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The 7 Most Important Scientific Breakthroughs of 2017

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The pace of technological change is accelerating – and every new year seems to bring a more incredible list of scientific breakthroughs than the last.

This time 2017 is no exception, and the year was filled with game-changing innovations that are on the cutting edge of science. These breakthroughs will surely alter how we think of the world, and they will likely also translate into future unknown technologies that will affect how our society operates.

Scientific Breakthroughs in 2017

Today’s infographic comes to us from Futurism, and it highlights the big scientific advancements that happened over the course of the year.

The 7 Most Important Scientific Breakthroughs of 2017

Key discoveries happened in the fields of gene editing, space travel, quantum communications, astronomy, and quantum physics.

Let’s take a deeper dive into these incredible scientific breakthroughs.

The Subatomic Level

At the subatomic particle level, there were a couple of noteworthy advances that will help us better understand the complex inner-workings of quantum mechanics.

New particles: Using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a team of scientists discovered five new particles – all from a single analysis. These particles may give us a better understanding of the correlation between quarks and multi-quark states, as well as some clues about the earliest moments of the universe.

Quantum communications: The first unhackable video call happened between China and Vienna in September. Rather than using traditional cryptography, it relied on quantum key distribution (QKD) to protect the call. Using single photons in quantum superposition states is a way to raise the level of security so high, that it’s not even hackable by quantum computers.

The Final Frontier

Important progress was also made in space travel and astronomy:

Reusable rockets: Elon Musk and his SpaceX team launched a previously used Falcon 7 rocket booster. For humans to be able to do anything significant off the planet, cutting down the cost of commercial space travel is a crucial step in the right direction.

New Earth-like planets: In a remote star system called TRAPPIST-1, scientists discovered seven Earth-like exoplanets in the “goldilocks zone” – where life (as we know it) can exist.

Life Sciences

Lastly, the other three major discoveries fall under the category of life sciences:

Embryo gene editing: Researchers successfully edited a one-cell human embryo in Portland, Oregon. This could make it easier to cure heritable diseases or defective genes in the future.

Gene editing in body: A 44-year-old patient suffering from a rare disease, Hunter syndrome, had his genome successfully edited using CRISPR.

Artificial womb: An artificial womb successfully imitated the environment inside a uterus, housing a 23-week old lamb. Premature births are a leading cause of death for newborns.

With the speed of science and technological change continuing to accelerate, it should not be surprising to see an even more exciting list of breakthroughs in 2018.

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Environment

As the Worlds Turn: Visualizing the Rotation of Planets

Rotation can have a big influence on a planet’s habitability. These animations show how each planet in the solar system moves to its own distinct rhythm.

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As the Worlds Turn: Visualizing the Rotations of Planets

The rotation of planets have a dramatic effect on their potential habitability.

Dr. James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at the Japanese space agency who has the creative ability to visually communicate space concepts like the speed of light and the vastness of the solar system, recently animated a video showing cross sections of different planets spinning at their own pace on one giant globe.

Cosmic Moves: The Rotation of the Planets

Each planet in the solar system moves to its own rhythm. The giant gas planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) spin more rapidly on their axes than the inner planets. The sun itself rotates slowly, only once a month.

PlanetRotation Periods (relative to stars)
Mercury58d 16h
Venus243d 26m
Earth23h 56m
Mars24h 36m
Jupiter9h 55m
Saturn10h 33m
Uranus17h 14m
Neptune16h

The planets all revolve around the sun in the same direction and in virtually the same plane. In addition, they all rotate in the same general direction, with the exceptions of Venus and Uranus.

In the following animation, their respective rotation speeds are compared directly:

The most visually striking result of planetary spin is on Jupiter, which has the fastest rotation in the solar system. Massive storms of frozen ammonia grains whip across the surface of the gas giant at speeds of 340 miles (550 km) per hour.

Interestingly, the patterns of each planet’s rotation can help in revealing whether they can support life or not.

Rotation and Habitability

As a fish in water is not aware it is wet, so it goes for humans and the atmosphere around us.

New research reveals that the rate at which a planet spins is an essential component for supporting life. Not only does rotation control the length of day and night, bit it influences atmospheric wind patterns and the formation of clouds.

The radiation the Earth receives from the Sun concentrates at the equator. The Sun heats the air in this region until it rises up through the atmosphere and moves towards the poles of the planet where it cools. This cool air falls through the atmosphere and flows back towards the equator.

This process is known as a Hadley cell, and atmospheres can have multiple cells:

Hadley Cells

A planet with a quick rotation forms Hadley cells at low latitudes into different bands that encircle the planet. Clouds become prominent at tropical regions, which reflect a proportion of the light back into space.

For a planet in a tighter orbit around its star, the radiation received from the star is much more extreme. This decreases the temperature difference between the equator and the poles, ultimately weakening Hadley cells. The result is fewer clouds in tropical regions available to protect the planet from intense heat, making the planet uninhabitable.

Slow Rotators: More Habitable

If a planet rotates slower, then the Hadley cells can expand to encircle the entire world. This is because the difference in temperature between the day and night side of the planet creates larger atmospheric circulation.

Slow rotation makes days and nights longer, such that half of the planet bathes in light from the sun for an extended period of time. Simultaneously, the night side of the planet is able to cool down.

This difference in temperature is large enough to cause the warm air from the day side to flow to the night side. This movement of air allows more clouds to form around a planet’s equator, protecting the surface from harmful space radiation, encouraging the possibility for the right conditions for life to form.

The Hunt for Habitable Planets

Measuring the rotation of planets is difficult with a telescope, so another good proxy would be to measure the level of heat emitted from a planet.

An infrared telescope can measure the heat emitted from a planet’s clouds that formed over its equator. An unusually low temperature at the hottest location on the planet could indicate that the planet is potentially a habitable slow rotator.

Of course, even if a planet’s rotation speed is just right, many other conditions come into play. The rotation of planets is just another piece in the puzzle in identifying the next Earth.

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Energy

Soaking up the Sun: Visualizing the Changing Patterns of Daylight in One Year

The length of your days can change depending on the seasons, and where you are on Earth. Watch how these patterns unfold over a year.

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The darkest days are upon the residents of the Northern Hemisphere as daylight dwindles and the night lingers longer. Meanwhile, those in the Southern Hemisphere bask in their warmest and longest days—and those at the Equator continue to observe consistent days and nights.

These changing lengths of days and nights depend on where you are on Earth and the time of year. The tilt of the Earth’s axis and its path around the sun affect the number of daylight hours.

Today’s post highlights two simple and elegant animations that help demonstrate how different latitudes experience the sun’s light over the course of one year. The first comes from Reddit user harplass, while the second comes from data scientist Neil Kaye.

Longer and Shorter Days

The Ancient Greeks envisioned the movement of the sun as a Titan named Helios who rode across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot, illuminating the known world below. A rosy-fingered dawn would herald his imminent arrival, while the arrival of the dusk god Astraeus, ever on Helios’ heels, marked the passage of day into night.

Today, time is not at the whims of Greek mythology but by the measurable and consistent movement of celestial bodies. A day on Earth is 24 hours long, but not every day has 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. The actual time of one Earth rotation is a little shorter–about 23 hours and 56 minutes.

Daytime is shorter in winter than in summer, for each hemisphere. This is because the Earth’s imaginary axis isn’t straight up and down, it is tilted 23.5 degrees. The Earth’s movement around this axis causes the change between day and night.

During summer in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight hours increase the farther north you go. The Arctic gets very little darkness at night. The seasonal changes in daylight hours are small near the Equator and more extreme close to the poles.

Length of a Rotation: Equinoxes and Solstices

There are four events that mark the passing stages of the sun, equinoxes and solstices.

The two solstices happen June 20 or 21 and December 21 or 22. These are the days when the sun’s path in the sky is the farthest north or south from the Equator. A hemisphere’s winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and the summer solstice the year’s longest.

Equinoxes and Solstices

In the Northern Hemisphere the June solstice marks the start of summer: this is when the North Pole is tilted closest to the sun, and the sun’s rays are directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer.

The December solstice marks the start of winter when the South Pole is tilted closest to the sun, and the sun’s rays are directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.

The equinoxes happen around March 21 and September 23. These are the days when the sun is exactly above the Equator, which makes day and night of equal length.

Stand in the Place Where You Are

It is always darkest before the dawn, and every passing of solstice marks a time of change. As the Northern Hemisphere heads into the winter holiday season, it also marks the advent of longer days and the inevitable spring and summer.

The lengths of days and nights are constantly changing, but every one will get their time in the sun, at some point.

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