The Great American Eclipse
We learned that nothing brings people together likethe sun hiding behind the moon.
On Aug 21, the country came to a pause as millionsof Americans — even the president — put on eclipseglasses and stopped to take in the first eclipse tocross the United States since 1918. Its path acrossthe United States was a scientific bonanza forastronomers who were able to more easily point advanced equipment at the sun.
What Separates Wolves From Dogs
We learned that you can never turn a wolf into a pet dog.
James Gorman, a Times reporter, accompanied scientists who are trying to understand thegenes that distinguish dogs from wolves. Humans who raise wolf puppies must spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with them in order to socialize these puppies for scientificstudy. And while the pups may seem cute, they will grow to be predatory wolves, nothumanity’s faithful companions. The researchers hope their work will help reveal the triggerthat made some ancient wolves into the dogs we know today.
Treating Birth Defects Before a Baby Is Born
We learned about fetal surgery’s potential to change lives.
A Times reporter, Denise Grady, went inside an operating room to observe an experimentaltechnique to treat severe spina bifida in a 24-week-old fetus. The doctors performing thesurgery hope it will result in superior outcomes for children born with the disorder. Their first 28 surgeries have seen good results so far. Jan. 14 is the due date for the mother who was thesubject of the article.
Farewell to Cassini
We learned about the power of human ingenuity in our solar system’s deep reaches.
The Cassini spacecraft has been sending home images of Saturn, its rings and its moons sincearriving at the gas giant in 2004. The mission ended in September with a planned fiery crashinto Saturn’s atmosphere. While it studied the planet, Cassini explored moons — Titan andEnceladus — that could be home to extraterrestrial life. The probe also gave us great insightinto our solar system, and will continue to do so for years as scientists pore over the data itcollected.
Beauty and Evolution
We learned that animals may make choices based on aesthetics.
Why does beauty exist? To answer this question, Richard O. Prum, an ornithologist, is workingto revive an idea advanced by Charles Darwin: the attractiveness of an animal to another ofits species isn’t only tied to fitness and good genes. Rather, animals — especially birds in Dr. Prum’s work — are making subjective decisions. He hopes that evolutionary biologists willstop “explaining away desire.”
Saving Cancer Patients in Africa
We learned that there is new hope for Africans with treatable cancers.
Major pharmaceutical companies, working with the American Cancer Society, will steeplydiscount cancer drugs for patients in African countries. Cancer kills 450,000 people across thecontinent each year, but many types<, /span> here are among the most treatable: breast, cervical andprostate tumors.
The Global Obesity Epidemic
We learned about the causes and consequences of rising obesity around the world.
Makers of processed food, soda and fast food see markets in the developing world as theirgreatest growth opportunities. At the same time, obesity rates and weight-related illnessesare on the rise in developing countries. An ongoing series of articles examined the interactionof these two trends, starting with cases in Brazil, Ghana and Colombia. Taken together, thesestories reveal “a new global food order, and a new health crisis.”
Where Goods Made From Trafficked Wildlife Go
We learned about a warehouse that is like a mausoleum for endangered species.
When contraband goods made from prohibited wildlife are seized in the United States, theyfind their way to the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver. Pictures taken by TristanSpinski from inside the facility — shoes made of leopard skin, a lamp made with zebra hooves, asea turtle’s skull, an elephant foot stool — “testify to the human appetite for other species,” Rachel Nuwer wrote for The Times in July.
The Aftermath of Zika Virus
We learned about the lingering toll of this frightening epidemic.
Late last year, the World Health Organization declared that Zika virus was no longer a globalemergency. But the disease’s effects on babies who may live for decades are only beginning tobe understood. In northeastern Brazil, where links between the virus and birth defects likemicrocephaly were first detected, families struggle to give the best lives possible to strickenbabies. Researchers hope to find clues about the virus’s effects on the fetus by studying pairsof twins in Brazil in which one was born with birth defects and the other was not.
Colliding Neutron Stars
We learned that we could see a source of ripples in space-time.
Astronomers confirmed a key part of Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 2016 when theyannounced that the LIGO array had detected gravitational waves released by the collision oftwo black holes. The researchers won a Nobel Prize for the discovery. But they’re not done: InOctober, scientists announced the finding of two dead stars colliding — not only hearing theripples in space-time they made, but confirming the event visually with powerful telescopes. Collisions of neutron stars are believed to be the source of all heavy metals in the universe, including gold and silver, and the detection by LIGO helps verify accepted explanations of howthe chemistry of the universe formed.