Discoveries of the Decade – January 1, 2020


Wishing everyone a happy New Year! As we enter a new decade, we take a look back at some of the biggest scientific accomplishments/discoveries of the last 10 years for this week’s Science Wednesday.

  1. Scientists imaged a black hole for the first time. After a couple years of collecting data with the international Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project (a global network of telescopes), an image of the black hole at the center of the galaxy, M8, was finally revealed in 2019. This black hole is 6.5 billion times more massive than our Sun! How they did it:


  1. Anthropologists discovered a new human ancestor species– Homo Naledi in South Africa, who lived between 330,000 and 250,000 years ago. The excavation site remains the largest collection of a single hominin species (over 1500 specimens from at least 15 individuals) that has been found in Africa. Check out the scientific journal articles here:


  1. Physicists reported detecting a new particleat the CERN particle collider in Switzerland – the Higgs Boson. It is nicknamed the “God particle” because it gives mass to all other fundamental particles in the universe that have mass, like electrons and protons. Scientists knew a particle like this had to exist, else nothing in the universe would have mass – and we wouldn’t exist! Learn more about this particle here:


  1. NASA’s Curiosity rover – one of the largest and most capable rovers ever sent to Mars – found evidence that the Red Planet not only once held liquid water, but may also have been habitable. In 2012, Curiosity identified gravel made by an ancient river in Mars’ Gale Crater. Then, in 2013, scientists found chemical ingredients for life – sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon – in powder that Curiosity had drilled from rock near the ancient streambed. Learn more about this incredible mission here:


  1. Geneticists mapped the human epigenome for the first time. The epigenome is made up of chemicals and proteins that can attach to DNA and modify its function, turning our genes on and off. Mapping it can help scientists understand how tumors develop and cancer spreads. More facts here:


  1. Humanity “visited” Pluto for the first time, thanks to NASA’s New Horizons probe. After 9 years in transit, it flew-by the dwarf planet in 2015, revealing an unexpected world of mountains and glaciers (made of nitrogen!). In the early hours of 2019, New Horizons zipped past a Kuiper belt object, making the most distant spacecraft flyby ever. More information on the mission here:


  1. Physicists detected gravitational wavesfor the first time. These are ripples in space-time due to catastrophic collisions (like two black holes colliding). Einstein predicted their existence more than a century ago, but thought they would be too weak to ever pick up on Earth. New detection tools have made it possible! Learn more about these measurements here:


  1. Astronomers observed the first interstellar object ever seen in our solar system: ‘Oumuamua. It was discovered in 2017 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Objects Observations (NEOO) program, which is meant to track asteroids and comets in our solar system. What is it? Comet? Asteroid? It’s still uncertain – we’ve never seen anything like it! More here:


  1. Geologists discovered a new continent, called Zealandia, hidden underwater in the Pacific Ocean. Read more about it and lost continents in our December 4, 2019 “Science Wednesday.”


  1. CRISPR technology was invented– allowing for editing of parts of the human genome by removing, adding or altering sections of DNA. Not only this, but CRISPR has been adapted to do such things as turning genes on and off without altering their sequence. This has not been without controversy, as CRISPR has recently been used to genetically modify human embryos(twin girls) and has led to the first births of gene-edited babies. However, by editing the gene, CCR5, a pathway for HIV to infect immune system cells, the change could increase the vulnerability for other viruses (West Nile, influenza). We must remember: with great power comes great responsibility. Read more on CRISPR here:


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