There were many crucial discoveries made this year in science, and these are our pick for the top five.
1. Water on Mars
This year, scientists discovered Mars meets all the necessary preconditions for life. Not only have rock samples brought back by the Mars rover Curiosity shown traces of the necessary elements sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon, but scientists have also found signs of water. The rover found areas of sedimentary bedrock on the planet’s surface. These rocks usually form at the bottom of lakes and seas over long periods of time. The implications of this discovery are huge: Mars would have been able to support prehistoric alien life, which would prove that earth is not necessarily the only source of life in the universe.
2. New State of Matter
Scientists have discovered a new state of matter by binding photons, the elementary particle of light. This discovery contradicts previous beliefs about photons, including that they do not interact and have no mass. Through binding in a lab, scientists have induced a mass-like state through interaction between rubidium atoms and photons inside a vacuum. This new state is similar to the blade of a light saber, and could lead to developments in light technology including quantum computers, improvements in information processing, and even three-dimensional figures composed purely of light.
3. 3D Printing Stem Cells
3D Printing has come incredibly far in the last few years, and now scientists have found a way to print artificial stem cells. Stem cells allow scientists to create artificial organs, and are highly controversial (see Heather Macomber’s article “The Truth About Stem Cells” for more information). With the ability to create these cells in a lab, scientists will soon be able to create organs without needing to use donors. Not only will scientists be able to synthesize organs, with cloning technology these organs will be identical to the human for whom they are created. Scientists will also be able to synthesize tissue for drug sampling and for study in the lab, which will allow for further discoveries about the nature of these cells.
4. Voyager I
Though Voyager I itself is not a recent creation, this year scientists discovered that it left the solar system in August of 2012. Scientists did not realize this when it occurred; however, recent data reveals that the craft is currently travelling through plasma, directly outside the solar system. Scientists used the new findings, as well as old data surrounding the vibrations of the craft, in order to determine that the craft left the solar system in August of 2012.
5. Planet that Shouldn’t Exist
The most recent of the discoveries on this list has scientists questioning their previous beliefs as to how stars form. HD 106906 b, a newly discovered exoplanet, is 11 times larger than Jupiter and 20 times farther from its star than Neptune is from the sun. Scientists cannot determine how it formed, because its existence confounds all previous beliefs about planet formation. The planet is only 13 million years old, compared to Earth’s 4.5 billion, and scientists hope that more information will reveal how our solar system formed, and how others form.
Categories: Science & Tech