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The greatest science stories of 2018

Annual Review Looking back on the best, worst and most important moments of the year, we look forward to next year.

This year we learned more about distant planets and our own world, about how we affect our environment and how we change ourselves. A lot of stuff has happened, and last January, it seems like it was a year ago.

Scientists publish incrementally ̵

1; sometimes a new newspaper shakes our understanding of a topic, and sometimes just adds something we know. Science is the pursuit of understanding, conducting further tests, and developing more advanced tools to reveal the truths of our universe. It's worth taking a step back and thinking about the bigger stories that have come out of all these smaller steps and new results.

We have compiled a list of some of the most important scientific stories of the past year. These events shaped the headlines in 2018 and will continue to shape the world of science next year.

Mars dreams were realized

At the end of 2017, President Trump ordered NASA to send people back to the Moon on their direct route to Mars, but despite this, Mars has dwarfed the planetary spotlight this year. Numerous new research came from countries: the Mars Express spacecraft at the European Space Agency (ESA) saw signs of liquid water standing under the ice at the Martian South Pole. The Curiosity Rover found 3.5 billion year old organic molecules, indicating that the planet's methane levels fluctuate seasonally – a signal that the planet may be more active than we thought.

Both the upcoming NASA Mars 2020 mission and ESA's ExoMars mission have announced where the rovers will land. NASA's InSight lander landed safely last month in a flat-toped Mars plane to search for Marsquakes. Only a few hours later she delivered her crystal clear first photo of the Martian surface. And the planet shone bright this summer and provided a treat for celestial observers on Earth.

However, not everything was rosy on the Martian surface. A dust storm that began in May soon became a planet surrounding the storm. Curiosity has made it, but the solar-powered opportunity has been dumb since the thick dust has put her to sleep. NASA has continued its efforts to contact the rover at the earliest this January. We keep our fingers crossed.

Space equipment broke

The Hubble Space Telescope.
Photo: NASA

Apart from Opportunity, there were several popular space missions this year that either ended or malfunctioned. The Kepler probe, which launched in 2009 and had already "died" after a disruption in 2013, kept on chugging and discovering new planets as a renamed K2. It discovered nearly 2,700 exoplanets in its nine years on the hunt, but the fuel finally ran out and was retired after a fight by NASA this year. At about the same time, the Dawn Mission, founded in 2007, which brought the asteroid Ceres into orbit, was retired.

The NASA flagship missions Hubble and also the Chandra X-Ray telescope showed signs of aging after both were safe. Mode-inducing interference from faulty gyroscopes. Both have since been fixed. Hubble mainly had to be restarted and driven around.

And you may remember another collapse: The Tiangong-1 satellite returned to the atmosphere in an uncontrolled event. We prepared ourselves for the worst (but we knew we would be fine), and in the end, Tiangong-1 hit the Pacific far from any human.

The International Space Station has had some changes. NASA's new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, talked to companies about privatization. More recently scientists have found a hole and wondered where it could have come from (Russians claimed it was sabotage). The ISS could even have superbugs that flourish alongside their human crew. And after a Soyuz capsule launch failed and two astronauts were forced into an emergency landing, we wondered how we would fly back into space. NASA has always had forward-looking plans for crewing future Boeing and SpaceX-built space probes.

Faster space equipment is on its way

The first image of the TESS mission
Photo: NASA / MIT / TESS

According to recent news of malfunctions and deterioration of space infrastructure, one might think that the Humanity has reached a low point in space research, but the past year has proven otherwise. NASA launched its incredible Parker probe to study the sun up close without melting. NASA's TESS began its mission to catalog exoplanets from Earth within 300 light-years, and has already discovered its first. Launched last year, the OSIRIS REx mission has begun to return images of its target, the asteroid Bennu. And New Horizons, who had previously studied Pluto, is preparing to fly on New Year's Day the far-flung object Kuiper Belt Ultima Thule (or what we call MU69).

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the ESA have their own missions underway. The Hayabusa2 mission met its target, the asteroid Ryugu, and took beautiful pictures, letting Lander fall to the surface. BepiColombo started and is now going to my favorite planet Mercury. And the Gaia of the ESA returned an incredible map of the stars.

Meanwhile, US legislators have discussed what's next for NASA. The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope continued until 2021, so NASA conducted an independent review to determine what went wrong. The Congress held several hearings to discuss JWST and the future of space exploration more generally. But some are worried about securing the funding for these big missions.

Body Hackers and DNA Collectors

Photo: AP

Back on Earth, humans have developed new ways to enlarge their bodies, sometimes with rather poor results. One man injected his own penis with stem cells to try to make it bigger, while another, Aaron Traywick, injected a DIY herpes remedy at a conference on stage. Traywick later died in a tank for sensory deprivation. (Revelation: Traywick sued Gizmodo for defamation and the lawsuit was dismissed.)

And although studies have shown that the widely used CRISPR gene editing system may have unintended side effects, the debate on the ethics of embryo genetics has continued. This is getting worse recently when a scientist claimed he edited the genes of twin girls in China. This sparked outrage and scrutiny by scientists worldwide and the rejection of several relatives of the scientist who made the claim, and who later revealed a second gendered pregnancy. Chinese scientists have also cloned the first monkeys this year.

DNA testing has left the scientific arena, as genetic genetic tests for origin and disease risk are almost ubiquitous, although they are not 100 percent accurate and there are concerns about who they all see the data collected. The police even caught a serial killer using a public gene database, which led to the companies migrating with their DNA data.

Drinking and smoking still bad

A 15-year-old shows his Juul
Photo: Steven Senne (AP)

Meanwhile, the FDA has recognized that teenagers like Damping, which may seem better than cigarette smoking, but still addictive and possibly pathogenic. The FDA has labeled Teen Vaping a "runaway epidemic." Reports showed that well-known vape maker Juul knew teenagers were using their product, but did not update the ad accordingly.

And if you thought Vaping was bad, just wait until you read about Alcohol ! Scientists have been discussing allegations of alleged benefits of drinking. The NIH conducted a study in which healthy participants should drink on a daily basis, while another study found that less alcohol is needed than you believe to affect heart health. Another study, based on data from around the world, found that there is no safe use of alcohol. WHO also found that alcohol kills 5 percent of people worldwide.

But … I mean … if it feels good …

More natural disasters

A firefighter fights the campfire in California.
Photo: Noah Berger (AP)

2018 was marked by natural disasters. The Carr fire burned this summer and became one of the worst forest fires in California, killing eight people. Not long after, the fires of Woolsey and Camp ignited, turning the latter into the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California's history. Both fires are now contained, but there are 88 dead, along with 200 people who were still missing in the campfire. Climate change, combined with decades of fire fighting at the beginning of the 20th century and the increase of people living near forests, has exacerbated forest fires and their effects. The president did not accuse the forests, they do not "rake".

Another fiery event hit the headlines earlier this year: Cracks were opened on Hawaue's Kilauea volcano, spreading lava flows over parts of the Big Island, causing ash explosions. The eruption changed the Hawaiian coast. While volcanic eruptions can be uncomfortable or even devastating to people who have moved into volcanic areas, they are a natural part of the earth and the reason why we even have Hawaiian islands.

Meanwhile, hurricanes have plundered the Atlantic coast. Hurricane Florence dropped the Carolinas historic rain and left a trail of devastation. Hurricane Michael put out cities from the Florida panhandle. And yes, climate change is partly to blame for these increasingly intense cyclones.

Scientists continue to warn of climate change

Photo: Getty

A series of reports released this year warned of the negative effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that the difference between 2 and 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming (3.6 versus 2.7 Fahrenheit) could reduce the number of people potentially affected by climate-related risks to several hundred million by 2050 There is still ecological devastation, but the lower one is less – but keeping the warming up to 1.5 degrees will be incredibly difficult.

The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook report also warned of a bleak future and found that emissions are rising again and will continue to do so as fracking produces more oil and imports more oil than ever before. Just before Thanksgiving weekend, the US government issued its comprehensive climate assessment, warning that climate change would have a devastating impact on the economy. Trump did not believe his conclusions and showed again that he knows little about the climate.

Scientists organized

signs from March 2017 for science
Photo: AP

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 has set the scientists on fire, representing March 2017 for science and the Creation of scientifically interested interest groups such as 500 scientists and 314 action. This year, the scientists have again prevailed: More than a thousand people signed a letter in which they condemned the separation of migrant families on the border between the US and Mexico.

But the change itself occurred at the congress itself. Numerous candidates with a background in science joined the House of Representatives, including several new arrivals and people who had turned their district. They ran on scientifically sound health and, of course, climate change policies. It is unclear whether their elections will lead to a change in Congress, but it is clear evidence that scientists apply their expertise at the political level.

We Learned More About Our History than Humans

Fossil of a human jawbone 175,000 to 200,000 years ago.
Photo: Gerhard Weber (University of Vienna)

New research has rewritten part of the early history of mankind. We have long heard that modern humans have emerged from a "mitochondrial Eve," a single woman in Africa about 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. However, things seem to be much more complicated. Rather, the analysis of existing literature has shown that humans are likely to have evolved from different populations in Africa, separated by the continent's various geographical boundaries.

And even when people began to emigrate from Africa, it was questioned after the scientists found a jawbone. Israel is 50,000 years older than anyone else, 175,000 to 200,000 years ago. In an even more intriguing find, scientists in China, 9,000 miles east of Africa, discovered stone tools that were between 1.3 million and 2.1 million years old. These may have come from our Hominid ancestor Homo erectus. Along with 2.4 million year old stone tools found in Algeria, it appears that hominids have spread across Africa and left the continent earlier than previously thought.

Scientists even found the oldest known drawing – a Silcrete Crayon crosshatched on a stone dome, found in a South African cave and dated about 73,000 years ago.

Stephen Hawking died

Image: AP

And finally, at age 76, the celebrated physicist and science communicator Stephen Hawking died after a long life researching black holes and making science accessible to the public. He finished his work about the time of his death when he was dealing with theories of the early universe, and physicists lovingly remembered him.

And more …

In 2018, many other things that did not fit neatly fit into these larger stories. Scientists discovered a blazar that spit neutrinos directly onto the earth, solving a long-standing mystery. President Trump discussed the introduction of an independent military space force, but decided to pursue other options. Elon Musk sent a Tesla into space. A scientist gave Kraken MDMA.

There's a lot we can look forward to in 2019 and we'll be releasing another article soon. But 2018 was certainly a memorable year for science.

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