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Year in Review

These 2017 discoveries could be big news, if they turn out to be true

Potentially key findings cover a wide range of topics, from a female Viking warrior to far-flung exomoons

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6:00am, December 21, 2017
Swedish grave excavation

RUMOR HAS IT  Researchers stirred up controversy this year by claiming that a skeleton discovered in a Swedish grave (excavation illustrated above) belonged to a Viking woman warrior. Other potentially big scientific discoveries also generated buzz — and disagreement — in 2017.

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Some reports from 2017 hint at potentially big discoveries — if the research holds up to additional scientific scrutiny.

Under pressure

Putting the squeeze on hydrogen gas turned it into a long-elusive metal that may superconduct, Harvard University physicists claimed (SN: 2/18/17, p. 14). A diamond vise, supercold temperatures and intense pressure made the element reflective — a key property of metals. But other researchers in the field don’t buy it; one experiment with a slew of caveats isn’t enough to confirm the claim, those scientists say.

Woman warrior?

The skeleton of a 10th century Viking woman buried in full warrior regalia has scientists sparring over women’s roles in Viking society (SN: 10/14/17, p. 6). Researchers who confirmed the skeleton’s sex through DNA analysis contend that the woman was a high-ranking Viking warrior, the first Viking woman warrior known. But other archaeologists argue that the bones — with no obvious signs of injury or strenuous physical activity — are too pristine to have seen battle.

Blink and you’ll miss it

A far-flung star’s extra wink, spotted in data from the Kepler space telescope and further probed by the Hubble Space Telescope, may be the first evidence for an exomoon — a moon orbiting a planet orbiting a distant star. If it exists, the Neptune-sized candidate moon (dubbed Kepler 1625b i) is roughly 4,000 light-years away and orbits a planet a tad larger than Jupiter (SN: 8/19/17, p. 15).

Rooting out hominid origins

The first members of the human evolutionary family may have originated in Europe, not Africa. New analyses of a fossilized jaw (shown) and teeth from Graecopithecus, a chimpanzee-sized primate that lived in southeastern Europe roughly 7 million years ago, suggest that it may be the earliest known hominid (SN: 6/24/17, p. 9). But more complete fossils are needed to determine whether Graecopithecus was truly a hominid.

Citations

B. Bower. Skeleton ignites debate over whether women were Viking warriors. Science News. Vol. 192, October 14, 2017, p. 6.

L. Grossman. Astronomers may have found an exomoon, and Hubble is going to check. Science News. Vol. 192, August 19, 2017, p. 15.

B. Bower. European fossils may belong to earliest known hominid. Science News. Vol. 191, June 24, 2017, p. 9.

E. Conover. New claim staked for metallic hydrogen. Science News. Vol. 191, February 18, 2017, p. 14.

Further Reading

L. Grossman. David Kipping seeks new and unexpected worlds. Science News. Vol. 192, October 14, 2017, p. 22

E. Conover. Dark matter still missingScience News. Vol. 191, February 4, 2017, p. 15.

C. Crockett. Stellar vomiting produces dark galaxies, simulations suggest. Science News Online, December 2, 2016.

E. Conover. The pressure is on to make metallic hydrogenScience News. Vol. 190, August 20, 2016, p. 18.

B. Bower. Viking-era woman sheds light on Iceland’s first settlersScience News. Vol. 189, May 14, 2016, p. 13.

B. Bower. Untangling ancient roots: Earliest hominid shows new, improved faceScience News. Vol. 167, April 9, 2005, p. 227.

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