Neutron stars collide!
The biggest story of the year was undoubtedly the detection of a pair of colliding neutron stars 130 million light-years away. Astronomers heard a gravitational-wave chirp and immediately saw a gamma-ray flash followed by a long-lasting fireball, exactly as they had predicted.
The TRAPPIST-1 system was found to contain 7 Earth-sized planets that are likely candidates to search for signs of life when bigger and better telescopes are available.
Antimatter puzzle deepens
Extremely precise measurements of the magnetic properties of the antiproton failed to reveal any difference between it and the proton, leaving scientists baffled about why the universe contains so much matter and so little antimatter.
Light’s ‘sonic boom’
Using an ultrafast camera that can capture 100 billion frames per second, researchers filmed the shockwaves thrown off by a pulse of light as it travels.
Around the solar system
It was a big year for human exploration of our neighbouring planets: the Juno mission discovered a whole new world of information and imagery of Jupiter, while the Cassini mission came to a spectacular conclusion in a fiery plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn.
Visitors from further afield
Two kinds of alien visitor made headlines this year: first with the confirmation that many fast-moving cosmic rays are in fact atoms that have travelled all the way from other galaxies; and second, with the passage of through the solar system of ‘Oumuamua, the first asteroid we have ever seen that came from interstellar space.
A step closer to designer babies?
The achievement of error-free genetic editing in human embryos to repair a faulty protein raised questions about whether the technology should be used, and for what purposes.
It’s a duck! It’s a dinosaur! It’s Halszkaraptor escuilliei!
A bizarre and striking fossil find added a new member to the raptor family and, in the words of one palaeontologist, showed they are not all “knife-toed murder-birds”.
In the frozen wastes of Antarctica, scientists found bacteria that can survive by drawing energy from trace gases in the atmosphere without the aid of sunlight or geothermal energy. The discovery redraws the parameters of what might be possible for life, on Earth or elsewhere.
In a year packed with new insights into the deep history of humanity, two stood out: remains found in Morocco showed that humans much like us have existed for at least 300,000 years (which is 100,000 more than anyone thought); and artefacts from Madjedbebe in the Northern Territory were dated to 65,000 years ago, significantly pushing back the date of human settlement of Australia.
Michael Lucy is features editor of Cosmos.
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