Though 2017, without a doubt, was a turbulent year, not everything that occurred was bad.
Sure, the US and North Korea came within inches of all-out war, and “fake news” became a buzz word that almost destroyed independent journalism, but advances were made in the scientific community.
From discovering that it snows on Mars to learning that a tiny creature known as the “tardigrade” will outlive us all, it’s been an interesting year for those in the scientific community.
Seven of the most notable scientific discoveries of 2017 follow..
1) Scientists witnessed two galaxies merging for the first time
In June, a large team of astronomers observed something that has been in the works for longer than two decades: a pair of orbiting supermassive holes, roughly 750 million lightyears away from Earth.
As Science Alert reports, the phenomenon occurs when two galaxies merge. Until this year, however, there was no evidence of it ever happening. Fortunately, the theory is now an established fact.
2) The ‘water bear’ will survive us all
Earlier this year, scientists determined that the tardigrade — a chubby “water bear” (Milnesium tardigradum) — will be the last surviving creature on the planet. This is because the bizarre — yet oddly cute — creatures are nearly indestructible.
Not only can tardigrades survive being desiccated, they can withstand extreme heat, extreme cold, and even the vacuum of space. On a positive note, this means cockroaches won’t outlive us all.
3) Life may have come from meteorites
Research published in October of 2017 suggests life on Earth started as a result of meteorites striking the Earth, then landing in small, warm ponds. Reportedly, this kick-started a chemical chain reaction that led to the very first bit of genetic code existing on the planet.
According to scientists from McMaster University in Canada and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, the development happened just a few million years after the Earth was cool enough for water to form. How neat!
4) It snows — on Mars
That’s right, the Red Planet has its own version of “snow.” According to a new study, when the sun goes down and temperatures plunge, Mars experiences intense snowstorms which are generated by gusts of wind.
Using data sourced from NASA’s Phoenix lander in 2008, researchers determined that radioactive cooling triggers a rapid escape of heat from the atmosphere. This, in turn, causes the icy Martian clouds’ temperatures to plummet quickly, sometimes, by as much as 4 degrees Celsius per hour.
Science Alert reports, “With hot air rising from the surface combining with colder air masses descending from above, strong winds of up to 10 metres (32.8 feet) per second end up carrying snow downwards suddenly – a phenomenon called microbursts.”
So there you have it. After Mars is colonized, perhaps there will be an opportunity for a White — albeit temporary — Christmas.
5) This 100-year-old drug benefits autism
In May, a small clinical trial in the US showed that a 100-year-old drug called Suramin can improve the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children.
Though Suramin is typically used for sleeping sickness, it was tried in a pilot study on a group of boys with ASD. The effects were incredible. After just one dose, the boys’ ASD symptoms significantly improved. For obvious reasons, this study made headlines.
6) A breakthrough was made in diabetes research
In April, researchers discovered a brand new type of insulin-producing cell which was hiding “in plain sight within the pancreas.” Reportedly, the “virgin beta cells” could offer a new route for regrowing healthy, mature beta cells.
Scientists are hopeful the discovery could lead to improved understanding of the disease, as well as a treatment for type 1 diabetes.
7) Newly-developed invention pulls water from “thin air”
Thanks to researchers at MIT and the University of California, Berkely, we finally know how to pull water out of thin air. As Ranker reports, the scientists developed a device that pulls water out of the air in weather conditions with a minimum 20 percent humidity.
The solar-powered device uses a metal-organic framework which is made of zirconium and fumarate. This allows it to suck water vapor from the air we breathe.
Amazingly, the prototype could pull three quarts of water in 12 hours — all while sitting in an area with 20 percent to 30 percent humidity. The invention could change the lives of millions of people who lack access to clean, safe water.
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Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Video Shows Taliban Taking Joyride in Captured US Blackhawk Helicopter
The rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban has resulted in a number of surreal sights – from footage of the Islamist group’s fighters exercising at a presidential gym to clips of combatants having a great time on bumper cars at the local fun park.
However, a new video of Taliban members seemingly testing their skills in the cockpit of a commandeered UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter shows the chilling extent to which U.S. wares have fallen into the hands of a group it spent trillions of dollars, and exhaustive resources, to stamp out.
In the new video, shared on Twitter, the front-line utility helicopter can be seen taxiing on the ground at Kandahar Airport in southeastern Afghanistan, moving along the tarmac. It is unclear who exactly was sitting in the cockpit, and the Black Hawk cannot be seen taking off or flying.
It is unlikely that the Taliban have any combatants who are sufficiently trained to fly a UH-60 Black Hawk.
The helicopter, which carries a $6 million price tag, is just a small part of the massive haul that fell into the militant group’s hands after the country’s central government seemingly evaporated on Aug. 14 amid the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops.
Some 200,000 firearms, 20,000 Humvees and hundreds of aircraft financed by Washington for the now-defunct Afghan Army are believed to be in the possession of the Taliban.
The firearms include M24 sniper rifles, M18 assault weapons, anti-tank missiles, automatic grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
Taliban fighters in the elite Badri 313 Brigade have been seen in propaganda images showing off in uniforms and wielding weaponry meant for the special forces units of the Afghan Army.
The U.S. is known to have purchased 42,000 light tactical vehicles, 9,000 medium tactical vehicles and over 22,000 Humvees between 2003 and 2016.
The White House remains unclear on how much weaponry has fallen into Taliban hands, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitting last week that the U.S. lacks a “clear picture of just how much missing $83 billion of military inventory” the group has.