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The 20 Best Stories in Science from 2015

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The 20 Best Stories in Science from 2015

The 20 Best Stories in Science from 2015

It’s easy to pontificate about what the future may hold, but sometimes it comes with disastrous results. Instead, the best way to get a taste of the future may be to look at the most recent scientific developments that happened in the last year.

Today’s infographic from Futurism reviews some of the top science news stories from 2015.

These include headlines in the fields of space, robotics, artificial intelligence, genetics, drones, transportation, and energy storage.

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North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

These stunning images from NASA give a whole new perspective on the massive wildfires engulfing the west coast of North America.

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North America's Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

If you live on the west coast of North America, it’s likely that you’ve felt a bit smoked out, lately.

Wildfires in British Columbia, Canada are already the worst in the province’s history, while California has had a particularly rough season with human deaths, evacuations, and billions of dollars of damage.

Oregon has one confirmed death from a wildfire in mid-July, and Washington hasn’t gotten off easy, either. On July 31, 2018 a state of emergency was declared in the Evergreen State.

Visualizing Wildfires From Space

Today’s image comes to us from NASA, and it shows aerosols around the world including those originating from volcanoes, desert dust, cloud cover, sea-salt – and of course, smoke.

Here’s the same image with labels, indicating black carbon on the west coast of the continent:

Wildfires, hurricanes, and slash and burning

The wildfires are just as visible as the massive slash-and-burning occurring in Central Africa, hurricanes and typhoons, and even the dust swirling up from the Sahara, the world’s largest desert.

Here’s a visualization of the fires in North America, with some extra zoom:

North America smoke

It’s clear from this image that smoke isn’t just affecting the coast – in fact, experts say it has been travelling as far as Ireland, in lesser concentrations of course.

Other Visuals

While we thought the visualization above was the most striking, there are countless of other examples from the last month that show the extent of wildfires and smoke on the west coast.

Here’s another shot from NASA from a few weeks ago, during peak wildfire season in California and Oregon:

And here’s an image of Seattle and Vancouver from mid-August, when smoke from Canadian fires was so bad in those cities that it was like “inhaling seven cigarettes” per day:

Air Quality

Future Forecast

As we roll into September, the worst of the wildfire season is over.

Unfortunately, it’s already been the worst in British Columbia’s history. Here are the 10 worst fire seasons graphed since 1950, based on square kilometers burned:

BC Wildfires
Data as of Aug 29, 2018, and from the BC Forest Service

While this year has been an anomaly, it may also be a preview of what’s to come. One recent report out of California said that the number of wildfires over 25,000 acres is likely to increase by 50% leading up to 2050.

Is this the new normal?

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Terraforming 101: How to Make Mars a Habitable Planet

This infographic highlights some of the major problems we’d need to solve to make other planets like Mars more hospitable to human life.

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Terraforming 101: How to Make Mars a Habitable Planet

Before we can journey to the stars, we must first go to Mars.

That’s Elon Musk’s philosophy, anyways – and just days ago he revealed new details on his ambitions to colonize the Red Planet, including sending two cargo rockets by 2022 and four rockets (two manned, two cargo) by 2024.

In 40 to 100 years, Musk suggested that up to a million people could live there.

Change of Seasons

As Elton John wisely noted, “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids”.

Indeed, the average temperature on Mars is −55 °C (−67 °F), dust storms are frequent and potentially deadly, and the planet has extremely low atmospheric pressure (about 1% of Earth). Because of the atmosphere and temperature swings, meaningful occurrences of liquid water on the planet’s surface are almost impossible. And while Mars is thought to have plenty of frozen water at its poles and in underground deposits, the logistics of tapping into these resources could be quite difficult.

In other words, for any meaningful and long-lasting human presence on Mars, we would likely want to alter the planet and its atmosphere to make it more habitable for human life. And while the exact mechanisms we would use to accomplish this are still up for debate, the basics behind what’s needed to achieve Earth-like conditions are actually pretty straightforward.

Terraforming 101

Today’s infographic comes to us from Futurism, and it details what might need to happen on Mars to make it more accommodating to human life.

Here are two steps we could take to get Mars into the “Goldilocks Zone”, where water is liquid – and harmful ionizing radiation like x-rays, UV rays, and gamma rays are not problematic.

Greenhouse Gases
One way to ward off harmful ionizing radiation is to add a thicker layer of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere of Mars. Such an atmosphere would also allows less heat to escape, meaning warmer temperatures on the planet.

Magnetic Field
A strong magnetic field on Earth is something else that makes life easier. Earth’s solid inner core, composed primarily of iron, creates this field when the planet spins – and it deflects cosmic rays and other harmful types of radiation.

One interesting solution to solve this problem on Mars would to have a magnetic field generator in front of the planet at all times, deflecting any such rays coming from the sun.

The Realm of Possibility

While terraforming is still a mixture of theory and science fiction at this point, we do know some of the major problems that have to be solved for attaining a habitable environment – and it will be interesting to see how plans around Mars develop as the prospect of colonization becomes more real.

You need to live in a dome initially but over time you could terraform Mars to look like Earth and eventually walk around outside without anything on. … So it’s a fixer-upper of a planet.

– Elon Musk

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