Year End Special: The Top Ten Science Stories Of 2011
By on December 29th, 2011

No meteors crashed, no aliens descended. Yet, 2011 was by all means an eventful year! We take a tour of the geeky side of life, with a dash of science! Presenting below are the top 10 science stories in 2011. The list is completely the author’s choice and you are free to disagree with both the ordering and the content. Just let us know, if you do (or even if you don’t)!

Here goes…

Choice 10: Much ado about James Webb

The James Webb Telescope, a proposed super replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, has been under the weather and it has been hard going for NASA. There has been much talk about this telescope taking money out of the other NASA projects.

A mirror on the James Webb telescope. Isn't she a beauty!!

With several budget overruns and a similar number of missed deadlines, it was on the brink of extinction. We told you about the proposed plan to scrap the project altogether. It was then revived by further funding the project from the Senate.

Cannot miss article: How the US fund cuts affect Science

Choice 9: The Tevatron said Goodbye

The once biggest and baddest boy on the block, when it came to particle colliders, bid a timid goodbye this year, far overshadowed by the much more powerful LHC at CERN.

The LHC bids farewell to the Tevatron. (Look at the bottom-left box)

LHC will now carry the mantle of high energy physics research. However, the Tevatron will be missed. It was the first machine to clock 1 TeV energy scale.

Cannot miss article: The end of an era: Fermilab’s Tevatron shuts down A Tribute

Choice 8: Mission to Mars

Mars was a great place to visit for NASA, and not-so-great for Roskosmos this year. NASA launched the giant super hi-tech rover Curiosity’, which is set to replace the previous rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity is way more powerful and has a host of cool features.

The Curiosity Rover

On the other hand, Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, embarrassed itself with the failed attempt of putting Phobos-Grunt, a craft intended to be orbiting Phobos, the moon of Mars. The craft later made contact with Earth, but couldn’t be recovered!

Cannot miss article: The 10 Coolest Things about the Mars Rover Curiosity

Choice 7: To the Moon

Yeah, the ancients did think that the Moon could’ve been a not-so-smiling face, but we’ve been there, know better and wanted to go back. NASA decided to measure the gravitational field of the only natural satellite of Earth, and do so in style. Thus the GRAIL mission.

No, the moon’s still not habitable, but when it is, we’ll have Domino’s pizza there!

Oh, and yes, the moon did disappear twice this year. Here’re a collection of stunning images from across the world of the first eclipse in July (here) and from the second eclipse in December (here).

Cannot miss article: NASA releases never before seen photos of the moon showing previous moon missions

Choice 6: Planets outside our own Solar System

This has been a boom year for exoplanets! The Kepler Space Telescope found tonnes of planets orbiting other suns! The most promising of these have been Kepler 22b, the only planet found so far to lie in the Goldilocks zone. Further, we found two Earth sized planets around a sun-like star. For me, the best was the discovery of the planet which orbits two stars!

Cannot miss article:  Planet orbiting two stars a real-life Tatooine

Now, the top five of the choices.

Choice 5: End of the Space Shuttle Legacy and a falling satellite NASA in the news

The 40 year old grand space shuttle program came to an end this year. It left a huge hole in its wake, in the midst of a lot of retrospection giving rise to a fair bit of controversy. Maybe, the Space Shuttle Program was a failure, but should we be so dismissive? Emotions overflowed, as Endeavour touched down for the final time, Atlantis launched and came back and NASA mentored SpaceX to serve as a stop-gap replacement before NASA can find its next fleet of the shuttle vehicles.

Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches Off - a sight that'll surely be missed.

In the meantime, an old NASA satellite fell from the skies, raising enough heckles on the poor earth-dwelling humans underneath. The rest of the animal kingdom was, quite rightly, reassured and calm!

Cannot miss article: NASA’s ambitious Space Shuttle Program Was it Worth it?

Choice 4: Malaria prevention one step closer to a vaccine

What could soon become the very first malaria vaccine passed its first major human trial! This is the first in its journey towards becoming a proper drug that can be administered for the whole population. Malaria might have seen its final days.

There is a strong thread of philanthropy running through this story. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported the research. They will also be supporting the administration of the drug deep into malaria-infested tropical territories. Mr. Gates, you just made up for the Windows ME goof-up! My salutes to you.

Cannot miss article: World’s First Malaria Vaccine Passes Major Human Trial

Choice 3: Neutrinos travelled faster than light

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. This should’ve been higher up, right? Not quite! What we think is that this is a mere experimental glitch. When the experiment will be repeated in some other part of the world, this effect will simply go away. It provided a great source of excitement isn’t the prospect of Einstein being wrong just too mouth-watering?

OPERA: Here's where the whole fiasco started

So CERN announced the OPERA experiment results and Fermilab promised to check it. The jury is still out! OPERA repeated and came up with the same results as the initial results. We’ll just wait for the refutation and non-repeatability of the experiment somewhere else should be its doom.

Cannot miss article: Challenging Einstein What the neutrino results actually mean

Choice 2: Higgs not yet found!

This could’ve been No. 1, had it been a list of most frustrating searches of the year list. The particle just refused to be detected in all its glory. CERN claims that there is just too little data to say anything. After series of conferences, including one in TIFR, Mumbai, the Higgs is still missing and the search is still on! This will be one of the things that we will keep strict watch over in 2012.

Cannot miss article: The latest on the Higgs – It’s been Observed’, but not Detected’

And the No. 1 News Story goes to…

Choice 1: Cancer Vaccine made!

This has to be the No.1 story of the year! An Israeli company reported of having made the cancer drug, which can also be used as a vaccine.

Cancer Cells

Vaxil is the name under the limelight! Furthermore, this is a magic bullet, attacking only the cancer cells and nothing else. Even though not available in the market yet, it will soon be answer to dreaded cancer!

Cannot miss article: Israeli company develops Cancer cure

There it is! By no means was this an easy list to compile. Tell us whether you agreed with the order, or anything else about the list, really!

So long… and see you in the New Year.

Happy New Year to all readers and their near and dear ones! Remember to ring out the old and ring in the new.

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Author: Debjyoti Bardhan Google Profile for Debjyoti Bardhan
Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Debjyoti Bardhan has written and can be contacted at debjyoti@techie-buzz.com.

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