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  • Year in Review

    This year’s neutron star collision unlocks cosmic mysteries

    Thousands of astronomers and physicists. Hundreds of hours of telescope observations. Dozens of scientific papers. Two dead stars uniting into one.

    In 2017, scientists went all in on a never-before-seen astronomical event of astounding proportions: a head-on collision between two neutron stars, the ultradense remnants of exploded stars.

    The smashup sent shivers of gravitational...

    12/13/2017 - 08:31 Astronomy, Physics
  • Year in Review

    CRISPR gene editing moved into new territory in 2017

    Scientists reported selectively altering genes in viable human embryos for the first time this year. For nearly five years, researchers have been wielding the molecular scissors known as CRISPR/Cas9 to make precise changes in animals’ DNA. But its use in human embryos has more profound implications, researchers and ethicists say.

    “We can now literally change our own species,” says...

    12/13/2017 - 08:30 Genetics, Science & Society
  • Year in Review

    The Larsen C ice shelf break has sparked groundbreaking research

    In 2015, glaciologist Daniela Jansen reported that a large rift was rapidly growing across one of the Antarctic Peninsula’s ice shelves, known as Larsen C. When the shelf broke, she and colleagues predicted, it would be the largest calving event in decades.

    It was. In July, a Delaware-sized iceberg split off from Larsen C  (SN: 8/5/17, p. 6). And researchers knew practically the moment...

    12/13/2017 - 08:30 Climate, Ecosystems, Oceans
  • Year in Review

    The story of humans’ origins got a revision in 2017

    Human origins are notoriously tough to pin down. Fossil and genetic studies in 2017 suggested a reason why: No clear starting time or location ever existed for our species. The first biological stirrings of humankind occurred at a time of evolutionary experimentation in the human genus, Homo.

    Homo sapiens’ signature skeletal features emerged piece by piece in different African...

    12/13/2017 - 08:29 Human Evolution, Ancestry, Archaeology
  • Year in Review

    Seven Earth-sized planets entered the spotlight this year

    Discoveries of planets around distant stars have become almost routine. But finding seven exoplanets in one go is something special. In February, a team of planet seekers announced that a small, cool star some 39 light-years away, TRAPPIST-1, hosts the most Earth-sized exoplanets yet found in one place: seven roughly Earth-sized worlds, at least three of which might host liquid water (SN: 3/18...

    12/13/2017 - 08:29 Astronomy, Exoplanets, Astrobiology
  • Year in Review

    A quantum communications satellite proved its potential in 2017

    During the world’s first telephone call in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell summoned his assistant from the other room, stating simply, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” In 2017, scientists testing another newfangled type of communication were a bit more eloquent. “It is such a privilege and thrill to witness this historical moment with you all,” said Chunli Bai, president of the Chinese...

    12/13/2017 - 08:28 Quantum Physics
  • Year in Review

    Worries grow that climate change will quietly steal nutrients from major food crops

    2017 was a good year for worrying about nutrient losses that might come with a changing climate.

    The idea that surging carbon dioxide levels could stealthily render some major crops less nutritious has long been percolating in plant research circles. “It’s literally a 25-year story, but it has come to a head in the last year or so,” says Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the U.S....

    12/13/2017 - 08:27 Nutrition, Climate, Sustainability
  • Year in Review

    Approval of gene therapies for two blood cancers led to an ‘explosion of interest’ in 2017

    This year, gene therapy finally became a clinical reality. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two personalized treatments that engineer a patient’s own immune system to hunt down and kill cancer cells. The treatments, the first gene therapies ever approved by the FDA, work in people with certain blood cancers, even patients whose cancers haven’t responded to other treatments.

    ...
    12/13/2017 - 08:27 Cancer, Immune Science
  • Year in Review

    Brains of former football players showed how common traumatic brain injuries might be

    There have been hints for years that playing football might come at a cost. But a study this year dealt one of the hardest hits yet to the sport, detailing the extensive damage in football players’ brains, and not just those who played professionally.       

    In a large collection of former NFL players’ postmortem brains, nearly every sample showed signs of chronic traumatic...

    12/13/2017 - 08:26 Neuroscience, Health, Science & Society
  • Year in Review

    Zika cases are down, but researchers prepare for the virus’s return

    One of the top stories of 2016 quietly exited much of the public’s consciousness in 2017. But it’s still a hot topic among scientists and for good reasons. After Zika emerged in the Western Hemisphere, it shook the Americas, as reports of infections and devastating birth defects swept through Brazil and Colombia, eventually reaching the United States. In a welcome turn, the number of Zika...

    12/13/2017 - 08:26 Health, Neuroscience