Top 12 Coolest Science Moments From 2016

Tuesday, 27 December 2016 - 5:15PM
Technology
Space
Physics
Tuesday, 27 December 2016 - 5:15PM
Top 12 Coolest Science Moments From 2016
People complain about it being 2016 and not having hoverboards yet, but there's no question anymore: we're living in the future. Apart from the normal stuff like smartphones (aka Star Trek communicators) and VR technology (aka holodecks), 2016 has shown just how huge our leaps and bounds have become when it comes to scientific advancements on Earth and beyond the stars. 

1. We Created Real-Life, Laser-Shooting Star Wars Drones


Drones have become both the hottest new gadget for tech geeks, but the toy company Propel has officially taken things to the next level by making commercially available miniature drones based on the coolest Star Wars starfighters, including the Millennium Falcon, X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and others. The little drones are also equipped with lasers, so you can dogfight with them. As Star Wars nerds, we consider being able to reenact the Death Star Trench run in 1/20th scale to be on the same scientific level as finding clean nuclear energy.

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2. We Sent a New Orbiter Around Mars (And Crashed a Lander Into Its Surface)


If Mars is going to be humanity's Plan A to escape the Earth, we need to know 1000% more about it, including whether there's methane on it—methane could point to the presence of microbial life, as well as serve as a source of fuel for the rockets Elon Musk is planning to carry human colonizers. The ExoMars mission set out to explore those questions, as well as test new lander technology. The orbiting part went well—the lander part did not.

3. Elon Musk Lays Out a Plan To Colonize Mars


The running joke of this generation has been that we are the middle children of history, born too late to explore the Earth, and too early to explore the stars. Well, it turns out all those scientists claiming workable, economic space travel would always be 20 years away didn't count on Elon Musk and his insane love for 1) landing rockets vertically and 2) colonizing the hell out of Mars. This year, Musk laid out his plan to make humans an interplanetary species and Barack Obama has endorsed the same goal.

4. We Pioneered The Quantum Internet


Over the past few decades, we've built a worldwide communication network that can transmit information (mostly cat photos) across thousands of miles almost instantaneously, called "the internet." Now, scientists have apparently taken the first step toward making a quantum internet, where we break all rational bounds of physics to teleport information across potentially infinite distances. Yes, teleporting. Quantum internet. We live in the future.

5. We Built a Tiny Cyborg Stringray with Gold Bones and Living Tissue


You read that correctly—a tiny cyborg stingray. The creatures are the work of Kevin Kit Parker, who leads a research team at Harvard University's Disease Biophysics Group, and Sung-Jin Park. The little stingrays are about the size of a penny and are built with silicon fins, gold bones, and rat heart muscle cells. They can swim toward light sources using undulating muscle movements similar to a real stingray, and they are the living argument for why we need to be frightened of biology researchers.

6. A Self-Driving Car Saves a Man's Life


Joshua Neally was driving to his daughter's 4th birthday party on July 26th when he started having some severe chest pains. Instead of calling 911 and pulling over, he set his Tesla IX car to autopilot and told it to get him to a hospital. When he arrived, the doctors told him he was lucky to be alive. That feel-good happy ending is still offset by the death of Joshua Brown, whose self-driving car did not save him from a fatal crash.

7. NASA Announces Its Biggest Discoveries From Pluto's New Horizon Mission


It may no longer be a planet, but Pluto will always hold a special place in our heart—the deepest, darkest, most frigid part. Still, the New Horizons proved that even the most remote dwarf planet can be host to amazing space wonders, like a blue atmosphere and a giant, 1000 km-wide plain of nitrogen ice (right in "Pluto's heart" no less). You can check out the top ten coolest things we found out about Pluto at the above link.

8. The Juno Space Mission Flies By Jupiter


As NASA described it, "Secrets lie deep within Jupiter, shrouded in the solar system's strongest magnetic field and most lethal radiation belts." The Juno Mission was sent into orbit around Jupiter to find some of those secrets and take some of the most breathtaking pictures of the planet yet. 

9. We Confirmed That Gravitational Waves Are Real


Back in 2015, researchers received a signal that, if confirmed, would prove that Einstein's theory of relativity and demonstrate the existence of 'ripples' in spacetime. This year, that was exactly what was announced: 1.3 billion years ago, two giant black holes merged and sent waves through spacetime itself. The confirmation that gravitational waves exist also gave more evidence for the existence of the Big Bang—and even multiverses.

10. We Figured Out a Way To Store Data for (Almost) Eternity


Back in the 1987, there was a huge scare about crumbling libraries and the loss of hundreds of years worth of human innovation history being lost when the books inevitably fell apart. When you take the long view of things, all information will eventually vanish, right? Not anymore! Scientists have figured out a way to encode terrabytes of information onto tiny, coin-sized glass disks using a laser, meaning that these wafers can survive for billions of years and sustain temperatures of over 1000 C. Someone has to preserve Star Trek for future generations.

11. We Discovered A Potentially Livable, Earth-like Planet Nearby


When Elon Musk announced his aspiration to make humanity a multiplanetary species, his aim was set on our solar system. Now, however, astronomers have found another possible home for humanity in a totally different star system a mere 4.2 light-years away: Alpha Centauri b. The planet is about the size of Earth and orbits its red dwarf star just close enough to make liquid water possible on its surface. We shall call it "Plan B", just in case humanity goes Planet of the Apes or something.

12. We Interacted Directly with Antimatter for the First Time


Antimatter is extremely elusive to scientists, since it can't co-exist with matter. But earlier this month, CERN scientists announced that they have finally interacted with antimatter directly by training a laser on it, and confirmed that it acted exactly as it should. Which is good, considering that a different finding would have broken our knowledge of physics.
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