From corals bunkering down in deeper waters to wait out climate change stress, to how vaccines can boost our immune system beyond a specific disease – here are the 20 most surprising scientific facts that we discovered this year.
Our Milky Way is thought to be home to as many as 400 billion stars, one of which is, of course, our own sun. But how and when did these stars form, and where did they come from?
Our Milky Way is not alone in the universe. Surrounding us are numerous satellite galaxies, taking part in a continuous grand dance. But how do these neighbouring galaxies behave, how do they interact with our galaxy, and what does the future hold for them?
The Milky Way might be right on our cosmic doorstep, but a group of astronomers suspect that the way we currently study it is stunting our understanding. Professor Ralf Klessen at Heidelberg University in Germany is one of four researchers who have recently begun a six-year project, ECOGAL, to try something new: imagine our home galaxy as one huge galactic ecosystem. Prof. Klessen believes that using this lens could answer fundamental questions about how stars and planets form, and how they shape the Milky Way’s future.
To be a meteorite hunter means to search for the unutterably rare. On any given patch of land the size of Wales, an average of two olive-sized space rocks will fall in a year. Scientists and collectors are forced to go to extreme lengths to find them, searching in deserts and Antarctica where they have a chance of spotting the stones against a plain background. But if that sounds like a challenge, then how about hunting meteorites that fell to Earth millions of years ago?
In our continuing search for other life in the universe, one place has always looked promising – Mars. It is a rocky planet like Earth, orbiting the same star, and at a distance where water could have been present on the planet.
If humans are to travel to distant destinations in space like the moon or Mars, they’ll need ways to live for long periods of time. And one of the key challenges of that includes how to have safe food and water to eat and drink when far from Earth.
Human spaceflight is dangerous, but worth the risk, according to Jan Wörner, the Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA). But even so, there are limits – like Mars. Robots, as proxies for human exploration, can take on dangerous missions by travelling to places astronauts are not yet capable of reaching, but they can never replace what we learn from putting women and men in space, according Wörner.
Live mycelium networks, capable of information processing, could be used as building materials.
Researchers are investigating whether bilingualism enhances certain cognitive abilities.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.