Another exciting year is rapidly coming to a close and, after reviewing the news from the world of physics every week, it’s time to do it once more. This time, however, we will take a look at the most important discoveries and surprises of the year 2014. So here’s a somewhat chronological list of the top events, some of which will inevitably end up in the history of science books.
1. Deepest Image of a Galaxy Cluster (January)
The year started with a few important discoveries in astronomy. On January 7, NASA released the deepest ever images of a galaxy cluster taken by the Hubble space telescope. One day later astronomers using the Sloan Digital Telescope have for the first time measured the distance to galaxies six billion light-years away up to 1% accuracy.
2. NASA Releases First Images Taken by the Curiosity Rover ( February)
Another great milestone for the space exploration was the exploration of Mars by the new Curiosity rover. February marked the release of first images of the night sky of Mars as well as the Earth and the Moon. For those, who are not aware, the Curiosity rover is car-sized robotic rover exploring the surface of Mars as a part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
3. The Discovery of Gravitational Waves (March)
Long before everybody was talking about the first probe landing on a comet, the biggest news story was of course the discovery of the gravitational waves by the BICEP2 experiment. The experiment carried out at the South Pole used sensitive Earth-based telescopes to observe the cosmic microwave background radiation. Despite the initial enthusiasm and countless articles discussing how this discovery should get multiple Nobel prizes, the subsequent analysis pointed out that galaxy dust effects have been underestimated. This highly reduced the confidence in the collected data.
4. NASA’s Exoplanet Discoveries (April)
April was another fruitful month for the NASA scientists. Firstly, the first exomoon candidate discovery has been announced and then Kepler-186f, the first Earth-sized exoplanet within the habitable zone of its host star, marked a milestone in the history of exoplanet search.
5. The First Realistic Virtual Universe (May)
In May cosmologists took the place on the pedestal by releasing the first simulated universe of such a large scale: it simulated 13 billion years of cosmic evolution in a cube with 350 million light year long sides. “Until now, no single simulation was able to reproduce the universe on both large and small scales simultaneously,” said the lead author Mark Vogelsberger.
6. Hybrid Carbon Nanotube Circuits (June)
June marked the announcement of the hybrid circuit that merged carbon nanotubes with other thin film transistors. Such flexible and energy-efficient circuits could potentially change silicon, which is the traditional material choice in most electronic circuits these days. The material could be commercially available in the 2020s.
7. OCO-2 Launched (July)
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) was launched on July 2 marking an important milestone in climate research. The OCO-2 will study carbon dioxide concentrations and distributions in the atmosphere. In more detail, OCO-2 was designed to collect space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 with the precision, resolution, and coverage needed to characterize sources and sinks on regional scales. OCO-2 will also be able to quantify CO2 variability over the seasonal cycles year after year.
8. Field Medals and IBM’s Neuromorphic Computer Chip (August)
In August the field medals in mathematics have been awarded to Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, Martin Hairer and Maryam Mirzakhani. Mirzakhani is the first woman to win a Fields medal. Additionally, IBM scientists have created a brain-like computer chip with 1 million programmable neurons and 256 million programmable synapses across 4096 individual neurosynaptic cores.
9. Water Vapour Found on an Exoplanet + India’s First Probe to Mars (September)
Two big events happened in space exploration in September: for the first time scientists reported finding water vapour on an exoplanet HAT-P-11b, also, India’s Mars orbiter mission Mangalyaan successfully entered the orbit.
10. Nobel Prizes (October)
October was, of course, the month when the world found out who received the prestigious Nobel Prizes. In Physics, the winners were Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, who were responsible for the development of the efficient blue light diodes. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Eric Betzig, William Moerner and Stefan Hell for “the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”.
11. Landing on a Comet (November)
Many important events happened on November, but the first landing on the surface of a comet performed by the Rosetta spacecraft equipped with Philae landing module easily takes the cake. 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko is the (almost unpronounceable) name of the comet, which will go down in history as the first comet explored by directly landing a spacecraft on it. The first results of the research from the surface of the comet are already available. In particular, on 10 December 2014, scientists reported that the composition of water vapor from Churyumov–Gerasimenko is substantially different from that found on Earth. This indicates that it is unlikely that such comets brought water to Earth. In the near future the mission will continue the research shedding light on the origins of the Solar System.
12. Planck 2014 Results (December)
The year is rapidly moving towards the end and it seems that the big physics event of December will end up being the announcement of the new Planck results. The newest data suggests that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and is composed of 4.9 percent atomic matter, 26.6 percentdark matter and 68.5 percent dark energy.
So, as we can see it was an astounding year in the world of physics. Hopefully, the next year will be even better. Meanwhile, we here at the PD want to wish you a calm Christmas and a prosperous new year.