The Top News Stories of 2015

New Horizons’ Pluto Flyby

Second Nexus
Credit: Source.

If space is “the final frontier,” in 2015 we pushed the boundaries of exploration a bit farther. It took nine years and over three billion miles, but in July NASA’s New Horizon passed by Pluto for the first time in history. The spacecraft sent back to Earth a plethora of stunning photos and video.

Since then, the event continues to provide discoveries and excitement. “We’re much less than halfway through transmitting data about the Pluto system to Earth, but a wide variety of new scientific results are already emerging,” said Alan Stern, New Horizon’s Principal Investigator.

Despite scientists being only half-way through combing over all that data, the discoveries gleaned so far are plentiful. Among the many mysteries of Pluto, the team is currently investigating and delving into the atmospheric haze that surrounds it, as well as the “Sputnik Planum,” which is the informal moniker for the potentially miles-thick layer of solid nitrogen and other volatile ices that spans over 620 miles.

Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

Second Nexus
Credit: Source.

It’s usually a headline when authorities catch a corporation intentionally misleading the public. But what happens when the deceit was premeditated and technologically enabled? The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal of 2015 reads like a Hollywood script: A European car company installs in its diesel-guzzling vehicles a special system that can detect when it is being tested, and then literally change the performance of the vehicle temporarily to help it pass tests it otherwise would have failed. In this case, Volkswagen equipped its vehicles with a dramatic-sounding “Defeat Device” that artificially produced emissions that met the United States’ strict requirements, when the vehicles actually emitted over 40 times the allotted amount of nitrogen oxide pollution when the device was not enabled.

On-road testing by West Virginia University first unearthed issues in May of 2014. The road testers then sent the findings to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which then began its own investigation. By the time this complex computerized cheating came to light in 2015, Volkswagen had been installing Defeat Devices for at least seven years. Over 11 million vehicles rolled off assembly lines with a Defeat Device over that period, and 500,000 made their way into the United States.

The fallout from the scandal has been swift: Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned in late September, and the company’s stock crashed by a dramatic 20% in the same month. Just this month, CARB announced it is extending the time allotted for review of VW’s proposal regarding adjusting the vehicles in America. Even Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has thrown his hat in the ring, proposing his own fix to the issue, which would hasten VW’s progress on truly zero-emissions vehicle production.

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