From passing away of renowned British physicist professor Stephen Hawking to Martian dreams and Indian satellite launches, 2018 has been a year full of twists and turns for the world of science with new revelations, developments every now and then. It clearly had many beginnings for the Indian space sector in the face of Gaganyaan mission, major satellite launches. A Chinese researcher claiming first gene edited babies also fails to fade from our memory. We have Top 10 Science Events of 2018 for you in a nutshell-
Here are Top 10 Science News Events of 2018:
1. Stephen Hawking passed away: The world lost one of its brightest stars, Stephen Hawking, on March 14 this year. Renowned British physicist professor Stephen Hawking, who shaped modern cosmology and inspired millions despite suffering from a life-threatening condition. At the age of 21, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- a progressive neuro-degenerative disease -- in 1963. Hawking's doctors gave him nearly two years to live but he defied medical history and survived for decades. For the rest of his life, the physicist used a wheelchair to move around and a speech synthesizer that allowed him to speak in a computerised voice with an American accent.
For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease ignited a fresh sense of purpose. He was known the world over for his acclaimed book "A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes." The physicist's inspiring story gave birth to the 2014 movie "The Theory of Everything," which was based on a memoir by Hawking's first wife Wilde. Actor Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Hawking in the film won him an Oscar for Best Actor.
2. Chinese researcher claims first gene-edited babies: In November this year, a Chinese researcher shocked everybody with claims that he helped make the world's first genetically edited babies, referring to twin girls born in the month whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewiriting the very blueprint of life. The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have -- an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus. Some scientists were astounded to hear of the claim and even condemned it saying it was "unconscionable...an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible."
3. Beginnings for Indian space sector
2018 could be seen as year of several new beginnings for the Indian space agency: the political sanction for a manned Gaganyaan mission, operationalisation of the heaviest rocket GSLV Mk III, steps to licence lithium ion battery technology, introduction of new technologies in rockets and satellites and the decision to go ahead with the Indian Data Relay Satellite System (IDRSS) among others. ISRO completed the NAVIC satellite constellation (a regional satellite navigation system similar to GPS) and launched communication satellites like GSAT 29, GSAT 11, GSAT 61, GSAT 7A. The year also saw ISRO crossing the milestone of lifting and putting into orbit over 250 foreign satellites bringing the total to 269 foreign satellites.
Looking forward into 2019, ISRO will also be busy with the Rs 800 crore Chandrayaan-2, India's second moon mission slated in January; flying its new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) rocket. The one jarring note in ISRO's success symphony in 2018 was the loss of the GSAT-6A satellite couple of days after it was launched in March. The satellite stopped communicating with the ground stations owing to the failure of its power systems. The GSAT-6A was supposed to compliment GSAT-6 launched in 2015, to help provide technologies for point-to-point communication.
4. Marvelled at Moon, humanity's Martian dream gets bigger in 2018
Tech billionaire and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said there is "70 per cent chance that he will go to Mars", despite a "good chance" of him not surviving either on the way or after landing. It is only very likely that only a few people might be willing to join Musk in this journey - either because of the risk or the cost involved. But his "Starship" (formerly known as the BFR), a fully reusable vehicle designed to take humans and supplies to Mars and also to dramatically cut travel time within Earth, got its first reservation from a private passenger this year -- Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa -- who is scheduled to start a journey to the Moon in 2023. This year, the US space agency NASA also firmed up its plans to return humans to the Moon and use its lunar experience to prepare to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.
5. China prepares to launch 3 artificial moons in space by 2022
According to a report in October, China is preparing to launch three artificial moons in space in 2022. The artificial or man-made moon is a satellite carrying a huge space mirror which can reflect the sun light to the earth. According to plans, the verification of launch, orbit injection, unfolding, illumination, adjust and control of the man-made moon will be completed by 2020. The three man-made moons are aimed to be launched in 2022. The reflected sun light can cover an area of 3,600 sq km to 6,400 sq km, and the illumination intensity is expected to be eight times of the moon light, an official said. The moon orbits the Earth about 380,000 km from the Earth, while the man-made moon is expected to be put on an orbit within 500 km from the Earth.
6. SpaceX launches
On December 4, US-based private spaceflight company SpaceX launched Falcon 9 rocket carrying 64 small satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission, dubbed SSO-A, or "SmallSat Express", set a US launch record for most satellites put into space at a single time. The Falcon 9 carried to orbit 64 spacecraft, in particular 15 Micro satellites and 49 cubesats, from 34 different organisations from 17 countries. The mission from previously scheduled for three times, but was postponed to December 4 for additional inspections prior to the launch.
On June 29, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft loaded with about 2,600 kgs of research and supplies, including experiments investigating cellular biology, Earth science and Artifician Intelligence (AI) lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft's occupant also included a robot named Cimon, short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion. The pilot study with Cimon is a technology demonstration project and an observational study, that aims to obtain the first insights into the effects on crew support by AI, in terms of efficiency and acceptance during long-term missions in space.
7. Blood Moon, Solar Eclipse
On August 11, skygazers witnessed a partial solar eclipse or Aanshik Surya Grahan, wherein a part of the sun appeared to be covered by the moon's shadow. The rare celestial event resulted in the sun being visible as a crescent or as a disk with a hollow centre.
On July 28, stargazers also were witness to Chandragrahan or Blood Moon, a spectacular celestial phenomenon. Blood Moon 2018 was the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. It lasted beyond 100 minutes. The first part of the lunar eclipse saw the moon fall under the earth's shadow. This part of the eclipse is known as the penumbral eclipse as the moon is under partial influence of the shadow cast by the earth also called Umbra.
8. NASA bid goodbye to planet-hunting Kepler space telescope
In October, NASA decided to retire its Kepler space telescope that discovered more than 2,600 planets and ran out of fuel needed for further science operations. Working in deep space for nine years, Kepler discovered planets from outside the solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Launched on March 6 in 2009, the Kepler space telescope combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time. A recent analysis of Kepler's discoveries suggested that 20 to 50 per cent of the stars visible in the night sky were likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars, which means they're located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water, a vital ingredient to life as we know it, might pool on the planet surface.
9. Voyager 2 is now also in interstellar space behind its Voyager 1 twin: Forty-one years after it left Earth, NASAs Voyager 2 probe has now become only the second human-made object to enter interstellar space after its twin Voyager 1 did in 2012.
Since November 5, the instrument on Voyager 2 that detects plasma from the Sun, also called solar wind, has not observed solar wind, indicating that it has left the heliosphere, "the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun."
Voyager 2 is now some 18 billion kilometers away compared to Voyager 1 at 21.6 billion kilometers, both offering a measure of how far the empire of the Sun stretches. In terms of the reach of heliospheric particles or particles from the Sun, both spacecraft are effectively outside of it but they still have a long way to traverse for them to escape the influence of solar gravity.
10. NASA's InSight lander places first instrument on Mars
NASA's InSight lander has deployed its first instrument onto the surface of Mars, marking the first time a seismometer had ever been placed onto the surface of another planet. The InSight team has been working carefully toward deploying its two dedicated science instruments onto Martian soil since landing on Mars on November 26. Besides the seismometer, also known as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the other one is the heat probe, known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3). To ensure the successful deployment of the instruments, engineers had to verify the robotic arm that picks up and places InSight's instruments onto the Martian surface was working properly.