2013 in Review

Favorite Science News

Russian Meteor

No story from this past year  captured my attention and fascination like the meteor that fell in Chelyabinsk, Russia. On February 15, in the early morning sky, a 19-meter-long piece of rock from the outer reaches of the solar system came crashing into the early morning sky.  Let’s just take a look at some of the footage captured by numerous dash cams (on a side note–thanks to all the insurance-conscious Russians for installing dash cams!):

Not only was this falling meteor an absolute beautiful thing to watch, but meteors of this size are relatively rare and don’t usually land in a populated place. This was a wonderful scientific opportunity to study this event with numerous videos, GPS data, and real-time coverage via social media.

But the event was not over.

This phenomenon is known as an airburst, and is caused by the shock wave created from the meteor’s entry into the atmosphere. Since light travels faster than sound, there was a delay of about a minute and a half, and it took many people by surprise.

There were a lot of injuries on the ground, mostly caused by flying glass. Here is a debris map via Science (link requires subscription) that details the path of damage. The red circles indicate the villages with the most damage; orange indicates slightly less damage.

Meteor Glass Damage

Because of the degree to which this event was viewed, scientists were able to figure out exactly how fast the meteor was going, where it came from, and if any pieces of the meteor survived. As it turns out, many pieces survived. In fact, one large piece was recovered in a frozen lake. The study published in Science that I referenced earlier also points to the meteor’s path toward the Earth collision beginning about 1.2 million years ago.The scariest part of this story? The meteor may have  siblings still out there. A lot of siblings.

Best Science Book in 2013 

The Sports Gene, by David Epstein

What do the top athletes in the world have to thank for their performance? Genetics? Hard work? A mixture of both? Author David Epstein explores this in this extremely fascinating book. It’s not as simple as nature vs. nurture. It explores topics that could be handled poorly by other inexperienced authors, such as race and genetic diversity. Also, any book that talks about why men have nipples is a winner in my opinion. If you’re a sports fan who also enjoys biology, this is a must-read. If you’re not a sports fan but enjoy science, you’ll enjoy this book as well.

Best Science Fiction on TV in 2013

5. Fringe (Fox)
4. Futurama (Comedy Central)
3. Doctor Who (BBC America)
2. Game of Thrones (HBO)
1. Orphan Black (BBC America)
This series premiered this year, and it hooked me from the very first episode. Tatiana Maslany plays the lead roles, and she is a complete revelation as an actress. She plays multiple versions of clones. Even if you’re normally turned off by things labeled as “science fiction”, you’ll be completely hooked by this wonderful show.

Worst Politician Who Doesn’t Understand Science

Honestly, I have so, so many to choose from.  The list of politicians who DO understand science is so much smaller. Although it would be a lot easier, I feel public shaming for this politician is in order. Many Congressional Republicans publicly refer to climate change as a hoax (looking at you, Jim Inhofe!). Doing research for this “award” depresses me. This is like picking the worst piece of poo from a giant pile of poo. So, the honor for worst poo politician in 2013 is Paul Broun, R-Texas.

680px-Paul_Broun_Congressional_Portrait

Paul Broun, R-Texas

First off, let me say that this gentleman is a doctor. A medical doctor. With a degree. He graduated from a college. A college who gave him a degree in a science.

Here are some quotes from Representative Broun about evolution and the age of the Earth:

“I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.” Nope.

“There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth.” Not even close to being the truth.

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” I can’t even.

Look, I know for some people it’s inevitable that if you talk about evolution, the conversation will turn to religion. I respect that. But from a scientific standpoint, everything he’s alluded to about the Earth being 9,000 years old is complete garbage, and every actual scientist will tell you this. Scientists have gathered evidence that tells us this. There are many scientists who are practicing Christians, and they will tell you that the Earth is billions of years old. People can be scientists and Christians–don’t let anyone tell you any different. But when people from religious groups talk about evidence that doesn’t fit into their worldview, their worldview doesn’t change. The evidence does. And that’s not the way science works.

So congratulations to Paul Broun. I can’t wait to see what scientific nonsense comes out of his mouth in 2014! *Mandy weeps*

Best Astronomy Picture of 2013

NASA Cassini - Saturn and Earth 7-19-13

This picture absolutely takes my breath away. When I first saw it, I could have sworn I was looking at a photoshopped image. I’ve added a labeled picture here to demonstrate that this picture is more than just beautiful–it is showing us everything. It’s showing us all of us. And on this particular day, July 19, 2013, you may have been one of many Earthlings who knew that the Cassini spacecraft was taking this picture on this particular day. This picture happens to capture those Earthlings waving back at Cassini, and I think that’s what makes this picture absolutely amazing to me.

Worst Trend of 2013

“Hot” exercise. What is hot exercise? See, it’s this thing where you exercise, but only in extremely hot and humid conditions. Hilarious, right, because who would want to work out and then pass out? But you say that it makes you work harder? Actually, it doesn’t. You may think you’re working out harder because you’re sweating more, but that’s just your body fluid escaping out of your body faster than it needs to. You will dehydrate yourself, and if you let it go on for too long, this type of exercise is extremely dangerous.

And to get us ready for 2014:

Top Winter Olympic Sports I’m Looking Forward to in Sochi

  1. Short-track speed skating
    This is one of the most exciting races of the Olympics, whether it’s winter or summer. The margin of error is extremely slim, and just watching the team relay will remind you what organized chaos is supposed to look like.
  2. All the bobsleds
    Men’s, women’s 2-man, 4-man–all the bobsleds. Men with legs as thick as their bellies. This is the sport for weekend warriors to keep hope alive that they, too, can be an Olympic champion.
  3. Downhill skiing
    This is what the Winter Olympics are all about. People going as fast as they can down a dangerous mountain while trying to stay alive and/or not run into photographers while off-course.downhill-ski-racing-crash
  4. Hockey
  5. Personally, I’m looking forward to a hopeful rematch between the USA and Canadian women. There’s some bad blood there, and by bad blood I mean I’m hoping for actual blood.
  6. Snowboard halfpipe
    Shaun White. All the other people. Will the USA continue their dominance of the snowboarding events for the men and women?
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