2018 approaches in sparkly new threads, full of fresh vigor and boundless opportunity. So let’s forget about all the regressive awfulness of 2017 — the attempts to gut healthcare; the repeated efforts to make the rich richer and the poor poorer; fucking fidget spinners — and look back at what we achieved as a species in 2017 that, quite simply, no other generation had ever managed before. Because it’s nice to be reminded now and again that, as a species, we’re not so bad after all.
There’s an ultra-cool red dwarf star about 39 light years away called TRAPPIST-1 that not only sounds like a very fancy Belgian beer, it also has seven Earth-sized planets circling it. NASA describes three of these as being in the “habitable zone” — i.e. having the correct atmospheric balance for water and extra-terrestrial life to exist.
Dutch scientists engineered a “landmark advance in the field of aging”: A molecule that purges the damaged cells that build up in older tissues and promote age-related diseases. Elderly mice who signed up for the test regrew fur, improved their kidney functions and were able to run twice as far as those who didn’t.
Using a solar-powered device made of zirconium and fumarate, scientists/magicians at MIT and the University of California figured out how to extract water vapor out of nothing. The prototype squeezed three quarts of water out of thin air (20 percent to 30 percent humidity) in 12 hours.
The mind boggles how, but this year, scientists discovered that the slime covering the skin of a certain frog from southern India contains antimicrobial peptides that destroy key strains of the human flu, while simultaneously protecting normal cells.
Yes, “edited.” Researchers in Portland, Oregon, catapulted homosapiens into the realms of science fiction by successfully altering DNA, the HTML code of life itself. They managed to “delete” a gene mutation linked to heart conditions from a human embryo, signaling a decent leap forward for eradicating genetic diseases forever.
This… doesn’t sound very exciting? But hear us out: Physicists at Harvard squeezed two opposing heavy-duty diamonds together to compress gaseous hydrogen, lowered the temperature to -252 degrees celsius, then exerted pressures greater than those at the center of the Earth to turn it metallic. Why? Because transforming hydrogen gas into a metallic state — the Wigner-Huntington transition, aka “the holy grail of high-pressure physics” — not only gets us the world’s finest superconductor, it could bring about stuff like magnetic levitation for high-speed trains, and a revolution of rocketry, enabling humans to explore the outer planets and beyond — like those orbiting TRAPPIST-1!
In October, a pair of neutron stars windmilled into each other 130 million light years away. Some of Earth’s most alert scientists fathomed that a large fraction of the universe’s heavier metals — like gold, platinum and uranium — originated from such cataclysmic collisions. In short: A pair of stars collided and we learnt stuff! (It also revealed another way to help measure the rate at which the universe is expanding, and some other cool stuff, which is nice.)
Okay, so it sounds like a Dreamworks production and 94 percent of it is underwater, but Zealandia — the new continent in the southwest Pacific beneath New Zealand — has all the other criteria to formally recognize continents. So there.