The top science stories of 2015: Bob McDonald

Bob McDonald compiles the most significant science stories that he covered this past year on CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks.

Quirks & Quarks host remembers the biggest revelations of the year

A flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons probe in 2015 revealed that the dwarf planet has vast plains of frozen nitrogen and towering ice mountains as rugged as the Rockies, writes Bob McDonald. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Yes, it's that time of year when people are making lists - either New Year's resolutions (which are generally ignored, forgotten or never achieved), or Top 10/best-of-the-year lists.

I'm going with the best of 2015 list, since I've never been one for resolutions.

So, in no particular order, here's a review of the most significant science stories we covered this year on Quirks & Quarks.

Not necessarily the top science stories of 2015, but the biggest stories that we waded into.

New Horizons mission to Pluto 

Our reconnaissance of the "Classic Solar System," which included Pluto, was completed last summer, when the New Horizons probe made a one-time close flyby of the distant world, now called a dwarf planet.

Pluto turned out to be an active place with vast plains of frozen nitrogen and towering ice mountains as rugged as the Rockies.

New human species, Homo naledi

The largest-ever cache of human ancestor fossils, including 15 individuals, was found in a cave in South Africa. The new species, more than two and a half million years old, could be the root of our genus, Homo.

Oldest human species

Another find of a jaw bone in Ethiopia, at 2.8 million years old, fits somewhere between the earlier, more ape-like Australopithicenes and more modern Homo erectus.

Paris climate deal 

While there was excitement over a new international climate agreement in Paris that aims to curb the global temperature rise from reaching 2°C, our expert panel identified what needs to happen next.

Growth of carbon emissions leveled off

More good news out of the Paris talks showed that the growth of carbon emissions worldwide has reached a plateau, largely due to changes in China.

Glaciers disappearing 

That said, more signs that the Earth is rapidly changing came with this disturbing report that most glaciers in Canada will be gone by the year 2100.

Canadians uninformed about climate change 

A disturbing survey of Canadian attitudes towards climate change showed misinformation, little concern about harm and an unwillingness to pay for change.

100th anniversary of General Relativity

We looked at two books celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein's landmark Theory of General Relativity. The first author called it "the perfect theory."

Spooky action at a distance 

The second author explains the counter-intuitive behaviour in the quantum world, where particles separated by great distance seem to communicate with each other instantly, a phenomenon Einstein found troubling and which has since been demonstrated in laboratory experiments.

Event Horizon Telescope

A telescope array the size of Earth will attempt to image the super-massive black hole that resides at the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy. It could provide proof of another Einstein prediction, that space-time is curved by powerful gravitational fields.

Nobel Prize for a Canadian physicist

Canadian Dr. Art McDonald was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering work at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.

CRISPR (coming up on our Jan. 2 program)

A new gene-editing technique could revolutionize genetic engineering and the treatment of genetic diseases. But many people question if it should ever be used on human embryos.

Quirks' 40th anniversary

While it wasn't a big event in science, it was certainly a big event for us, as we celebrated 40 years on CBC Radio, with a look back at the remarkable changes that have taken place in science since the show first went on the air in 1975.

So that's how we saw the world of science in 2015. Let's hope the next year brings us many more exciting discoveries and remarkable achievements.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

About the Author

Bob McDonald

Bob McDonald is the host of CBC Radio's award-winning weekly science program, Quirks & Quarks. He is also a science commentator for CBC News Network and CBC-TV's The National. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.