We live in a technological age, for sure, but 2005 will go down as a particularly abundant year for scientific discoveries.
10. Moony probe: The European Space Agency successfully landed the Huygens probe on the surface of Titan — a journey of 900 million miles that yielded a two-and-a-half-hour peek beneath the haze of Saturn’s largest moon. Titan’s surface is orange and spongy, and the moon emits a low whooshing sound.
9. It’s not a lemur: Finding new animals these days is rare — especially large mammals. In December, the World Wildlife Federation discovered a new mammal in the forests of Borneo. Snapped twice by remote camera, the critter is about the size of a cat and has a long, muscular tail. It’s thought to be a meat eater.
8. Ten planets or eight?: In July, astronomers said every school kid in the world is wrong: The solar system doesn’t have nine planets — it has 10. About 9 billion miles from the sun is planet 2003 UB313, a cold, desolate rock about one-and-a-half times the size of Pluto. Others disagree: The new planet is a big asteroid, a Kuiper Belt object, and so is Pluto. The "planet" orbits the sun on a different plane — which is why no one noticed it before — even though it’s bright enough to be seen by amateur astronomers.
7. Little fluffy comets: On July 4, NASA created a unique fireworks display far out in space between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists used the Deep Impact spacecraft to smash a 1,000-pound copper impactor into comet Tempel 1. The collision revealed that comets are fluffy, not hard and rocky. The mission was a masterpiece of technical coordination over a distance of nearly 270 million miles.
6. Big soft dinosaur: Paleontologists in March accidentally stumbled upon the first soft tissue from a dinosaur — some cells and blood vessels from a 68 million-year-old female Tyrannosaurus rex. They had to split a thigh bone to remove it from a remote dig, and it’s expected to be a goldmine of dino physiology. Previously, it had been assumed tissue couldn’t survive longer than 100,000 years.
5. First neuro-cybernaut: Quadriplegic Matt Nagle became the first paralyzed person to control an artificial hand by brain power alone. A "Braingate" chip implanted in Nagle’s motor cortex allows him to reach out and grasp objects by thinking about moving his own paralyzed hand. Nagle’s neuro-cybernetic interface also allows him to control the lights, TV and a computer. "My mother was scared of what might happen, but what else can they do to me?" Nagle said. "I was in a corner, and I had to come out fighting."
4. Rocky exoplanet: Astronomers detected the smallest planet to date in another star system. About 7.5 times the size of the Earth, its relatively diminutive proportions mean it is likely made of rock. Previous exoplanets — about 150 have been detected so far — were all gas giants like Jupiter.
3. Microscopic microbots: After years of hype, nanotechnology finally yielded some of the teeny-weeny machines that nanotech scientists have long promised. Researchers accomplished several breakthrough molecular machines, including a car and a fridge — in some cases using individual atoms. Other nanoscale devices built in 2005 include a motor and a microbot.
2. Dogs and chimps and rice, oh my!: Chimps and dogs joined the growing list of animals whose genomes have been cataloged end to end. In February, researchers decoded doggie DNA, and in August scientists unraveled the genetic mysteries of our closest evolutionary relative: the chimp. A human-to-chimp comparison reveals we share 96 percent to 99 percent of our genes, but, of course, it’s the 40 million differences that count. The genome of rice was also decoded. Rice is the staple crop for more than half the world’s population, and the DNA sequence could lead to hardier, higher-yield plants.
1. It’s getting hot in here: Thanks to the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, global warming can no longer be ignored. There’s no doubt about it: Earth’s climate is heating up. But is it part of the planet’s natural climate cycle, or man-made? That’s the question. More than 150 nations are willing to do something about it and propose to reduce greenhouse gases. But China and the United States, two of the heaviest-polluting nations, refuse to participate.