In September, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature moved panda bears from their “endangered” list to merely “vulnerable.” And pandas aren’t the only ones. The fuzzy creatures that inspired teddy bears got de-red-listed, and monarch butterfly populations seem to be bouncing back as well. Keep up the good work, guys.
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SpaceX sticks the landing
Remember that time, back in April, when SpaceX made history by landing its rocket on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean? That was pretty cool. It was also kind of a big deal. Landing on a moving platform makes it easier for the company to recover and (hopefully one day) reuse their rocket boosters, which could cut the costs of going to space by 30 percent.
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Virtual reality for everyone
While most high-quality VR experiences require powerful (read: pricey) computers, Sony’s headset works via the PlayStation 4. It also doesn’t require an engineering degree to set it up. For its plug-and-play ease of use and relative affordability, Popular Science thinks this is the virtual reality headset that will finally take America by storm.
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R. Hurt – Caltech/JPL
That time we found gravitational waves
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves from a pair of black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago. It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to sense these ripples through space-time, which will give scientists a whole new way to study the cosmos.
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Scientific Visualization Studio/Goddard Space Flight Center
Hero judge defies petroleum industry, lets kids sue government over climate change
The world is heating up, and the next generation is going to have to bear the brunt of the melting ice caps, drying farmlands, wildfires, and more severe storms. But thanks to Oregon judge Ann Aiken, a group of 21 youths has won the right to sue the government for failing to curb climate change. This strategy worked last year in the Netherlands, when a court ruled that the government “has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990.”
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A virus that fights cancer
Scientists have long known that viruses could trigger the immune system to attack cancer, but modifying the viruses without affecting our resistance to them has taken time. In late 2015, IMLYGIC became the first FDA-approved viral cancer drug. Green-lit to treat melanoma, the modified herpes virus is injected into a tumor, where it may ignite an immune response to the cancer.
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Arist illustration of Planet X, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Our solar system may have a 9th planet
Scientists turned up evidence that a giant, Neptune-sized planet may dwell at the edge of our solar system, 10 to 20 times further out than Pluto. Although the planet’s existence is still being confirmed, evidence is mounting that it’s out there. If so, our 9-planet solar system may be restored.
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Open Whisper Systems
WhatsApp encryption makes 1 billion people safer
Starting in April, WhatsApp enabled end-to-end encryption for voice calls and texting, making it much harder for the NSA or third-parties to snoop on our conversations.
Thanks, Obama! No, really, thank you for setting up marine preserves in Antarctica and the Atlantic Ocean. The penguins, orcas, and octopi that live there would probably thank you, too, if they could.
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A vaccine for dengue
Every year, 400 million people contract dengue, a mosquito-transmitted disease that causes high fever, severe headaches, vomiting, and sometimes death. This year, the World Health Organization started recommending the first vaccine to prevent dengue, and inoculations have begun in hot zones like Brazil and the Philippines.
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Artist’s impression of Proxima b, Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
A potentially habitable neighbor
The star closest to our Sun is home to a roughly Earth-sized, rocky planet in the habitable zone. Proxima b is the nearest neighboring exoplanet to Earth, and although we don’t know if it’s exactly Earth 2.0 (chances are it’s not), it’s fun to dream about escaping our solar system to visit it someday. We just have to wait for some genius to invent the warp drive—here’s looking at you, Elon Musk.
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Solar Impulse | Revillard | Rezo.ch
A solar-powered flight around the world
Pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg landed the Solar Impulse 2 in Abu Dhabi, marking the end of an epic, 26,000-mile solar-powered flight around the world. The team hopes the journey will inspire more environmentally friendly aircraft.
The giant hole in the ozone layer that protects Earth from UV radiation has shrunk by 1.5 million square miles since its peak in 2000, thanks to a combination of a reduction in CFCs and changing weather patterns.