The Top 100 Science Stories of 2006

A special report on the most amazing and important science news of the year.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Every year, DISCOVER digs through reams of newspapers and gigabytes of Web sites to find the 100 most important and interesting science stories of the year. Here is the latest installment, chronicling everything from alien planets (#45) to "yeti" crabs (#86). You can alternatively browse through the stories by subject. Medicine and space are particularly packed, with each field placing 13 stories onto the list.

Also check out the results of our year-in-science poll, in which readers chose Pluto Demoted as the biggest story of the year.


100 Saturn Sunburst
The Cassini spacecraft captured an extraordinary backlit image of Saturn and its gossamer rings...

99 Element 118 Debuts On the Periodic Table
Chemists will soon have to make room on the periodic table for a new element discovered in October...

98 Fat Vaccine Works in Rats
In August, immunologist Kim Janda grabbed headlines with reports of a vaccine against obesity...

97 DNA Boosts Panda Count
DNA analysis of panda feces suggests there may be twice as many pandas as was previously thought...

96 Strange Swirls Spotted at Venus's Pole
Venus is Earth's near-twin in size and mass, yet bafflingly different in other particulars...

95 Machines Learn How to Feel
Engineers reported that they had developed a way to give robots a sense of touch...

94 Tough Times for Tyrannosaur Teens
Life was rough for teen tyrannosaurs, according to paleontologist Gregory Erickson...

93 Renegade Planet Pair Defy Explanation
A pair of celestial objects circling one another have fed a growing debate over the dividing line between planets and stars...

92 Capacitors Could Replace Batteries
Ultracapacitors could give electric cars new life...

91 Cancer Morphs Into New Life-Form
Robin Weiss has turned up clues about the origin of sexually transmitted cancer in dogs...


90 Drillers Tap into Foundation of Earth's Crust
Geologists successfully drilled into the bottom layer of the ocean's crust for the first time...

89 Laser-Emitting Chips Promise Ultrafast Computers
Researchers announced they had found a promising way to accelerate computer chips to the speed of light...

88 Super-Ants Fly by Force of Mouth
Super-ants fly by biting against the ground so hard that they shoot themselves into the air...

87 Light Moves in Reverse
Physicists at the University of Rochester have coaxed light into traveling backward...

86 A Yeti Crab Discovered
A furry-looking crustacean discovered on the floor of the South Pacific Ocean at a depth of 6,500 feet...

85 Dodo's Lost World Resurrected
While a few dodo bones and one skeleton remain in museums, they aren't enough to tell biologists exactly why or how the birds went extinct...

84 Did Figs Beget Agriculture?
New research has pegged the fig as the first crop...

83 Nano Electrode Wires Neurons
Researchers announced the creation of a device that can connect to an individual neuron...

82 Secret Lakes Lie Under Polar Ice
Scientists have found evidence of subglacial lakes and rivers far under the surface of Antarctica...

81 Tut Jewel Formed By Asteroid Impact
The central jewel in King Tutankhamen's pectoral gear may have been literally out of this world...


80 New Monkey Genus Found in Tanzania
Biologists added a new branch to our primate family tree this year...

79 Worm Lives Without Guts
Over the course of evolution, a bizarre little worm appears to have lost its mouth, guts, and excretory organs...

78 Mongolian Ice Yields Scythian Mummy
Last summer researchers recovered a 2,200-year-old Scythian mummy from permafrost...

77 First Tree Genome Sequenced
A team determined that the black cottonwood has 45,000 genes, roughly twice the number of genes that humans have...

76 Old Beads Hint at Dawn Of Culture
Grape-size shell beads dated between 100,000 and 135,000 years old are the world's oldest known jewelry...

75 Astro-Hotel Launched
Bigelow Aerospace last July launched Genesis 1, the first inflatable space station...

74 Cochlea's Spiral Plays Surprising Role in Hearing
Deep inside your ear, the spiral-shaped cochlea helps translate reverberations into neurological signals...

73 Electrical Signals Help Direct Wound Healing
Min Zhao announced that electricity is the dominant factor in wound healing...

72 Source of Empathy Found
Mirror neurons fire when you watch other people act...

71 Anti-Repulsion Discovered
This year physicists forced atoms to be bound by their mutual repulsion...


70 Stroke Injury Shows New Way to Kick the Habit
The brain damage caused by certain strokes may eliminate an addiction to nicotine...

69 Weed's Weapon Revealed
Garlic mustard's weapon is a chemical that kills soil fungi...

68 Moss Sex Points To Precursor of Pollination
Arthropods may act as go-betweens for moss procreation...

67 Complex Organic Molecules Formed in Outer Space
Astronomers have identified eight new complex molecules in space...

66 Hobbit Wars Heat Up
Evidence from 2006 has sharpened speculation about humanlike bones discovered in an Indonesian cave...

65 Gay Influence Found
Older brothers lead to more homosexual younger brothers...

64 HIV Precursor Found in the Wild
A team detected antibodies against the HIV-1 precursor in the scat of wild chimps...

63 Chemistry Turns Straw Into Black Gold
Researchers announced a technique for converting almost any source of carbon into synthetic diesel and gas...

62 Biodiversity Aids Productivity
Biological diversity helps make ecosystems stable and productive...

61 Ancient Rain Settles Sierra's Age
Geologists settled a dispute over the age of the Sierra Nevada range by studying gravel that was soaked with ancient rainwater...


60 Polio's Return Traced to Lapses in India
A 39-year-old man in Namibia tested positive for poliovirus, marking the country's first case in 10 years...

59 Fossilized Frog Marrow Found
Researchers in Madrid reported the first example of fossilized bone marrow...

58 Why We Are Not Chimps
Humans and chimpanzees are about 98 percent alike, yet the human brain is three times bigger and far more complex...

57 Microbes Rule Marine Biodiversity
Fill a one-liter bottle with seawater and you'll have gathered at least 25,000 different types of bacteria...

56 Comet Dust Records Solar System Chaos
One-third of a milligram of dust from comet Wild 2 landed on Earth last January...

55 New Mouse Organ Found
An immunologist at the University of Ulm in Germany reported that mice have two thymus organs...

54 Peruvian Dig Uncovers First Western Observatory
The Temple of the Fox, located in the Chillón Valley in Peru, probably served as a rough farmers' almanac...

53 Low-Fat Diet A Bust?
Cutting fat from the diet doesn't significantly reduce the incidence of breast or colorectal cancer, heart disease, or stroke...

52 Storms May Be Getting Worse
Is global warming leading to more extreme weather?

51 Ice Volcanoes Seen On Saturnian Moon
NASA's Cassini probe showed a geyser shooting jets of water and fine icy particles hundreds of miles into space...


50 New Letters Explore Einstein's Family Life
A cache of letters reveal a complicated picture of the man...

49 Power of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Revealed
People who tripped ranked the experience as one of the most meaningful in their life...

48 Nearby Universe Mapped
Astrophysicists have produced the most detailed full-sky map of the nearby universe...

47 Cesareans Boost Death Risk for Baby
Neonatal mortality rate for cesareans is nearly three times the rate for vaginal delivery...

46 Oldest Writing In New World Found
Workers digging in Mexico unearthed the oldest script ever found in the Western Hemisphere...

45 Alien Planets Get Smaller, Fatter, Faster, and Hotter
This year ushered some of the oddest extrasolar planets ever found...

44 Stem Cells Reverse Parkinson's in Rats
Embryonic stem cells helped rats suffering from Parkinson's-like symptoms...

43 IQ Linked to Brain Structure
In smarter children, the brain cortex grows quickly and then thins quickly...

42 Milk Drinkers More Likely To Have Twins
Women who consume milk have twins more than twice as often as do vegan moms...

41 New Tomb Found In Valley of the Kings
Archaeologists uncovered the first new tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings since 1922...


40 New Dinosaur King Rears Its Head
Spinosaurus measured as much as a dozen feet longer than the largest known T. rex...

39 TB Makes a Scary Comeback
An outbreak of an extremely drug-resistant strain of TB is raising international alarm...

38 Lab Cooks Up a Healthier Pig
Scientists engineered pigs with omega-3 fatty acids, the same ones in fish...

37 Little Lucy Found
A 3-year-old female Australopithecus afarensis, the oldest remains of a child hominid ever found...

36 Nano Risks Worry Scientists
The cleaning product caused respiratory distress in more than 100 consumers last spring...

35 Melting Permafrost May Rev Up Global Warming
Defrosting could release nearly 1,000 gigatons of carbon and hasten global warming...

34 New Tests Help Chemotherapy Hit the Mark
New tests can dramatically improve the odds of choosing the right drugs...

33 Looks Can Kill
Black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty. It's also how black you look...

32 Invisibility Cloak Invented!
The "first practical realization" of a cloak of invisibility...

31 British Clinical Drug Trial Goes Spectacularly Awry
Six of the test subjects wound up with massive organ failure...


30 Engineered Cotton An Environmental Bust
Farmers are using just as much pesticide as they did before...

29 DDT is Back
WHO says DDT is the cheapest and most effective way to prevent malaria...

28 New HIV Drugs
Three new categories of anti-HIV drugs are in the pipeline...

27 Vaccine for Cervical Cancer
The Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for cervical cancer...

26 Orangutans Face Genetic Doom
The endangered primate had a steep population decline...

25 First Face Transplant
Attaching the nose, chin, cheeks, and lips of a 46-year-old brain-dead woman...

24 Bird Flu Risk Explained
The deep infection makes it difficult to spread the avian flu virus...

23 Mouse Breast Grown in Lab
To make a breast, all you need is a single cell...

22 Methane Rain Falls Mainly on Titan's Plain
The Huygens probe made a splat. "It landed in mud"...

21 World's Largest Marine Preserve Created
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument, larger than all U.S. national parks combined...


20 Global Warming Leaves Its Marks
Sixteen places where global warming is apparent...

19 World Trade Center Fallout Fails Health Test
A report revealed widespread, persistent respiratory illness among rescue and recovery workers...

18 Drugs Aim to Silence Bad Genes
RNA interference helped launch an entirely new class of drugs into trials...

17 Man Recovers From Near-Coma After Two Decades
For 19 years after a car accident, Terry Wallis lingered speechless...

16 Quantum Teleportation Leaps Toward Reality
Scientists have teleported information between light and atoms...

15 Stem Cell Setbacks Inspire New Methods
Many scientists have focused on new methods of creating stem cell lines without destroying embryos...

14 Fast-Food Fats Prove Health Hazard
Small daily amounts of trans fats cause weight gain, atherosclerosis, and insulin resistance...

13 Probe Snaps Baby Picture of the Cosmos
A detailed snapshot of what the universe was like as a trillionth-of-a-second-old newborn...

12 Who Failed New Orleans?
Six thousand pages describing engineering lapses, design failures, and decades of neglect...

11 Neural Implant Empowers Paralyzed Man
Picking up brain signals with implanted electrodes and using them to control devices...


10 Pluto Demoted
Pluto now falls under the quaint designation "dwarf planet"...

9 Ancient Fish Fills Missing Link
Tiktaalik fills in the transition between fish and the first animals to walk onto land...

8 Fundamental Problem Solved After 100 Years
The proof of the Poincaré conjecture is the math story of the whole 21st century...

7 Scientists Get Inside the Mind (and Genes) of the Neanderthal
Two studies offer new perspectives on the nature and fate of our nearest relative...

6 Biologists Crack Open Life's Tool Kit
Intelligent design became a scientific reality thanks to synthetic biology...

5 RNA Flouts Rules of Heredity
In blatant violation of the laws of genetics, mice inherit their parents' coloring without inheriting the genes...

4 The World Melts and the Masses Mobilize
"Oops, something is happening now, climate is changing really fast"...

3 Cosmic Collision Brings Dark Matter Into View
A violent collision has turned up the most direct evidence yet of dark matter...

2 Tissue Engineering Triumph: Lab-Grown Bladders
Artificial bladders can be grown from a patient's own cells and successfully implanted...

1 Alternative Energy
The turning point when alternatives to fossil fuels finally hit the mainstream...


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