The space beyond Neptune may be cold and remote, but it’s far from lonely. The Kuiper belt, an icy disk of frozen remnants from when our solar system was formed, is full of asteroids and other chunks of rock and ice. Three of those chunks, Pluto, Haumea and Makemake, are actually dwarf planets: they are like planets, but they haven’t cleared their orbital path of debris. Now, astronomers working on the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS) in Hawaii have discovered a new potential dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt.
In January 2006, the New Horizons mission launched toward Pluto. In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto; it is no longer considered a planet. Regardless of Pluto’s category, the New Horizons spacecraft persevered, flying past Pluto in July 2015. Since then, scientists have been analyzing a trickle of tantalizing data as it is (relatively) slowly downlinked from the spacecraft.
The science corner of the Internet is buzzing with news of a newly discovered planet. Billions of miles beyond Neptune, there is likely a ninth planet of significant size within our solar system, one that is most definitely not Pluto. No one, however, has seen it. We do not yet have the technology to see anything at such a distance. So how can astronomers claim the planet is out there? The same way that astronomers have done for thousands of years: by watching the collective movement of other objects surrounding the area where the new planet is assumed to be.
This wasn’t the year of the hoverboard, flying cars or fast-rehydrating pizzas, much to the disappointment of Back to the Future fans everywhere. Nevertheless, scientists have continued to push their respective disciplines to futuristic new heights, pulling the curtain on a future replete with technological and medical advances even a sci-fi writer might not have dreamed up.
At the same time, research into the toll that human life and industrialization has taken on the planet paints a dire picture of what lies ahead. This makes advances in the field of clean energy all the more vital as mankind gears up to fight for the very habitability of the planet.
The news in 2015 was unforgettable, historic, often chilling to watch. From the specter of global terrorism to controversial social issues, from the confused state of politics to corporate corruption, important issues played out on the public stage of opinion, augmented by a hyper-connected global community.
The Second Nexus editors culled through the news that made headlines and dominated trending topics over this past year and selected our ten most important stories, in no particular order. We’re confident only that many will disagree with our list. So have a look, and have at.
A portrait from the New Horizons' final approach of Pluto and its moon Charon. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
DIGEST [Wall Street Journal, NBC News, Washington Post]
After 9.5 years and $728 million spent, it came down to a few critical hours. That’s the timeframe in which NASA's New Horizons mission was either going to send back breathtaking images of Pluto from the farthest reaches of our solar system, or instead go unsettlingly silent as it passes by that enigmatic once-upon-a-planet, nearly 3 billion miles away.