Monday, January 01, 2018

Some stunning new scientific discoveries in 2017

What better way to start off the new year than to look back at some of the scientific discoveries of last year.
Well, actually Science Alert has already done it for me with its "20+ Science Facts We Didn't Know At The Start of 2017", some of which I was aware of, but many of which I had no idea about:
  • Gravitation waves, measured in a collision between two neutron stars 130 million light years away, have been shown to travel at the same speed as light waves.
  • A new human internal organ, the mesentery, long thought to be a fragmented collection of separate structures in our gut, has been identified and classified.
  • A time machine has been shown to be mathematically possibly, but development is held back by a lack of suitable materials.
  • A new type of diabetes, type 3c, has been classified, after decades of mis-classifying it as type 2.
  • A mysterious blob of hot rock has been identified building up under the state of Vermont and neighbouring parts of New England.
  • Lungs also produce millions of platelets (tiny blood cells) in addition to their main function in respiration.
  • Time crystals, once considered "impossible objects", have now been recognized as a new state of matter, and can be man-made at will.
  • When we are sleep deprived, our brains have been shown to "clear out" little-used neurons and synaptic connections at a much higher rate than during the usual sleep process.
  • The blackest material known to science, vantablack, is now available in a "spray-on" form.
  • Quantum comnunication without particle transmission, technically known as direct counterfactual quantum communication, was achieved experimentally for the first time.
  • "Semi-synthetic" organisms have been created using a new expanded six-letter genetic code.
  • The permafrost in a massive crater in Siberia is melting so fast that 200,000 year old forests are being exposed.
  • Carl Sagan's prescient 1995 vision of a society where pseudoscience and scientific illiteracy rule has come disturbingly close to reality in Donald Trump's America.
  • A single giant neuron, that wraps itself around the entire brain of mice, has been discovered.
  • The New Guinea Highland Wild Dog, once thought to be completely extinct, has actually been found to be thriving in its remote habitat.
  • The appendix, which has disappeared and then re-emerged multiple times in several mammal lineages over the millennia, may not be just a useless vestigial organ but serve as a kind of haven for good gut bacteria.
  • A cat-sized fossil found in Scotland 130 years ago has been reclasssified, and may completely redraw the dinosaur family tree.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome may actually start in the brain, and not in the ovaries as previously thought.
  • New Zealand and New Caledonia may not be merely remote island chains but a whole separate continent, geologically distinct from Australia.
  • Scientists are calling for a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, to be recognized, on the grounds that humans have had more of an impact on the earth than the Great Oxidation Event of 2.3 billion years ago.
  • New drone footage shows that narwhals do use their horns for hunting, but by hitting and stunning its prey, and not by skewering them as had been generally assumed.
  • Decades of Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio communications have created a kind of human-made protective "bubble" around the earth.
  • Some American farmers have been routinely feeding discarded red Skittles to their cattle, as a cheaper alternative to corn.
  • A 2-year old girl, who drowned in a swimming pool accident but was then resuscitated, has had her severe brain damage reversed to some extent by a series of oxygen treatments.
It's certainly a wonderful, if sometimes bizarre, world of science out there.

No comments: