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  • Feature

    Top 10 science stories of 2016: Gravitational waves, Zika, Proxima b and more

    At first glance, the stories taking the top two spots in Science News’ review of 2016 have little in common. Scientists began searching decades ago for gravitational waves. Discussions of these subtle signals from dramatic and distant phenomena appear dozens of times in the SN archive starting as early as the 1950s. Their long-awaited discovery, our No. 1 story of the year, touched off...

    12/14/2016 - 07:42 Science & Society
  • Feature

    Year in review: Gravitational waves offer new cosmic views

    The secrets gleaned from the universe’s most mysterious giants are incongruously subtle when witnessed at Earth: Detectors budge by a tiny fraction of a proton’s breadth, outputting a feeble, birdlike chirp.

    For centuries, astronomers have peered out into the universe almost exclusively by observing its light. But 2016’s announcement of the first detection of gravitational waves,...

    12/14/2016 - 07:41 Physics, Astronomy
  • Feature

    Year in review: Zika virus devastates Brazil and spreads fear across Americas

    A Brazilian mother cradles her baby girl under a bruised purple sky. The baby’s face is scrunched up, mouth open wide — like any other crying child. But her head is smaller than normal, as if her skull has collapsed above her eyebrows.

    A week earlier, not far away, a doctor wrapped a measuring tape around the forehead of a 1-month-old boy, held in the arms of his grandmother. This baby...

    12/14/2016 - 07:40 Health, Human Development
  • Feature

    Year in review: A planet lurks around the star next door

    Worlds in the Alpha Centauri system — the trio of stars closest to our sun — have been a staple of science fiction for decades. From Star Trek to Avatar, writers have dreamed up exotic landscapes (and inhabitants) for interstellar explorers to encounter. Now a planet around one of those stars is no longer fiction.

    In August, breathless headlines heralded the discovery of a small,...

    12/14/2016 - 07:39 Astronomy, Exoplanets
  • Feature

    Year in review: ‘Three-parent baby’ technique raises hope and concern

    A “three-parent baby” was born in April, the world’s first reported birth from a controversial technique designed to prevent mitochondrial diseases from passing from mother to child.

    “As far as we can tell, the baby is normal and free of disease,” says Andrew R. La Barbera, chief scientific officer of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “This demonstrates that, in point of...

    12/14/2016 - 07:39 Genetics, Science & Society, Biomedicine
  • Feature

    Year in review: Sea ice loss will shake up ecosystems

    In a better world, it would be the big news of the year just to report that Arctic sea ice shrank to 4.14 million square kilometers this summer, well below the 1981–2010 average of 6.22 million square kilometers (SN Online: 9/19/16). But in this world of changing climate, extreme summer ice loss has become almost expected. More novel in 2016 were glimpses of the complex biological consequences...

    12/14/2016 - 07:37 Climate, Animals, Plants
  • Feature

    Year in review: How humans populated the globe

    No paper or digital trails document ancient humans’ journey out of Africa to points around the globe. Fortunately, those intrepid travelers left a DNA trail. Genetic studies released in 2016 put a new molecular spin on humans’ long-ago migrations. These investigations also underscore the long trek ahead for scientists trying to reconstruct Stone Age road trips.

    “I’m beginning to suspect...

    12/14/2016 - 07:37 Genetics, Archaeology
  • Feature

    Year in review: ‘Minimal genome’ makes its debut

    One of biology’s biggest achievements of 2016 was intentionally as small as possible: building a bacterium with only 473 genes. That pint-size genetic blueprint, the smallest for any known free-living cell, is a milestone in a decades-long effort to create an organism containing just the bare essentials necessary to exist and reproduce. Such “minimal genome” cells might eventually serve as...

    12/14/2016 - 07:36 Microbiology, Genetics, Cells
  • Feature

    Year in review: Alzheimer’s drug may clarify disease’s origins

    A quarter century after scientists proposed an idea that profoundly influenced the arc of Alzheimer’s research, they might finally find out whether they are correct. A new antibody drug called aducanumab appears to sweep the brain clean of sticky amyloid-beta protein. The drug may or may not become a breakthrough Alzheimer’s treatment — it’s too soon to say — but either way it will probably...

    12/14/2016 - 07:35 Neuroscience, Health
  • Feature

    Year in review: Ozone hole officially on the mend

    In a rare bright spot for global environmental news, atmospheric scientists reported in 2016 that the ozone hole that forms annually over Antarctica is beginning to heal. Their data nail the case that the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty drawn up in 1987 to limit the use of ozone-destroying chemicals, is working.

    The Antarctic ozone hole forms every Southern Hemisphere spring...

    12/14/2016 - 07:34 Earth, Climate, Pollution, Science & Society