Say what you will about this last year, but you have to admit that 2018 heralded some fascinating breakthrough scientific discoveries.
For the first time, genealogy helped law enforcement officers solve a decades-old murder case and put an alleged serial killer behind bars (and a few others as well). We saw mice that were born to same-sex parents using stem cells go on to have healthy offspring. Male birth control pills were shown to be safe and effective in a trial study (a big win for biological womankind). A groundbreaking HIV vaccine was set to begin human testing in 2019, even though a certain administration suspended research to look for a potential cure. The ozone layer may be on its way to being fully healed by 2060, according to a UN report, while the Great Barrier Reef showed “significant signs of recovery” (although the overall future of the world’s coral reefs still looks pretty grim).
In no particular order, here are just a few of our favorite scientific breakthroughs over the last 12 months.
In March, a crew of amateur aurora chasers spotted a narrow band of celestial purple lights dancing in the night sky, believed to be a new form of aurora. Adorably, the crew named their new aurora STEVE as an adage to the kid’s movie Over the Hedge, where one of the characters arbitrarily names the phenomena Steve.
“STEVE is essentially a very narrow, usually very faint, curtain of mauve-colored light south of the primary Aurora – or north, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere – reaching from the eastern horizon to the western horizon," Chris Ratzlaff, one of the aurora chasers who helped to discover STEVE, told IFLScience. "Usually, it’s quite subtle, but it’s been caught a few times quite bright."
That’s when NASA stepped in (because who wouldn’t with a name like that?) and wrote in Science Advances that STEVE was indeed a new subauroral structure. They let the name stand, giving the acronym the full title “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.”
Still, some contend STEVE may be an imposter – a mystery we can only hope 2019 will solve.
Just when we thought we knew it all, there goes science surprising us with a new human structure. Dubbed the interstitium, scientists say the new microanatomic structure could be the source of lymph, the fluid containing white blood cells that is essential to a healthy immune system. Writing in Scientific Reports, the researchers note that the network could play a significant role in maintaining health and advancing the spread of diseases like cancer.
Before this, the scientific realm generally agreed that the interstitium layers were dense connective tissues, but the researchers argue that they are instead fluid-filled compartments supported by collagen and elastin that act like shock absorbers to protect our tissues from tearing throughout the day. The finding may explain why cancer that invades this cell highway is more likely to spread as it drains into the lymphatic system and spreads throughout the body.