A WILD RIDE. Those, by and large, are the first words that come to mind looking back on Futurisms 2019 and all the news that made up these past twelve months.
We ran thousands of stories this year. They ranged from investigative projects, to interviews, to the building blocks of our site: Sharp hour-by-hour analysis on the science and technology narratives of the day. These stories shaped (and are still shaping) the weird, wonderful, frightening, inspiring, and ever-critical present moment were in, to say nothing of the future well occupy on this planet or elsewhere.
That said: Every once in a while, one of these hundreds of stories exceeds our wildest expectations, drawing hundreds of thousands of readers from across the world, and for weeks at a time, too.
To that end and without further ado, here are The Ten Most-Read Futurism Stories of 2019 along with our best guesses as to why they garnered so much attention, and what it might mean for our future.
10. The First Black Hole Photo Is Even More Amazing When You Zoom Out
When: April 12, 2019
What: After the Event Horizon Telescope team unleashed the first-ever image of a black hole, a separate team dropped an incredible follow-up image of the space around it.
Why: A sense of genuine epochal awe surrounded the release of the historic first image of a black hole, for starters. But when we covered NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory release of the wider shot, showing how distant galaxy M87s black hole was nestled in a boggling vast cloud of high-energy particles, our readers couldnt stop looking. Heck, neither could we.
9. Our Solar System Is Blanketed in a Giant Wall of Fire
When: Nov. 21, 2019
What: Voyager 2 sent back readings suggesting that the edge of the solar system is surrounded by a bubble of 49,427 degrees Celsius (89,000 degrees Fahrenheit) plasma.
Why: We think of the deep solar system as a dark, frozen expanse, but this story showed that its a frontier of extraordinary unknowns that can apparently get, to put it lightly, hot. Even better, NASAs best tool to plumb its mysteries is Voyager 2 a probe thats been traveling away from the Sun since 1977, giving the story an outrageous old-meets-new finishing coat.
8. NASA Engineer Says New Thruster Could Reach 99% Speed of Light
When: Oct. 14, 2019
What: NASA engineer David Burns said that his new thruster design could reach a ludicrous velocity if you give it enough time to accelerate.
Why: The idea of light-speed travel scratches a sci-fi itch, and Burns has a knack for self-promotion. His thrusters undeniably clever it would use a type of particle accelerator to manipulate the speed of an ion loop, subtly changing their mass through relativity effects, thus generating a gentle thrust without propellant. Give it enough time, according to Burns, and it could reach 99 percent the speed of light. The caveats? Itd require building an enormous device in space, and itd take an extremely long time to speed up.
7. New Research: Human Civilization Will Likely Collapse by 2050
When: June 3, 2019
What: An Australian climate change analysis reached a Mad Max conclusion: Were screwed, and on a clock.
Why: The last year in news has often felt a touch world-ending, no? To say nothing of the worlds ongoing fascination with post-apocalyptic fiction, from Dawn of the Dead to The Hunger Games. The wide interest in this, though, illustrates our looming fear of a real collapse event especially when the research comes from a former fossil fuel exec. The good news, according to the research, is that drastic environmental policies could pull the planet back in the right direction. Also, lets be real: the art for this one, by Futurism writer Victor Tangermann, was haunting and beautiful.
6. NASA Research: Astronauts Are Getting Clots, Bizarre Blood Flow
When: Nov. 14, 2019
What: A NASA research project seemingly showed astronauts suffering from ominous circulatory problems.
Why: Everybody loves a feel-good story about a successful rocket launch or a shiny experiment on the International Space Station. But its difficult to ignore growing evidence that space is a hostile environment for the human body and this study, which examined ultrasounds from astronauts whod spent time on space station, showed signs of clots and bizarre blood flow. Needless to say, more research is needed, but this could be an opening act to the human space travel story narrative of this era.
5. Here Are New Pics of That Weird Substance China Found on the Moon
When: Sept. 19, 2019
What: China baffled the world when it announced that its rover had found a mysterious substance on the Moon. Then it released a photo.
Why: The implication of Chinas original announcement, which described the substance as gel-like, was that the material was deeply baffling. Thats probably why droves of Futurism readers visited to see the picture for themselves and share their thoughts though, underwhelmingly, the consensus among researchers is that the material, rather than a gel, is probably lunar glass that formed during a meteor strike.
4. A Dense Bullet of Something Blasted Holes in the Milky Way
When: May 15, 2019
What: According to research by a Harvard-Smithsonian scientist, a dense bullet of something punched holes in our home galaxy many years ago.
Why: A lot of our most-read stories this year were epic in scope, but this galactic-scale mystery by Futurism writer Dan Robitzski might take the cake. Gaps in the stellar stream suggest that something one culprit could be a chunk of dark matter, a million times the mass of our Sun crudely tampered with the large-scale structure of the Milky Way. Just like our readers, we were obsessed and well be keeping an eye out for followup astrophysical research to share with them.
3. NASA: Four Astronauts Will Stay on the Moon for Two Weeks
When: Oct. 30, 2019
What: NASA dropped tantalizing new details about its upcoming Moon missions, which include sending four astronauts to the lunar surface for 6.5 days.
Why: Our readers have a longstanding interest in NASAs efforts to return to the Moon, so these rare specifics from the inscrutable space agency were irresistible. Whats more, this new info demonstrated the depth of NASAs ambition: the 6.5 day mission, which will be loaded with at least four expeditions on the lunar surface, will be twice as long a Moon visit as any other in human history.
2. Russian Sub That Caught Fire Possibly Sent to Cut Internet Cables
When: July 3, 2019
What: In the aftermath of a Russian submarine fire, rumors emerged in Russian media that the sub was on a mission to cut undersea internet cables.
Why: Remember the tragic fire that killed 14 Russian sailors this year? Observers pointed out that Moscow was unusually cagey about the incident, refusing to say even whether it had been a nuclear sub. And then, in a pair of bombshell reports, two Russian outlets reported that the vessel had been a secretive craft thats long been speculated to have been designed to sabotage undersea internet cables. Much like other Russian drama in recent years, this one never got a satisfying conclusion but it was a rare glimpse into the murky world of deep-sea espionage.
1. Chinese Scientists Cloned Gene-Edited Monkeys With Horrifying Results
When: Jan. 25, 2019
What: Chinese scientists made five clones of a monkey that had been gene-edited to suffer from serious psychological problems.
Why: Our most-read story all year took a dive into the lurid world of genetic engineering. Scientists in China tinkered with the DNA of a macaque monkey, and then cloned the animal five times the first time a gene-edited primate had ever successfully been cloned. But ethically, Futurisms Kristin Houser explained, the experiment was a mess: the macaques genes had been altered to give it depression, anxiety, sleep problems and a schizophrenia-like condition. Researchers say the altered monkeys will be a valuable research tool for developing new therapies. But, at the same time, its a Jeff VanderMeer-esque sign of the grotesque frontiers of CRISPR and, like our readers, we couldnt look away.
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