2016: Another Year in Cutting Edge Science

A photo-montage showing pictures of the recent scientific developments of the year 2016. From Major Tim Peake's extraordinary space adventure, to the discovery of the missing elements in the Periodic Table, and the gravitational wave detection from a merger of black holes far away in outer space...  Collage: NaturPhilosophieYou Spin Me Right Round…

Just over a century ago, Einstein proposed the existence of waves in the spacetime continuum – the logical deduction from his Theory of General Relativity.  In February 2016, scientists finally announced the detection of those “ripples” in gravity, using the technique of laser interferometry. 

Apart from the spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s ideas, this cutting-edge discovery of gravitational waves provided the direct confirmation of the existence of black holes, since the cosmic commotion had likely resulted from the distant merging of two of those colliding space oddities. 

 

Making Waves

The discovery opened up an entirely new field of astronomical research – a way of probing cosmic phenomena that were once thought to be off-limits to any kind of scientific inquiry.

A more complete understanding of the Universe, and the manner in which it all started with the Big Bang, finally got within the reach of physicists.

 

Peake-A-Boo

Towards the end of 2015, Tim Peake became the first “official” UK astronaut to set foot on the International Space Station.

In January 2016, Major Peake boldly stepped outside the I.S.S. to repair a faulty voltage regulator, becoming the first crew member to sport the Union Flag on a spacewalk.

Although the main objective was achieved, the British astronaut had to cut his space outing short after water began leaking into the helmet of his colleague Tim Kopra’s spacesuit.

 

Near Proximity

What’s more this year?

Astronomers confirmed the existence of ever another rocky exoplanet orbiting the nearest star to our Solar System.  Proxima Centauri belongs to a class of small, cool stars, known as M dwarfs.

Much different from the mid-sized yellow category that our Sun belongs to, they are cooler, and the habitable zones around such dwarf stars are located further in, which also exposes this rocky world – Proxima b – to harsher radiation.

 

Flat Lenses and Meta-Materials

The search for a more compact, thinner lens that performs as well, if not better, than the bulkier, traditional curved types used in cameras and telescopes, got a massive boost this year.

A new flat lens made of paint whitener on a sliver of glass was heralded as a “game-changer” by its inventors.

Made from assemblies of multiple elements fashioned from composite materials, like metals or plastics, meta-materials promise to revolutionise the way we look at things.

 

Vera Rubin

Few astrophysicists have been as influential on the progress of Cosmology as Vera Rubin.  In 1974, Rubin discovered that the stars at the edges of galaxies moved faster than expected.

Gravity calculations using only visible matter in galaxies showed that the outer stars should have been moving more slowly.  To reconcile her observations with the law of gravity, scientists proposed the existence of a type of exotic matter that does not interact with electromagnetic radiation, and as a result cannot be seen.

They decided to call it dark matter.

This month, we say goodbye to that great lady of Science who should have won a Nobel Prize.

 

Bingo

Scientists also discovered the missing elements 113, 115, 117 and 118.

They are formally named: nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og), thereby completing Mendeleev’s Elementary Periodic Table.

Time to rewrite the science books!