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Words Matter: Discoveries of the Decade

Discoveries of the Decade

By Teju Calambakkam

With the end of a decade comes a time of reflection. The 2010s were a time of significant advances in astronomy, physics, and geology among other fields. Here are some of the many discoveries of the decade.

2010: Ancient Ancestors Uncovered

In March of 2010, anthropologists discovered a small finger bone in the Denisova cave in Siberia. It was determined that it came from a close relative to modern humans, and was also from a young girl around the ages of five and seven. The species was named Denisovans after the cave they were found in. The cold weather in the Siberian cave is thought to have helped preserve the ancient DNA.

2011: Potential Habitable Planet

On December 5th of 2011, NASA announced the discovery of the first potentially habitable planet, Kepler 22-b. A planet-hunting space telescope found the planet to be 2.4 times the radius of Earth and 600 light-years away from us. Since then, the Kepler mission has discovered more than 1000 new planet candidates in the “habitable zone”, where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface.

2012: Fundamental Particle Found

On July 4th of 2012, physicists reported the observation of a new type of particle. It was consistent with the properties of the Higgs Boson particle. Nicknamed the “God particle”, the Higgs Boson gives mass to everything in the universe that has a mass of their own, even electrons and protons. Scientists had known that the particle had to exist—otherwise, nothing in our universe would have mass—but only found evidence of such a particle in 2012.

2013: Lab-Grown Hamburger

In the Netherlands, a taste-test of a lab-grown hamburger was conducted. Scientists extracted stem cells from cow muscle tissues and cultured them with nutrients and growth-promoting chemicals, leading to the creation of billions of lab-grown cells. Though the meat was initially white, the chef used beetroot for color. Food critics said that it was a very good start to the lab-grown meat industry.

2014: Space Probe On Comet

The European Space Agency had a 10-year mission to catch a comet and land a probe on it. Launched in 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft arrived at its target 372 million miles away from Earth on August 6th of 2014. Its lander, Philae, took the first-ever surface images of a comet. However, Philae didn’t deploy correctly and unexpectedly bounced twice before landed in a shadow. The orbiter studied the comet for another two years before the mission ended.

2015: Pluto Photos

In 2015, NASA’s New Horizons probe spent 15 minutes flying close to Pluto and collecting as much information as possible. This included images of the surface and the plasma and dust environment and “movies” from the edge of our solar system. This eventually led to the discovery of water ice on Pluto.

2016: AI Won Against World Champion

2016 was not the first time artificial intelligence beat humans in a complex game. However, it marked the first time AI beat the very best at Go - a 2,500-year-old game that’s even more complex. Made by Google’s DeepMind division, the computer system won four out of five games versus Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol.

2017: Uncovered Continent

In 2017, geologists announced the discovery of a new continent hidden under the Pacific Ocean. Two-thirds that size of Australia, it was named Zealandia due to being between New Zealand and New Caledonia. Only 6% of the continent is above water. However, researchers have also found fossils that suggest it wasn’t always underwater.

2018: Underground Lakes On Mars

In July 2018, Italian scientists found evidence of a 20-kilometer-wide lake of liquid water underground on Mars. It was found by a ground-penetrating radar and was located at Mars’s polar ice cap. Most parts of Mars are too cold for water to stay liquid unless it’s deep underground. The evidence of the lake added to the speculation of life on Mars since all life on Earth comes from water.

2019: Malaria Vaccine Program Began

After three decades of research and development work, WHO launched the world’s first malaria vaccine program in April 2019. The pilot Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program aimed to immunize around 360,000 children every year in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya. More than 90% of the global disease is situated in Africa, but the vaccine prevented four in ten malaria cases in clinical trials, including three in ten life-threatening cases.

Though the past ten years were filled with many memorable findings, the future holds even more for us to discover.

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