Yes, 2016 was a terrible year for many reasons. Even in its last moments, it seems to want to cause us a heck of a lot of grief.
Still, it’s worth pointing out that a lot of good things happened this year too. Science, in particular, has decrypted the universe rather splendidly, and we are wiser and smarter than we were back in 2015.
So, to send off 2016, here are 16 of the coolest new things we now know about the universe thanks to science.
1 – There is a massive metal dragon inside Earth’s core
This enigmatic, serpent-shaped, liquid iron beast is traveling around Earth’s molten outer core. Currently under Alaska, it encircles about half of the entire planet’s circumference, and it’s the fastest moving thing beneath our feet.
It’s also messing with Earth’s magnetic field, and it appears to be accelerating.
There’s actually a lot we don’t know about this metallic jet stream, but this daisy-chain of doom is ludicrously fascinating, and perhaps a little frightening.
2 – We know the secret to Pluto’s heart
New Horizons zipped by the dwarf planet Pluto back in 2015, and some of the most remarkable images it sent back were of a basin that strongly resembled a cartoon heart. Ever since, scientists have been trying to work out what may have formed this spectacular feature, and there are plenty of theories flying around.
The most compelling, however, appears to be that the smooth basin is a radioactive sea of nitrogen icebergs. And if you have liquid features at the surface of a mainly solid ice world, then you must still have a source of heat.
Pluto is too small to have retained any of its primordial (formation) heat, so the sea must be sustained by the decay of radioactive elements from within. And, at just 1 million years of age, Pluto’s cardiovascular-like sea is one of the youngest features in the Solar System.
3 – An entire continent was destroyed by the Himalayas
Mount Everest. Nikita Serdechyy/Shutterstock
The collision of India with Eurasia about 40 to 60 million years ago actually forced down an entire continent’s worth of rock into the fiery, partly molten mantle. Seeing as the buoyancy of continents means that they normally “float” on the mantle below, this is quite an impressive feat.