Ten Bits Of The Best Science News We Heard All Year

Say what you will about this last year, but you have to admit that 2018 heralded some fascinating breakthrough scientific discoveries. PopTika/Shutterstock

Madison Dapcevich 01 Jan 2019, 20:39

Archaeologists first discovered the sprawling empire in February, but it took the team six months to confirm the presence of more than 61,000 ancient structures, including houses, large palaces, ceremonial centers, and pyramids. Based on their findings, the team estimate between 7 and 11 million people were present here at the height of the Late Classic period, 650-800 CE. For scale, New York City has about 8.5 million people. Publishing their work in Sciencethe team notes these populations were unevenly distributed with different levels of urbanization spread out over 2,100 square kilometers (810 square miles).

“Seen as a whole, terraces and irrigation channels, reservoirs, fortifications and causeways reveal an astonishing amount of land modification done by the Maya over their entire landscape on a scale previously unimaginable,” explained team member Francisco Estrada-Belli in a statement at the time. 

4. Breakthrough Spinal Implant Allows People With Paralysis To Walk And Stand Once Again 

Many a medical wonder occurred in the last year, including a study that allowed two people with paralysis from traumatic injuries with the ability to walk independently years after having lost voluntary muscle control below the site of their spinal cord damage.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers detailed how the “epidural stimulation” took place by way of a surgically implanted nerve stimulation device alongside months of training. The treatment is very early on, but the results “demonstrate that the framework of nerve connections necessary for voluntary movement is not completely destroyed by spinal cord trauma.” This suggests that even more successful treatments could be within reach in the future.

3. The Voyager 2 Became The Second Spacecraft To Enter Interstellar Space

This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. NASA/JPL-Caltech

This last year saw some of the biggest strides in space science the world has seen (more on that later), including the moment earlier this month when the Voyager 2, which has been journeying through space for the last 41 years, fulfilled its fate to become the second interstellar spacecraft to leave the heliosphere.

"For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars," NASA said in a statement at the time. "NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun."

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