The year 2005 will go down as one of the most innovative and remarkable years in the history of science. Of course, you could probably make the same boast about any year in the last quarter century or so. Our knowledge and understanding in a multitude of scientific disciplines is increasing so fast that it takes one’s breath away to think where we were in 1980 and where we are now. In fields as diverse as cosmology, medicine, the mind, and human origins, this year has seen some startling breakthroughs that have added substantially to the richness of our understanding of humanity and our place in the universe.
I have taken what I consider the top ten science stories from a variety of sources. Some topics are more general rather than specific to reflect a multitude of advancements.
Feel free to add or subtract from this list in the comments.
The question uppermost in everyone’s mind is can NASA get it right? Will they be able to bring the next generation manned crew exploration vehicle (CEV) home on time and within very tight budgetary limits? The new Administrator Michael Griffin is making all the right noises about the new CEV even going so far as to say he will deliver on the project two years early. But given NASA’s history, many are skeptical.
Plenty of fodder for both advocates and detractors of global warming this year as several atmospheric models of how much CO2 should be in the atmosphere proved to be massively wrong while ice core evidence from Greenland shows a spike in CO2 levels not seen in 600,000 years. The beat goes on in 2006.
From discovering clues to the origins of homo sapiens to unlocking the secrets of life itself, the pace of discovery in the study of genes continues to amaze and awe laypeople like me.
In a development that will become more commonplace once various earth-based systems come on-line and the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) is launched, a rocky planet 7.5 times the size of the earth was discovered just 15 light years away. With 150 planets and counting, the coming decade will see an explosion of planet discoveries that could very well answer the question “Are we alone?”
Both European and US Martian probes continue to surprise and amaze scientists, finding what appears to be methane (which could be a sign of subsurface life) as well as the almost certainty of water. The little Rovers Opportunity and Spirit approach the end their second year still working magnificently and beaming back pictures and data that continues to amaze. Not bad for a couple of rovers that were only supposed to last three months.
The Europeans and Japanese have decided to go ahead and build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France. The concept behind this project has such enormous implications for our future that the decision to finally build it must be considered a top story for any year. If everything goes well, within 3-5 years, we should have the world’s first fusion reactor – a breakthrough that will eventually lead to truly clean nuclear energy.
In a triumph of both technological wizardry and international cooperation, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent the European probe Huygens drifting gently toward the surface of Saturns enigmatic moon Titan. The spectacular pictures sent back from the only moon in the solar system known to have an atmosphere will have scientists scratching their heads for years to come.
It was the busiest hurricane season on record which caused a speculation fest among global warming advocates that atmospheric warming was to blame. Thankfully, the grown ups stepped in and pointed out the cyclical nature of Atlantic hurricanes, much to the displeasure of people who thought they could accuse George Bush of another crime against humanity.
The Space Shuttle returned to flight following the Columbia disaster. Despite years of work to make Shuttle launches safer, NASA engineers had to go back to the drawing board as insulation on the external fuel tank continues to fall off in dangerous chunks.
The top science story of 2005 has to be the Deep Impact Mission to Comet Tempel 1. The probe traveled 250 million miles in order to deliberately crash into the comet so that scientists could get a glimpse of what’s inside. The mission succeeded beyond all expectations and was a masterpiece of precision and “gee whiz” gadgetry. Truly. Awesome.
I know that I was a little heavy on space stories here but frankly, that’s where my interest lies. I would genuinely be interested in some competing stories anyone may have. Feel free to use the comment section to supply recommendations and links.
This post has been published for less than an hour at this point and I’ve already received two emails asking about the ID vs. Evolution story.
At the risk of angering some of my most loyal and supportive readers, I will say that the reason the story was not included was because I don’t believe it to be a science story but rather a political one. The “debate” over the efficacy of ID is largely one sided and besides, there have been no significant breakthroughs in research on Intelligent Design that would be worthy of including in a post about the top science stories for 2005 .