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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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Misc

Visualizing the Speed of Light (Fast, but Slow)

In our every day lives, light is instantaneous – but in the context of our solar system and beyond, light is surprisingly slow.

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Visualizing the Speed of Light

With the flip of a switch, your room can be instantenously flooded with brightness.

In fact, there is no noticeable lag effect at all.

That’s because emitted photons travel at 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, meaning it takes only 1/500,000th of a second for light to reach even the furthest part of an ordinary room. And, if it could go through the wall, it would orbit the entire planet 7.5 times in just one second.

Light Speed is Fast…

In our every day experiences, we never see light as having to “take time” to do anything. It’s inconceivably fast, brightening up everything in its path in an instant — and with a few odd caveats, scientists believe light speed to be the fastest-known achievable pace in the universe.

But what if we get out of our bubble, and look at light from outside the confines of life on Earth?

Today’s animation, which comes from planetary scientist Dr. James O’Donoghue, helps visualize the speed of light in a broader context. It helps remind us of the mechanics of this incredible phenomenon, while also highlighting the vast distances between celestial bodies — even in our small and insignificant corner of the solar system.

Light Speed is Slow…

Once a photon is sent into the vast abyss, suddenly the fastest possible speed seems somewhat pedestrian.

  • Moon: It takes about 1.255 seconds for light to get from Earth to the moon.
  • Mars: Mars is about 150x further than the moon — about 40 million miles (54.6 million km) in the closest approach — so it takes 3 minutes to get there from Earth.
  • Sun: The sun is 93 million miles (150 million km) away, meaning it takes 8 minutes to see its light.

Let that sink in for a moment: the sun could explode right now, and we wouldn’t even know about it for eight long minutes.

Going Further, Taking Longer

If it takes light a few minutes to get to the closest planets, how long does it take for light to travel further away from Earth?

  • Jupiter: The largest planet is 629 million km away when it’s closest, taking light about 35 minutes.
  • Saturn: The ringed planet is about as twice as far as Jupiter, taking light 71 minutes.
  • Pluto: It takes about 5.5 hours for light to go from Earth to the dwarf planet.
  • Alpha Centauri: The nearest star system is 4.3 light years away, or 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km).
  • Visible stars: The average distance to the 300 brightest stars in the sky is about 347 light years.

If you really want to get the feeling of how “slow” light really is, watch the below video and journey from the sun to Jupiter. It’s done in real-time, so it takes about 43 minutes:

So while light obviously travels at a ludicrous speed, it really depends on your vantage point.

On Earth, light is instantaneous – but anywhere else in the universe, it’s pretty inadequate for getting anywhere far (especially in contrast to the average human lifespan).

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Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites

This data visualization depicts every meteorite that was observed hitting the Earth over a 100-year period, between 1913-2012.

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Watching the Sky Fall: Visualizing a Century of Meteorites

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said “The chances that your tombstone will read ‘Killed by an Asteroid’ are about the same as they’d be for ‘Killed in Airplane Crash’.”

Part of the reason for this is the Earth’s atmospheric ability to burn up inbound space rocks before they reach the surface, a process that ensures that most meteors never become meteorites.

Of the 33,162 meteorites found in the past 100 years, only 625 were seen. Today’s visualization from data designer Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez groups these 625 observed meteorites by the year they fell, classification, mass, and landing location on Earth.

Asteroid, Meteoroids, Meteors, and Meteorites

Not all flying space rocks are the same. Their origins and trajectories define its type.

Asteroid: A large rocky body in space, in orbit around the Sun.
Meteoroid: Much smaller rocks or particles in orbit around the Sun.
Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes, it becomes a meteor, or a shooting star.
Meteorite: If a small asteroid or large meteoroid survives its fiery passage through the Earth’s atmosphere and lands on Earth’s surface.
Bolide: A very bright meteor that often explodes in the atmosphere, also known as a fireball.

Classification

This graphic classifies meteorites into four types based on their composition: stony, stony-iron, iron and other.

StonyStony-IronIronOther
Achondites
Chrondites
Unclassifed
Mesoiderites
Pallasites
Magmatic
Non-magmatic or Primitive
Doubtful Meteorites
Pseudometeorite

Top 5 Meteorites by Size

While half of all observed meteorites weighed less than 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs), there are a few exceptional ones that stand out. The graphic highlights the five largest meteorites ever observed, and when they fell:

LocatonSizeYearType
Sikhote-Alin, Russia23 MT1947Iron
Jilin, China4 MT1976Stony
Allende, Mexico2 MT1969Stony
Norton County, USA1.1 MT1948Stony
Kunya-Urgench, Turkmenistan1.1 MT1998Stony

Each category differs in their amount of iron-nickel metal and what they reveal about the early solar system.

Fireballs in the Sky: Bolides

Small asteroids frequently enter and disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere randomly around the globe, creating fireballs known as bolides. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program mapped data gathered by U.S. government sensors from 1994 to 2013.

Source: NASA

The data indicates that small asteroids impacted Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a bolide (or fireball), on 556 separate occasions over a 20-year period. Almost all asteroids of this size disintegrate in the atmosphere and are harmless.

A notable exception was the Chelyabinsk event in 2013, which was the largest known natural object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event. A house-sized asteroid entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk at over 11 miles per second, and blew apart 14 miles above the ground.

The explosion released an energy equivalent to ~440,000 tons of TNT, generating a shock wave that shattered windows over 200 square miles—damaging several buildings and injuring over 1,600 people.

Look Out Above

While the night sky appears to be a beautiful tableau of the cosmos, these two visualizations paint a dramatic galactic battle. Rocks inundate our planet as it moves through the darkness of space. The resiliency of Earth’s atmosphere to erode these invaders has allowed life to flourish⁠—until the next big one comes through.

Remember the Dinosaurs?

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