From the END OF THE WORLD to DESIGNER BABIES: The BIGGEST science stories of 2018
However, it was not all good news – 2018 saw the loss of one of the world’s greatest scientists with the passing of Stephen Hawking. Experts have also predicted a grim future for our planet thanks to climate change, after a year of ferocious weather. Here, Express.co.uk rounds up the major science stories which rocked the world this year.
Water on Mars
Scientists made a huge breakthrough in the search for life on Mars after they discovered what appears to be an existing lake of water at the end of July.
The lake was discovered on the south polar ice cap of Mars and is covered in a sheet of ice, the thickness of which is yet to be determined.
The body of water is about 20 kilometres across and would be the first evidence of permanent water on the Red Planet.
Space agency NASA’s Curiosity Rover had found that liquid water does flow intermittently on Mars and it also detected that water had existed there in the past.
NASA found a subsurface lake on Mars
But this discovery could prove water has likely been constant throughout Mars’ 4.6 billion year history – making the possibility of life much more likely.
Professor Roberto Orosei, from the University of Bologna, wrote in the journal Science: “Anomalously bright subsurface reflections are evident within a well-defined 20-kilometre-wide zone.. which is surrounded by much less reflective areas.
“Quantitative analysis of the radar signals shows that this bright feature has high relative dielectric permittivity (electrical polarisation) matching that of water-bearing materials.
“We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars.”
NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe
NASA flies close to the sun
NASA launched one of its most ambitious missions to date on August 11 when the Parker Solar Probe was blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The probe, named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker who developed the theory on the supersonic solar wind, is heading towards Sun at 430,000mph or 125 miles a second.
Once there, the probe will be placed in an orbit of just four million miles from the sun where temperatures exceed 1,400 degrees Celsius.
The mission is significant as NASA spent 15 years of painstaking trial and error to develop a material which is both lightweight and super heat resistant.
The final result sees the front and back of the heat shield made of carbon-carbon – a material designed for scorching temperatures.
The two carbon-carbon sheets are just a tenth of an inch thick, meaning they are quite malleable.
The mission will gather data about the sun’s outermost atmosphere known as the corona.
Temperatures in the corona are up to 500,000 degrees celsius and, for an unknown reason, far exceeds the heat of the sun’s core.
It will also help scientists understand the history of the sun and solar winds.
NASA said in a statement: “Parker Solar Probe, protected by a first-of-its-kind heat shield and other innovative technologies, will provide unprecedented information about our Sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system to affect Earth and other worlds.”
A Chinese scientist claimed he helped make the world’s first genetically modified babies
The world’s first genetically modified babies
This year saw global outcry as a Chinese scientist claimed he helped make the world’s first genetically modified human beings: twin girls whose DNA he said he altered.
A team at the Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, planned to eliminate a gene called CCR5 to make the offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox and cholera.
The Chinese scientist behind the endeavour, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, used the gene editing tool, CRISPR, to create “genetically modified” human babies.
The result was met by public backlash, who deemed the experiment immoral, with many claiming it could lead to so-called “designer babies”.
However, the research was quickly thrown into question, with experts claiming Dr Jiankui had not achieved the astonishing feat, as the findings were not published in any medical or scientific journal where they would be peer-reviewed by other experts, leading some to believe he was hiding something.
This is a story that continues to develop and will be worth looking out for as we head in to 2019.
Climate change has been a hot topic this year
The future looks bleak
Record breaking temperatures were set AGAIN in 2019, and scientists are beginning to warn the future is not looking good for humanity unless we get our act together.
The ice sheets continue to melt at a rapid rate, which severely damages the planet’s fragile ecosystem and not enough is being done to save us now, scientists warn.
Measures have been taken, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, to save the planet but experts believe it might not be enough if humanity is to continue to thrive.
By 2050, the global population is forecasted to reach almost 10 billion people, and many scientists believe that will be a tipping point for humanity.
British icon and famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough believes the collapse of civilisations is on the horizon and said at the beginning of December that action needs to be taken now.
In an impassioned speech, Sir David said: “Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years – climate change.
“If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Stephen Hawking died in March, aged 76
The death of Stephen Hawking
The final story on our list is for the man who got the whole world interested in science.
Professor Stephen Hawking died at the age of 76 in the early hours of March 13, following a 55-year battle with motor neurone disease.
Professor Hawking suffered from a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21.
Doctors expected him to live for no more than two years, but he had a form of the disease which progressed more slowly than usual.
Tributes flooded in for the pioneering scientist, but it was perhaps his own children which put it best.In a statement Professor Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim Hawking said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.
“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.
“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.
“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”
Daily Express :: Science Feed