Science News of the Year: 1997

By Miller, Julie Ann | Science News, December 20, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Science News of the Year: 1997


Miller, Julie Ann, Science News


"Man's mastery of the air was improved, diseases were conquered, new chemicals were produced, the probing of the heavens, unknown lands, and the mysteries of the human past was continued, communication continued to compress the dimensions of the world, and the human mind and temperament were further explored...."

However appropriate that statement may be for 1997, it actually introduced the first annual review of notable scientific advances--for the year 1927.

This year, Science News celebrated its 75th anniversary We used the occasion to step back from the rush of new research findings and ponder the larger picture of where science is going and how it is changing people's ideas. The March 1 anniversary issue contained a timeline of scientific advances and the writers' speculations about what awaits on the horizon. Science Service's archive of photos from the 1920s to the 1960s, developed into an exhibit by the International Center for Photography in New York, has been displayed in New York, Washington, D.C., and the March 15 Science News.

What stays the same in science and what changes? In 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh made the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris; in 1997, a spacecraft landed on Mars and relayed information back to Earth. In 1927, an electric current applied to eggs gave rise to fatherless marine worms; this year, a scientist engineered the birth of a lamb from a mammary cell of an adult sheep. The female sex hormone was detected in males 70 years ago; this month, scientists report that it has a direct effect on sperm production.

"The advances that come to fruition in one year had their foundations laid by the labors of the past year and they will in their turn contribute to the accomplishments of future years," explained the 1927 review. This year's review can help you track all those interconnected works.

Anthropology

* The first successful isolation of mitochondrial DNA from a Neandertal fossil fueled the long-running debate over modern human origins (152: 37).

* Native Americans built large-scale earthworks in Louisiana around 5,400 years ago, a sign of surprisingly sophisticated cultural practices at that time (152: 180).

* The world's oldest known hunting weapons, 400,000-year-old wooden spears, were excavated in a German coal mine (151: 134*).

* A new fossil analysis indicated that a largely upright stance evolved in a 9-million- to 7-million-year-old ape, upsetting notions that only members of the human evolutionary family can claim this posture (152: 244*).

* Well-preserved footprints of a person who lived about 117,000 years ago were found in South Africa (152: 117).

* New fossils of a 1.4-million-year-old human ancestor suggested that it possessed more biological variation than has often been assumed (152: 215). Scientists attributed fossils from a Spanish cave to a new Homo species, H. antecessor, that lived around 800,000 years ago (151: 333).

* Ugandan fossil finds dating to more than 20 million years ago may represent the earliest known ape (151: 239). New fossils of a 15-million-year-old eastern African ape revealed close evolutionary links to living apes and humans (151: 240).

* New analysis of plant remains from a Mexican cave placed squash domestication in the Americas at 10,000 years ago, considerably before the cultivation of corn or beans (151: 322).

Astronomy

* Studies of X-ray-emitting gas around neutron stars and suspected black holes suggested that spinning bodies drag space-time along with them (152: 308).

* The visible-light afterglow of a gamma-ray burst coincides with the position of a faint galaxy, a discovery that may help astronomers determine the origin of bursts (151: 174*, 305; 152:197).

* Astronomers obtained evidence of a black hole's event horizon and suggested that such holes lie at the heart of nearly every galaxy (151: 39*; 152: 346).

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