Deskarati Science Round Up of 2010

JANUARY In January, researchers announced an ingenious new technique for working out the colours of plumage preserved on dinosaur fossils.

The team revealed that a “mohican” of bristles on a 125-million-year-old dinosaur was, in fact, ginger-coloured feathers.

FEBRUARY In 2010, the Sun was awakening following a quiet period. An opportune time, then, for the US space agency (Nasa) to launch its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) from Cape Canaveral in Florida. During active periods, the Sun sends bursts of high energy particles hurtling in our direction.

These can wreak havoc with communications on Earth, including the sat-nav signals we increasingly rely on. SDO is designed to explain variations in solar activity. A ground-based telescope took this image of a sunspot.

Sunspot

Another Nasa probe is steadily approaching icy Pluto, millions of kilometres from the Sun. Plutoundergoes dramatic seasonal changes, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope declared in February.

MARCH Researchers succeeded in creating a “quantum state” in the largest object yet – a metal paddle just big enough to be seen by the naked eye.

Such states, in which an object is effectively in two places at once, have until now only been accomplished with single particles – atoms and molecules.

Back in the classical world, geneticists uncovered evidence for a previously unknown type of human that lived roughly 50,000 years ago, which they nicknamed “X-woman”.

The finding comes from analysis of DNA in a finger bone unearthed at Denisova Cave in Siberia. Other finds and even more astonishing revelations about the “Denisovans” were to come in December.

APRIL

Researchers in China created what they claim is the most “detailed and realistic” model of HIV to date, and say that it could help in the creation of a vaccine for the deadly virus.

MAY The announcement that researchers had developed the world’s first living cell controlled by synthetic DNA should have come as no surprise to those who have followed the career of one J Craig Venter.

The organism nicknamed “Synthia” is controlled by what the group calls “genetic software”

Dr Venter publicly revealed his intention to create artificial microbes as far back as 1999. Rumours of the breakthrough had been circulating for months before details were published in Science journal.

The Maryland-based team transplanted “genetic software” into a host cell. The resulting microbe then looked and behaved like the species “dictated” by the synthetic DNA.

JUNE Results from an experiment at the US Tevatron particle smasher offered a clue as to why the world around us is composed of normal matter and not its shadowy opposite: anti-matter.

They found that particle collisions produced pairs of matter particles slightly more often than they yielded anti-matter particles.

JULY Astronomers announced the discovery of the biggest known star in the Universe. Even so, it is too small to register in the first full-sky image from the Planck telescope.

AUGUST The solar system may be almost 2 million years older than previously thought, a new study shows.

Data from a newly studied meteorite recovered from the Saharan Desert show that the solar system formed 4,568.2 million years ago, 0.3 million to 1.9 million years earlier than other estimates. The results were published online August 22 in Nature Geoscience.

SEPTEMBER

An artist's impression of Gliese 581g and its parent star (NSF)An artist’s impression of the Earth-like planet and its parent star

The race to discover habitable worlds around distant stars warmed up in September, as an international group discovered an Earth-like planet in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone”.

This is the region around a star where it is neither too hot nor too cold for life. Co-author Steven Vogt says that any indigenous life “would have a wide range of stable climates to choose from and to evolve around”.

Andre Geim

OCTOBER kicked off with the Nobel Prizes. This year’s prize for physics was awarded to the UK-based, Russian-born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their “groundbreaking” work on graphene, a form of carbon with amazing properties. Amazingly, it all started with asticky tape trick. Andre Geim shared the Nobel prize for the development of graphene

Scientists working for the UN said they had eradicated one of the most lethal cattle diseases known to science. The rinderpest virus became only the second viral disease – after smallpox – to be eliminated by humans.

One of the lead-ion collisions, as seen by the ALICE experiment

NOVEMBER One of the lead-ion collisions at the LHC, as seen by the ALICE experiment.

In November, Cern’s Large Hadron Collider successfully created a “mini-Big Bang” by smashing together lead ions.

The experiment generated temperatures a million times hotter than at the centre of the Sun in a bid to recreate the conditions in the Universe a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. Meanwhile, another experiment at Cern, Alpha, reported trapping atoms of antimatter for the first time.

DECEMBER As the year closed, scientists said the ancient humans dubbed “Denisovans” had mixed and interbred with our own species. Together with the results of the Neanderthal genome project, the findings are forcing yet another significant revision to our knowledge of human origins.

Edited from a page from BBC by Paul.Rincon

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