The main scientific achievements of 2016

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The main scientific achievements of 2016
The main scientific achievements of 2016

2016 is nearing completion, and now is the time to take stock and talk about the most significant, in our opinion, events in the field of science for the year.

Rocket flight

Found new largest prime number

The year began with the discovery of a new prime number. The team of mathematician Curtis Cooper spent 2.5 years looking for him. We failed to write down this number completely, because its record contains more than 22 million digits, which is 5 million more than the previous record set almost three years ago. But you can still write it as follows: 274207281 -1 (2 to the power of 74207281 minus 1).

Prime numbers are extremely important in cryptography, but the newly found number is too large for practical use. We talked about what primes are and how many scientists received for their discovery in our January material.

Breakthrough Starshot and Proxima b exoplanet discovered just in time

On April 12, Russian businessman Yuri Milner and renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking announced the start of the Breakthrough Starshot project. The implementation of their plan will allow the creation of a fleet of miniature spaceships equipped with a solar sail. Thanks to the acceleration received from ground-based laser installations, they will be able to travel to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, at a speed of 20% of the speed of light and fly to it in about 24 years.

And already in August, ESO (European Southern Observatory) astronomers announced the discovery of a potentially habitable exoplanet near the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is believed to belong to the Alpha Centauri star system. Thus, Milner and Hawking's project makes more sense, because a mission to a potentially habitable planet is a much more exciting event than just a flight to the "naked" stars.


The data collected by astronomers allow us to say that the closest star has a planet with a mass of only 1, 3 Earth masses and making a complete revolution around its star in 11, 2 Earth days. Proxima b (the planet has this name) is located only 7 million km from the red dwarf Proxima Centauri. This allows it to receive enough heat so that liquid water can be stored on it constantly and not freeze, but not too much for it to evaporate.

American scientists are also planning to search for other planets in the vicinity of Proxima Centauri as part of the Project Blue project. They intend to build the first of its kind private space telescope, the goal of which will be to detect a planet similar to our Earth. This news gives hope that in a few decades we will be able to study the nearest star system almost like our own.

In April, the first rocket was launched from the Vostochny cosmodrome, and in the same month, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle on a floating platform for the first time.

The largest radio telescope built in China

In 2016, China completed the construction of the world's largest single-aperture radio telescope in terms of reflector area. The construction of the FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) telescope with a reflector diameter of 500 meters cost $ 180 million. Another $ 269 million will be the amount of compensation for residents who were resettled outside the five-kilometer zone around the telescope. Its design began in 1994, and the installation of the structure started in 2011 and was completed in July 2016.

Commissioned in September this year, the radio telescope is designed to receive radio emission from celestial objects within the metagalaxy and to study their characteristics.With its help, scientists will be able to study pulsars, gravitational waves, objects of the reionization era and the search for extraterrestrial life.


Experimentally discovered gravitational waves

FAST, which observes pulsars, can, of course, be used to study gravitational waves, but it cannot replace the ground-based LIGO gravitational interferometer. It was thanks to LIGO that the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein were experimentally discovered. Although the opening took place on September 14, 2015, it was officially announced on February 11, 2016. The discovery of gravitational waves "will be a revolutionary tool" in the study of mysterious energy sources such as black holes, neutron stars and supernova explosions.

Artificial intelligence has conquered the most difficult game ever invented

The victory of the computer program AlphaGo over the man, the world's best go player Li Sedol, the creator of the program and founder of Google DeepMind Demis Hassabis compared with the landing of a man on the moon. Indeed, go is one of the oldest games on Earth, and probably the most difficult. Up to this point, go was beyond the control of the machine. The brainchild of IBM, the Deep Blue supercomputer, defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov back in 1997. But, as it is believed, the number of possible positions in the game of go, in googol (ten to the hundredth power), is greater than in chess, which makes this game many times more difficult than chess, at least for a computer. That is why the victory of Deep Blue is almost 20 years away from the current victory of AlphaGo, developed by the British company DeepMind (acquired by Google in 2014).


The most distant known object in the universe

Everyone knows that the light of the stars that we see in the night sky came before us for many years. Light from the object GN-z11, a galaxy located from us in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, has traveled to us for an incredibly long 13.4 billion years. If we take into account that the accepted age of the Universe is about 13.8 billion years, then the light we see today was emitted only 400 million years after the Big Bang.

But at the same time, one must understand that the accompanying distance to the galaxy, that is, taking into account the expansion of the Universe, is about 32 billion light years. The distance to the galaxy on the most "distant shores" of the Universe has been clarified based on the study of data from the Hubble Space Telescope in March this year.


And in June, thanks to Hubble, it was possible to establish that the Universe is expanding 5-9% faster than previously thought

"Juno" flew to Jupiter

On July 4, NASA's AMC Juno, which had been flying to Jupiter for 5 long years, entered the polar orbit of the gas giant. Juno became the second spacecraft in history to orbit Jupiter. From 1995 to 2003, another NASA probe, Galileo, was in orbit of the planet. Prior to this, the study of the planet was carried out from flyby trajectories. Over the next 20 months of the mission, the probe must measure the planet's gravitational and magnetic fields in order to understand the structure of Jupiter's interior. By the way, we still do not know whether the gas giant has any shaped core.

The probe will have to withstand serious tests, because Juno will have to work in special conditions. Jupiter's magnetic field is tens of thousands of times more powerful than Earth's, and the spacecraft will have to work in conditions of an increased radiation background. Also, "Juno" will be the farthest spacecraft from the Sun, powered by solar panels. The area of ​​Juno's solar panels is comparable to that of a basketball court.


At the end of the mission, the device should die beautifully. It is assumed that on February 20, 2018, it will be de-orbited by the planet and sent into its atmosphere, where it will burn up. This will not be done just like that, but in order to prevent its possible collision with one of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. Scientists seriously admit the existence of life on the satellites of the planet, therefore, their pollution with biomaterial from the Earth is highly undesirable.

World's first quantum communications satellite launched

Another scientific achievement of the year associated with China is the launch of the first quantum communication satellite in orbit in the Middle Kingdom. In August of this year, the Great March-2D launch vehicle launched the 600-kilogram Mo-Tzu spacecraft, named after the ancient Chinese philosopher Mo-Tzu, into Earth's orbit.

The experimental apparatus is designed to test the quantum distribution of the key between the spacecraft launched into orbit and ground complexes. In addition, scientists hope to investigate the mechanism of quantum entanglement and conduct a test quantum teleportation between the vehicle and a ground station located in Tibet.

According to analysts, in the future, quantum communication may find widespread use in various fields and be used by governments and financial institutions. Such a connection will create channels for the transmission of information that cannot be hacked. The volume of the quantum communications market in the next 5 years may reach 7.5 billion US dollars. That being said, China could create a global quantum communication network by 2030.

Completion of the Rosetta probe mission

2016 saw the successful completion of the 12.5-year mission of the Rosetta probe. The spacecraft launched back in 2004 to the comet Churyumov - Gerasimenko became the first probe that entered the comet's orbit. And in 2014, the first ever soft landing of a lander on the surface of a comet took place. And the main probe Rosetta itself completed the mission on September 30, 2016, making a hard landing on the comet's surface. In the course of the mission, in particular, a higher content of heavy water in the comet's ice was found in comparison with the Earth's oceans - more than three times. This fact does not agree with the accepted theory of the cometary origin of water on our planet.


By the way, 2016 was the year of the start of a new NASA mission. This time to the asteroid. In September of this year, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft traveled to asteroid Bennu to sample and map its surface. It will take almost two years for the arrival of the spacecraft to the asteroid, and the return to Earth is scheduled for 2023.

Unfortunately, the Russian-European mission "ExoMars" did not become an achievement of the year. On October 19, the Schiaparelli module crashed on the surface of the Red Planet

Replenishment of the Periodic Table of D. I. Mendeleev

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) announced the completion of testing for four new chemical elements. New elements with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 will be added to the periodic table.

The authors of the discovery of new elements proposed the following names for new elements:

Nihonium (in honor of Japan) and the symbol Nh for element 113

Muscovy (in honor of the Moscow region) and the Mc symbol for element 115

Tennessee (after the state of Tennessee) and the Ts symbol for element 117

Oganeson (in honor of Academician Yuri Oganesyan) and the Og symbol for element 118

The proposal to name the new element in honor of Yu. Ts. Oganesyan is not accidental. Among his many achievements are the discovery of superheavy elements and significant progress in nuclear physics of superheavy elements, including experimental confirmation of the existence of an “island of stability”. You can learn about how new elements of the periodic table are discovered, as well as what “islands of stability” are, from our interview with an outstanding scientist.

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