Quiz: The Decade in Science News
With breakthroughs in physics, technology, astronomy, earth sciences and more, the 2010s were a remarkable decade in science. On the event horizon of a new decade, keep calm and put your lab coat on, and test your knowledge of some of the developments that made headlines throughout the 2010s. And be sure to nominate your favorite science news story from the past decade in the comments section.
1. In 2010, anthropologists declared that a small finger bone discovered in a cave in Siberia belonged to a previously unknown human ancestor. What was the name given to this new hominin species?
The term Denisovan derives from where this bone was found, the Denisova Cave in Siberia. DNA analysis indicates the Denisovans were a sister group of Neanderthals who ranged from Siberia to Southeast Asia and interbred with the ancestors of some modern humans. Just five years later, in 2015, Earth Institute scientists discovered the world’s oldest stone tools — although they were probably used by a different hominin called Kenyanthropus platytops.
2. What fundamental particle was discovered using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in 2012?
The Higgs boson, part of a mechanism that explains why fundamental particles have mass, was first posited by physicists in the 1960s. The Higgs boson was the last undiscovered particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, and physicists say there’s much we can still learn from it.
3. Scientists believe the first mammal went extinct due to climate change in 2016. What animal was it?
The Bramble Cay melomys was a small rodent that inhabited a single island at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists concluded that sea level rise caused by anthropogenic climate change caused its extinction. Climate change threatens marine species, too: the world’s oceans may be turning acidic faster today than they did during four major extinctions in the last 300 million years.
4. What game’s champion was defeated by an artificial intelligence program in March 2016?
In March of 2016, AlphaGo, an AI program developed by Google’s DeepMind Technologies, decisively defeated Go champion Lee Sedol in a five-game match. Go is exponentially more complex than chess and posed a difficult challenge in artificial intelligence due to the amount of intuition the game involves.
5. On May 9, 2013, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. When was the last time the earth had similarly high CO2 levels?
The last time the earth’s atmospheric CO2 topped 400 ppm was about three million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch. At that time, average temperatures were around 2-3°C warmer, oceans some 25 meters higher, Greenland was ice free and camels roamed the Arctic.
6. What did French scientists discover in California wine in 2018?
Perhaps in an attempt to settle a 40-year-old grudge, French researchers discovered increasing levels of radioactive particles in California wine linked to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
7. According to a scientific study published in February 2015, how much plastic debris flows into oceans every year?
Some eight million tons of plastic — about five grocery bags for every foot of coastline around the globe — makes its way into oceans every year. In October 2019, the Ocean Cleanup Project reported that it had successfully begun capturing plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. However, the NOAA Marine Debris Program stresses that prevention is key to solving the marine debris problem over time.
8. An image of what was published for the first time on April 10, 2019?
Using the Event Horizon Telescope, NASA scientists captured the first image of a black hole. The black hole is outlined by emissions from hot gas swirling around it under the influence of strong gravity near its event horizon. Black holes are thought to result from the collapse of very massive stars at the ends of their evolution.
9. After decades of research and development, in July 2015, European regulators approved a vaccine to prevent what disease?
Developing effective vaccines against complex parasites is challenging, and RTS,S is currently the only approved vaccine to prevent malaria. Despite some concerns, in 2019, the World Health Organization began a pilot implementation program of the vaccine in three African countries. An Ebola vaccine was also approved by the European Commission in November 2019.
10. What did NASA’s Kepler space telescope confirm sighting on December 5, 2011?
Kepler-22b was the first planet confirmed to be in the “habitable zone,” where liquid water could exist on its surface. Kepler-22b is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth and orbits a star similar to our sun. “Tatooine-like” Kepler-16b had been previously discovered.
11. What was Nevada the first state to legalize in June 2011?
Assembly Bill No. 511 stipulated than the Nevada Department of Transportation “shall adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada.” Drivers can also start their camels: Nevada’s law prohibiting camels on highways was repealed in 1899.
12. In 2016, China generated more electricity than the United States from what renewable energy source?
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, in 2017 China generated more than twice the amount of electricity from renewable sources than the United States, including in all of the above sectors. A recent report estimated that renewable energy will be a $1.5 trillion global market by 2025.
13. After months of inaccurate reports, approximately how many barrels of crude oil did scientists determine the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill released into the Gulf of Mexico every day?
Though early estimates were as low as 1,000 barrels a day, Earth Institute scientists eventually confirmed that around 60,000 barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico each day. An estimated 4.9 million barrels were released in total, making the Deepwater Horizon the worst accidental marine oil spill in history.
14. In July 2017, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke from what body of ice?
By volume, the iceberg that separated from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica was about twice the size of Lake Erie. Both the Arctic and the Antarctic continued to lose ice throughout the decade.
15. According to the Health Effects Institute, which of the risk factors below was responsible for the most deaths worldwide in 2017?
Air pollution was linked to nearly 5 million deaths in 2017, making it the fifth leading risk factor for mortality worldwide. Recently, the European Society of Cardiology estimated that air pollution was responsible for as many as 8.8 million deaths in 2015, placing it above smoking as a health risk.
16. What 2018 wildfire was the deadliest and most destructive in California history?
Ignited by a faulty PG&E electric transmission line, the Camp Fire covered an area of 153,336 acres, destroyed some 18,804 structures and claimed 85 lives. The 2018 fire season was the worst in California history, and climate change may continue to make things worse in the years to come.