Monthly News Roundup – February, 2017 in Science

It seems that there’s barely a dull moment in the world of science and technology, and this February has certainly not been any exception! Of course, everyone’s been talking about the recent record-breaking discovery of the Trappist-1 planetary system, but that’s certainly not the only interesting event to hit the headlines over the past month. On that note, we’re now up to 3586 planets in 2691 planetary systems, with at least a dozen more being discovered every month.

#1. Researchers Publish the First Practical Blueprint for a Quantum Computer

Quantum Computer CoreIon Quantum Technology Group, University of Sussex

The prototype core of a quantum computer could potentially be millions of times more powerful than today’s binary machines.

For the most part, quantum computing remains the stuff of science fiction. However, recent advances in this cutting-edge technology prove that the days of the transistor-based binary computing model might soon be over. On February 1, an international team of scientists have published the very first practical blueprint of a machine that works on an atomic level to solve incredibly complex problems that would literally take billions of years for even the world’s fastest supercomputers to solve.

#2. New Type of Star Discovered 380 Light Years from Earth

AR ScorpiiUniversity of Warwick/ESO

AR Scorpii consists of an unremarkable red dwarf star and an incredibly rare exotic star known as a white dwarf pulsar.

Recent observations of binary star system AR Scorpii revealed on February 7 a new category of star. The white dwarf pulsar is the first of its kind ever discovered in the universe. By contrast, all other pulsars have been neutron stars, which are stellar remnants left behind when a massive star collapses. AR Scorpii, on the other hand, is a low-mass white dwarf star what emits a steady lighthouse-like beam of radiation that is otherwise only found in extremely high density neutron star pulsars.

#3. NASA Releases Mission Goals for a Europa Surface Lander

Europa Surface LanderNASA

A Europa surface lander would reveal much about the mysterious Jovian moon, even if it can’t explore the subsurface ocean directly.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is one of the most promising candidates in the solar system for being home to extraterrestrial life. However, exploring its vast subsurface ocean, locked away beneath many miles of ice, is no easy task. However, on February 8, NASA revealed a 264-page report detailing a proposed lander mission to the distant world. Its goals include to search for signs of life, determine the habitability of the subsurface ocean and set a precedent for future exploration.

#4. Studies Reveal a Reduction in Global Maritime Oxygen Levels


Oceanic anoxia is thought to be the main cause behind Earth’s most catastrophic mass extinction event.

Oxygen is crucial for almost all life on Earth, including that found in the oceans. However, findings published by the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany on February 15 revealed that ocean oxygen levels have decreased by two percent over the last 50 years. This alarming trend could have far-reaching consequences for the global environment and economy alike. It is believed that increasing concentrations of man-made carbon dioxide is at least partly to blame.

#5. Evidence for Organic Material Discovered on Ceres

Organic Matter on CeresNASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The reddish areas in this enhanced-colour image show increased levels of organic matter around Ernutet Crater.

With a diameter of 587 miles (945 km), dwarf planet Ceres is by far the largest object in the Asteroid Belt. However, while not exactly a likely abode for extraterrestrial life, NASA’s Dawn mission revealed on February 16 direct evidence of the existence or organic material there. If organic material is indeed proven to exist on Ceres, it would certainly support the thinking that these crucial ingredients for all life on Earth may have come from space in the first place.

#6. Scientists Revive 50,000-Year-Old Microbes in Mexico

Cave of CrystalsAlexander Van Driessche

The microbes were found dormant and locked up in ancient gypsum crystals in the Naira mine.

It sounds like the premise of the Jurassic Park series but, for the first time ever, scientists revealed on February 17 that they had successfully revived dormant microbes that had been trapped in crystals for up to 50,000 years. Even more incredibly, these microbes have been living in enormous underground caverns in the depths of the Naica Mine in the Mexican state of Chihuahua where extreme temperatures and humidity levels are deadly for anyone who isn’t suitably prepared.

#7. 7 Tiny New Frog Species Discovered in India

Night FrogsSD Biju

Many species of night frog are even smaller than an Indian 1-rupee coin.

Almost 5,000 different frog species have been identified so far and, on February 21, scientists in India added seven more to the list. These aren’t any normal frogs, however – they are night frogs (scientifically knowns as nyctibatrachus). Some of them, including all the new species, are minuscule in size, growing no larger than a person’s thumbnail. They likely endangered too, and they’re only known to be present in the Western Ghats, an area of particularly unique biodiversity.

#8. 7 Earth-Sized Planets Found in a Single Solar System

Trappist-1NASA JPL Caltech

Being much smaller and cooler than the Sun, any planet orbiting in the habitable zone of Trappist-1 would likely be a gloomy place.

NASA revealed one of the most exciting exoplanet discoveries of recent years on February 22 – the record-breaking seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting a star called Trappist-1 some 40 light years away. Three of these planets lie within the assumed habitable zone of the star too. However, while there’s been a lot of talk about finding Earth 2.0 in this record-breaking system, it’s important to remember that the star is a super-cool red dwarf with a mass barely 8 percent that of the Sun.

#9. Global Seed Vault Receives 50,000 New Seeds

Global Seed VaultCroptrust

The remote global seed vault safeguards nearly a million samples of the world’s most important crops and other plants.

In one of the most remote inhabited areas of the planet lies the global seed vault. Located in the Norwegian island of Svalbard, far north of the Arctic Circle, this fail-safe storage facility is built to safeguard tens of thousands of seeds for important crops and other plants. On February 22, the doomsday vault collected 50,000 new samples, including some from the world’s most crucial food sources, such as barley, sorghum and potato. There are now more almost one-million samples in total.

#10. Supernova Blast Still Visible after 30 Years

Supernova-1987aDr. Christopher Burrows/ESA/STScI/NASA/Hubble Heritage Team

The supernova event occurred some 163,000 years ago but, because of the great distances involved, we only saw it in 1987.

February 24 marked three decades since astronomers spotted one of the brightest supernova events in centuries. 163,000 years ago, a star in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite of our Milky Way, exploded, allowing us to see this incredible event in 1987. For several months, it shone with the intensity of 100 million suns, and it still shines to this day. Watching the events unfold, astronomers have been able to garner invaluable insights into this extreme ending to the stellar life cycle.

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