Review: Science In 2016

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       No matter how you personally feel about 2016 as a whole, you have to admit it was a monumental year. Personally, I was going to give it a chance, until David Bowie died on my birthday, two weeks into the year. After that, many of us had already decided that we already hated it, but in reality not EVERYTHING was horrible.

       With all the celebrity deaths and the election, you may have missed a lot of interesting science. Look no further! I have tried to squeeze everything that I thought was important (or just interesting) into this article. All seventy things. Note- because all of these news items will be one sentence summaries, I will not be able to include all of the relevant information. Please click through the links and read them to get the whole picture. I’ve divided up the stories into four sections: cancer/health, climate change, space, and other.

Cancer/health

       The disease we call “cancer” is actually a lot of conditions that we lump into the same category. All of them are complicated in slightly different ways, which is why it seems like every week there’s a breakthrough about what does or does not cause cancer. For example, this year we learned that coffee can reduce your cancer risk. But like most science, cancer breakthroughs almost never occur with one “aha!’ moment. Instead, we learn what does/does not work in baby steps, with hundreds of hours of lab work. It’s not as sexy, but it works.

One area where we have been making strides is with new imaging technology. 2016 saw the successful testing of a new optical sensor, a pen sized microscope, and videos that show how cancer cells physically attack other cells. We learned that, contrary to a popular belief that I had never heard, naked mole rats CAN get cancer. There was a lot of research into promising treatment options, including the sci-fi sounding proton-beam therapy. There’s also the Elvish (please click this link) sounding Nivolumab drug. Two more don’t have aesthetically pleasing names but are still important: T-cell therapy and new drugs for pancreatic cancer. Alzheimer’s research also made many advances in 2016.

In other health news, GMOs are safe. Yes, really. We’re getting closer to an HIV vaccine, and created one for Ebola. And of course, 2016 is the year of the fall of both Theranos and male birth control.

Climate Change

       This one is almost all depressing, and I’m sorry about that. But climate change is real, not a Chinese hoax, and we are getting to the point where we can’t ignore it anymore. 2015 is officially the hottest year on record. (We don’t have all the data for 2016 yet, but it will almost certainly beat 2015.) April, July, August and September 2016 were the hottest on record. Antarctica is melting, and Arctic sea ice is at the lowest level it’s ever been. And yet, we’re releasing more carbon than ever.

       What are the effects of this? Mostly bad. The Great Barrier Reef is dying faster than we thought. Wild fires in California have doubled. By the 2050s Asia is looking at “high water stress”. The Middle East might be too hot to live in, worsening the refugee crisis. Kuwait saw the hottest temperature ever recorded in the eastern hemisphere at 127° Fahrenheit (54° Celsius).

Although I don’t want my articles to be political, I would be remiss to not include our president-elect’s disbelief in climate change, nor his choice to appoint someone else who doesn’t believe in it to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

But wait! There is at least some good news. 2016 was the year of the Paris Agreement, which is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement. Also, renewable energy grew at its fastest rate so far. That’s about all I have for good news.

Space

       That was all very worrying, so let’s move on to my favorite topic. Let’s start at the planet we call home and work our way outwards. SpaceX finally landed a rocket on a ship! A total solar eclipse is coming in August, and will be visible in the USA. The James Webb space telescope is on track to launch. (I hope you already know that one, because I wrote an article about it.) A little farther out, NASA launched OSIRIS-REx, which will take a sample of an asteroid and bring it back.

There’s a lot of exciting news coming out of Mars, my second favorite planet. We’ve learned that not only is there currently water on the surface, but there used to be not only tsunamis, but also a Martian ice age! This all makes me very excited. In 2016 Obama called for people on Mars by the 2030s. Both NASA and my favorite professional space geek Elon Musk have put forward plans to create a Mars colony by then. A Mars orbiter was launched and then crashed, but was still called a success because aeronautical engineers are weird like that.

       Next door to Mars, the Juno spacecraft safely arrived to check out Jupiter. In the outer solar system the New Horizons probe sent us a bunch of beautiful pictures of Pluto and is now on its way to the Kuiper Belt. We have more data pointing towards a ninth planet being out there somewhere. (We’re not bringing Pluto back, sorry.) Outside our solar system Kepler (our favorite planet finding robot) found 1284 exoplanets, many of them Earth-like. Very very far away we’ve detected a galaxy 13.4 billion light years away, which is almost as far as theoretically possible. Also, the universe may be expanding quicker than we thought.  See, wasn’t that happier than millions of people dying due to climate change?

Other

       My last topic is a grab-bag of everything that wouldn’t fit into the other three categories. In my opinion (which should really never be trusted), the biggest scientific discovery of 2016 was gravitational waves. Less exciting but still important, four new elements were given names. In dino news, we (isn’t it funny how I keep saying “we” like I did the actual science) found a pregnant Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, a fossil that might be 3.7 billion years old, and a dino tail complete with feathers. My boyfriend found me a fossilized nautilus, but that’s probably not interesting to anyone else.

       In tech news, Google’s artificial intelligence program called AlphaGo beat the reigning world champion in a game of go. For the first time, someone died while their Tesla car was running on autopilot. A quadriplegic man was able to move his fingers, with the help of magic science. A baby was born with three parents, raising many ethical concerns.

If clicking through all these links didn’t make you go crazy, I’ll leave you with one more — undoubtedly the most important news item of 2016 — a dog became the mayor of a town in Kentucky.

About The Author

Just a girl who has a lot of feelings about planetary science

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