2018's Top Ten Science Stories Of Science That You F*cking Love!
2018 was a year full of amazing discovery and advances, but sadly one in which the Trump administration also took shots at science, rolled back all kinds of science-based regulations and frankly just pissed the fuck off anyone who cares about critical thinking. Honestly, I guess maybe I can't be too upset that a guy who initiates flat out evil policies against immigrants is also anti-science. He's just an equal opportunity anal weasel. But enough about the pendejo. Let's get to the science! You fucking love it!
1. Jesus Christ, Climate Change Is Already Here and We're Too Fucking Late!
Photo by Al Gore's mom
Thought I'd start with a real happy one. For all the warnings scientists have been shouting from the mountaintops for years and years, we as a species didn't do anything. Oh, yeah, we made some electric cars and a few select countries have worked on their carbon footprint. Paris agreement, meh. Now that the alarm bells are maybe actually ringing in some places, it's too late to stop it. At best we can slow it down so we can adapt to coming global change. AND WE AREN'T EVEN SERIOUSLY DOING THAT! By the way, all the press regarding the possibility of blocking the sun with tiny particles we shoot up there to slow down climate change? Nope. That's the inciting incident of both the Matrix and Snowpiercer. So maybe let's not go there.
2. Space Neutrinos Come to Visit From an Unexpected Place
Jamie Yang and Savannah Guthrie/IceCube/NSF
In the 1930s, physicists predicted the existence of neutrinos, freakily small sub-atomic particles, but it took until 1956 to detect one in the lab. This was (much later, in 1995) rewarded with the Nobel Prize. These little mysterious particles are literally everywhere and in everything, so what's the big deal about some arriving from outside our galaxy and landing here on this self-important planet? I mean, we've detected them in the sun, from supernovas, so what happened THIS year that was special?
The IceCube (not the rapper) observatory in the South Pole (cute name, right?) constantly searches for space neutrinos. They have a detector buried deep in the ice because those little pendejos will travel THROUGH anything until they hit another particle and the detector catches that rare event. In September of 2017, it detected a "very high energy event" from deep space. While the event occurred last year, the discovery that the neutrino shower originated from a "blazar" happened this year as multiple scientists at observatories around the world worked on the IceCube data. What's a "blazar"? I'm glad you asked! It's a supermassive black hole similar to a quasar, but with one important difference. Quasars can be pointed in any direction but a blazar always has one line of energy pointed directly at us. Yeah, black holes suck in matter and light, but also shoot neutrinos out like a big sciency burp. This was the first time we discovered that blazars can produce neutrinos. Hey, my son the physics/math double major at Cornell thought it was amazing. You should too!
3. The Age of CRISPR Arrives and of Course the Chinese Use It on Babies
The Economist, duh!
Back in September I wrote about gene therapy in general, and CRISPR is a way of messing with your genetic code. I'll plagiarize/quote myself from that article here:
It's a revolutionary technology for gene editing. Compared to what we had in the bronze age of biotech (1990s), it's way faster, cheaper, more accurate and efficient than other approaches. It's the Prius of gene editing. It can get a little ethically dicey, though. Most gene therapies focus on cells that won't pass down the modification to the patient's kids. CRISPR has the ability to modify ova and sperm.
So, it was already a big deal earlier in the year as dueling companies/research institutes fought legal battles over the intellectual property and companies advanced treatments for genetic diseases in development. But last month, a Chinese scientist announced to the world that he had modified twin girls via CRISPR. Details on the experiment are scant, but he claims he modified their genetics with the ability to resist possible future infection with HIV. While that seems like a good thing, we don't know enough about CRISPR to ethically be experimenting on healthy babies.
4. Freaky Creatures Long Thought to Be Ancient Plants Likely Were Some of the Earliest Animals
Scientists first discovered Ediacaran organisms in 1946 and back then, everyone figured they were ancient plants. I mean, look at the damn things. Another reason people didn't think they were animals is that their appearance in the fossil record (dying off about 541 million years ago) is before we see the big explosion of early animal fossils in the Cambrian age. We're talking sponges and early crab looking things. Basically, Bikini Bottom. Scientists just logically figured they were plants and an evolutionary dead end. But then, this past August, the journal Paleontology blew fossil researchers' minds! Researchers found Cambrian animals very similar to the Ediacarans and that likely, some of the little plant-like creatures made it to that era. The findings are controversial and open up even more questions, but could end up being a major development in the early story of animal life on our planet.
5. Voyager 2 Joins Its Friend Voyager 1 in Interstellar Space
I guess it's not as momentous as the first time a manmade object did it, but it's still amazing that 1977 tech from NASA is still operational and has gone that freaking far into truly outer space. It's not out of the Solar System, so don't believe THOSE headlines. The Solar System doesn't end at Pluto, as many think. It ends where rocks stop being influenced by the gravity of the sun, and that's WAY out there. There's a dwarf planet named V774104 (catchy, yeah?) that orbits the Sun and is super far away. The true edge of our Solar System is at the Oort Cloud where comets live and probably Cthulhu. While we should be proud that the Voyagers are now the farthest we've ever been as a species, it's still another 300 years to the Oort Cloud and then probably another 30,000 years to exit the cloud ("that's a big Twinkie") and the Solar System.
6. The Ability to Track Embryo Development in a Cell by Cell Basis
It didn't make much actual news, because it's a little bit "inside baseball," but the journal SCIENCE named it the top breakthrough for 2018. It's not one technique, but three different ones put together that allow scientists to 1) isolate thousands of intact cells from living organisms; 2) efficiently sequence the genetic material in each individual cell; and then 3) using computers, figure out where they are in space and time as they grow, divide, etc.
"It's like a flight recorder, where you are watching what went wrong and not just looking at a snapshot at the end," says Jonathan Weissman, a stem cell biologist at the University of California San Francisco. "We can ask questions at a resolution that was just not possible before."
A zebrafish embryo at an early stage of development. Fluorescent markers highlight cells expressing genes that help determine the type of cell they will become.Jeffrey Farrell, Schier Lab/Harvard University
7. Trump Administration Attacks on Science
Not ONE story, per se, but consider it a long-running thread since the pendejo-in-chief took office that really reached a manic crescendo this past year. From pulling out of the Paris Accord, to a health and fitness council made up of cronies and Trump-fans, to Space Force, under the Trump administration 2018 has been one sustained dark age. Here's a good list of more crap from them on this front.
8. Woman Gives Birth to Baby Using Transplanted Uterus from Dead Donor
I mean, the headline pretty much sums it up! There have been cases of live donor uteruses (uteri?) used in the past, but this is something completely new that opens up greater possibilities to help infertile couples. Read the Lancet story right HERE.
9. Parker Solar Probe Gets Closer to the Sun Than Ever Before
Back in August we landed on the Sun! ... sort of. Well, if you read my story back then, you know the details. We sent a probe into incredible heat to learn more than we ever have about it. Amazingly, we just don't know that much about how energy and heat moves through the corona (sun one, not beer one) and exactly how particles accelerate through solar wind. This little probe died so we could learn more. Please pour one out for Parker.
10. Mars Has a Giant Crater Covered With Snow
Reported back in July, and with some controversy regarding possible liquid water, now mostly thought to be solid. Still, even if it's not a huge discovery, it was one of the most popular science stories of 2018 and makes for a beautiful Christmas-like photo to end on.
Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!
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I am a biochemist MexiCAN. I also write screenplays, ever hoping to get one made.
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