Monthly News Roundup – January, 2017 in Science

Although January seems to have been a quiet month in the world of science, 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year. Several important scientific projects are already well into their planning stages. China is planning to send a robotic return probe to the Moon this year, while two new space telescopes, including ESA’s CHEOPS exoplanet hunter, is also scheduled for launch in 2017. On that note, the number of confirmed exoplanets now stands at 3572 in 2682 solar systems!

#1. NASA Approves Missions to Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids

Psyche asteroidPeter Rubin/Arizona State University

An artist’s impression of highly metallic asteroid Psyche, which may be all that remains of a once Mars-sized planet.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how asteroids are the leftover building blocks from the early solar system. Recognising their instrumental role in the formation of our planetary system, NASA announced on January 4 two missions to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, asteroids that share the gas giant’s orbit. While the Lucy probe will explore all six of the Trojans, the other will focus purely on Psyche, a mysterious metal asteroid that some scientists believe may be the core of a destroyed planet.

#2. Larsen C Ice Shelf Breakaway Reported Imminent

Larsen C Ice ShelfJohn Sonntag

The rift between the Larsen C Ice Shelf and the rest of the ice is getting wider and deeper every year.

If you ever had any doubted about global warming, man-made or otherwise, then think again. On January 6, the breakaway of the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula was reported imminent. This vast, snow-covered sheet of ice, which is about the size of Trinidad, has already partially separated from the rest of the continent, leaving a 1,640-foot-deep (500 metres) rift. The breakaway will cause global sea levels to rise by about 4 inches (10 cm) over the coming years.

#3. New Species of Gibbon Discovered in China

Hoolock tianxingFan Peng-Fei

The previously undiscovered hoolock tianxing gibbon lives in remote jungle regions of China and Myanmar.

China certainly seems to be featuring a lot in the news lately when it comes to scientific discoveries. Amazingly, on January 11, the discovery of an entirely new species of primate was announced. Dubbed the skywalker hoolock gibbon (yes, the discoverer is clearly a huge Star Wars fan), the primate lives in tropical forests in remote regions of southwestern China and Myanmar. Although the species hasn’t yet been assigned a conservation status, it is expected to be listened as threatened.

#4. Study Reveals Hot Peppers Lead to Longer Life

ChillisSivahari

Chillis contain an important active ingredient that helps kill microbes and beat inflammations.

Like spicy food? Then good for you, you might just live longer! Researchers from the University of Vermont announced on January 13 that their studies concluded and confirmed earlier independent research that hot peppers have a significant positive influence on longevity. The reason for this is that hot peppers contain high amounts of an active component called capsaicin, the substance that makes them spicy but also has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects.

#5. SpaceX Resumes Flights after September Explosion

SpaceXSpaceX

Despite September’s failure, SpaceX looks to be getting back on track with its space missions.

When a SpaceX rocket exploded during launch from Cape Canaveral last September, things weren’t looking good for would-be James Bond supervillain Elon Musk and his vision for sending man to Mars. However, after months of extensive testing and evaluation, the billionaire’s private spaceflight company looks to be getting back on track. On January 14, SpaceX successfully resumed flights with the launch of a Falcon 9 vehicle from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

#6. Mysterious Gravity Wave Discovered on Venus

Venus gravity waveJAXA

Venus’ ominous sideways smile suggests unusual topographical activity deep beneath the impenetrable clouds.

Since its insertion into the orbit of Venus in December, 2015, Japan’s Akatsuki (Dawn) probe has been exploring the atmosphere of our nearest planetary neighbour. Soon after arrival, it photographed a bow-shaped cloud spanning some 6,000 miles (9,650 km). JAXA revealed on January 16 that the strange formation is believed to be a gravity wave, a phenomenon caused by activity within the underlying surface topography. Exactly what kind of activity, we don’t yet know.

#7. Independent Studies Reveal 2016 to be the Warmest on Record

Global WarmingNASA

This heat map illustrates how average surface temperatures have increased across most of the world.

On January 18, NASA revealed that 2016 was the warmest year on record for average global temperatures. The findings were further backed up by various independent reports conducted by other organizations around the world. From January to June, 2016, average temperatures were 1.3 degrees warmer than they were at the close of the nineteenth century. 2016 represents the third year in a row where there’s been a new record in global average surface temperatures.

#8. Giant Otter Fossil Discovered in China

Siamogale melilutra Mauricio Anton

6-million years ago, giant otters roamed the warm swampland of southwestern China.

It seems that a new prehistoric species is discovered every few weeks in China these days. On January 23, the 6-million-year-old remains of a giant otter were found in southwestern China. The Late Miocene mammal would have weighed around 110 pounds (50 kilos), making it far larger than any modern-day otter. Dubbed siamogale melilutra, only a skull was found, but its enormous size allowed palaeontologists to estimate its approximate weight and total size.

#9. Dipole Repeller Void Found to Be Pushing Our Galaxy Away

Dipole RepellerYehuda Hoffman

A previously unknown region of space has proven to be highly influential in the movement of nearby galaxy clusters.

Our galaxy is hurtling through space along at a staggering 391 miles (630 km) per second. For some years, physicists have suspected that a particularly dense region of the Observable Universe, known as the Great Attractor, has been tugging the Milky Way towards it. However, on January 30, researches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem revealed that a previously undiscovered low-density region of space, known as the Dipole Repeller, is effectively pushing us away at the same time.

#10. Oldest Human Ancestor Discovered in China

SaccorhytusCambridge University

Newly discovered animal saccorhytus lived 540-million years ago and is the earliest known ancestor to mammals, fish, reptiles and numerous other groups.

The earliest known deuterostome, a phylum to which all animals with both a mouth and an anus belong, lived 540-million years ago at the dawn of the Cambrian Period and the Phanerozoic Aeon. The discovery of the exceptionally well-preserved specimen in China was announced on January 30. A sea creature, as were all animals from the time, saccorhytus coronarius was only about a millimetre in size and had an extremely large mouth relative to its total body size.

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