. What we do know is that safety officers are on-hand for a launch to make sure things go smoothly—or to abort if they don’t. In this case, the officers noticed that the rocket was going off course, and made the split second decision to abort the launch. And while the rocket exploded, sending millions of dollars of equipment up in flames, this procedure is in place to keep even greater catastrophes from happening. No lives were lost in the explosion, but if the rocket had gone off course, for example, it likely would have crash-landed back to Earth, putting lots of people in danger.
4. Hoverboards. The 1989 hit movie Back to the Future Part II showed us a glimpse of what the world might be like in 2015. Among the technological advances it showed were flying cars, robot gas attendants, and using garbage as fuel. And while all of these would be amazing to have by next week (some modern mad scientists may be closer than you think, as National Geographic explains), perhaps the coolest future invention it showed was the hoverboard. A video went viral earlier this year showing off a futuristic hoverboard, and featured not only professional skateboarder Tony Hawk, but Christopher Lloyd, who played Doc Brown in the movie. While this video was quickly proven to be a hoax, a second video cropped up in November showing that a company called Arx Pax in California is developing a real magnetism-driven hoverboard. This invention, among others like Japan’s mag-lev (magnetic levitation) train, uses magnets and metal surfaces to repel objects off of the ground. Personally, we can’t wait to hover back and forth to our laboratory each day!
5. Anaconda Man. The Discovery Channel recently aired a 2-hour special about a man getting eaten alive by an anaconda. On purpose. Paul Rosolie, a nature conservationist, hoped to raise awareness about the importance of the Amazon and the dangers it faces, and he chose the most attention-grabbing way he could think of to do it. This real life mad scientist decided to bring a team of a dozen people into the Amazon to film him getting eaten by an Anaconda. To find out more about his story, you can read what happened here.
6. Polar Vortex. A polar vortex swept through North America this Fall, leading to extra low temperatures in October and November. The vortex, which is essentially a pocket of cold air, normally stays in Canada and areas farther North, but was dislodged and pushed farther south than normal. Here at The Science Hub, we put on our Winter lab coats to stave off the cold.
7. Revamping Dinosaurs. Dinosaur bones excavated in different locations across the world led to the discovery of several new species, as well as some changes in what we thought about old dinosaurs. One excavation in Argentina uncovered the bones of a towering behemoth believed to be as tall as a two-story building, and called Dreadnoughtus schrani. Another site in Portugal dug up a new species called Torvosaurus gurneyi, similar to the T. rex. The most startling discovery, however, was evidence that many dinosaurs may have sported a feathery coat instead of leathery, scaly skin. Apparently we need a remake of Jurassic Park to show that velociraptors probably looked like giant chickens. KFC anyone?
8. Activity on Mars. Mars saw lots of activity this year as seven robots are now roaming its surface collecting data. NASA’s MAVEN and MOM landers joined the other robots patrolling Mars this year. The 10-year-old Opportunity not only broke 40 kilometers traveled this year, setting a new record for longest distance traveled on an extraterrestrial body, but it also discovered possible evidence for where life could have existed on Mars nearly 40 billion years ago. Meanwhile, the Curiosity reached a 5-kilometer-high pile of sediment known as Mount Sharp, a goal it’s been driving toward since 2012. We’re glad our commute to the laboratory isn’t that long. We’re mad, but we’re not that mad!
9. Virtual Reality. Recent technological advances saw a resurgence of interest in virtual reality (VR) this year. Google, Samsung, Sony, and Oculus VR are among those joining the race for VR dominance. And while their creations ranged from the cost-effective Cardboard (Google’s VR system in which you slide your smart phone into a headset made of cardboard), to the ultra-realistic graphics of the Oculus, there doesn’t appear to be any clear victor in the race just yet.
10. Greek Skeleton. A skeleton from the time of Alexander the Great was discovered in a tomb in Amphipolis, Greece on November 12. The lavish nature of the tomb suggests the person was someone of royalty or great wealth, possibly a member of Alexander’s family or a general in his army. A stone lion, two sphinxes, and two caryatids guard the entrance to the tomb, and a mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone by Hades garnishes the floor. Studying this skeleton and its tomb could lead to new discoveries about the world during the time of Alexander the Great.
So those are our picks for the top science news of 2014. We’re glad for all the other mad scientists out there making technological advancements and helping to prevent significant disasters. Do you know of any other big science news stories that you think should be included in this list? If so, let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to The Science Hub for more exciting science news and information! Until next time, mad scientists!