Science Review 2012 – Top 100 science stories: Nos 50-46

7 Dec 2012

Artist's impression of the free-floating CFBDSIR2149 planet. Image via European Space Observatory

We continue our countdown of Ireland’s top science and innovation stories of 2012. It was the year Dublin became the European City of Science and major scientific breakthroughs occurred in every field.

During four days in July, international scientists, policy-makers and business leaders, as well as the general public, converged on the Euroscience Open Forum in Dublin, the highlight in a year full of science and innovation events, such as Science Week, Nanoweek, and Engineers Week.

Most notable during 2012, however, is the impact young people in Ireland have been making in innovation. James Whelton’s CoderDojo movement has gone international, student Paddy Mulcahy won the Irish leg of the 2012 James Dyson award, Mark Kelly and Eric Doyle, this year’s overall winners at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, also scooped another top award at the EUCYS, and teenager Joanne O’Riordan, who has no limbs, gave a speech to global leaders at a United Nations conference for Girls in ICT Day on how technology has changed her life.

To celebrate a year that also included great research, discoveries and partnerships, has dedicated this month to the top 100 most popular science and innovation stories of 2012. Our countdown continues below.

Vesta asteroid

50 – NASA finds ‘unusual’ geologic features on Vesta asteroid

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft scientists said they discovered ‘unexpected details’ on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta, which is one of the brightest objects in the solar system, potentially paving the way for new insights into the geologic makeup of asteroids and how they formed and evolved through the ages.

New images and data captured via the Dawn spacecraft have apparently revealed unusual geologic features on Vesta’s surface, some of which have never been seen before on asteroids.

The Dawn scientists discussed their findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.


49 – Solar storm illuminates the skies with auroras

The solar storm that collided with planet Earth’s magnetic field on 24-25 January, the largest since 2005, illuminated the skies with stunning aurorae that could be seen by those in the northern latitudes, such as Sweden. And even earnest stargazers in Ireland were given an auroral fix during the week, as people flocked to places such as Inishowen in Donegal in droves to catch some Northern Lights!

This year seemed destined to be a particularly unusual year for the Northern Lights, with scientists having predicted that people in lower latitudes might be lucky enough to glimpse them.

EU reveals largest R&D fund

48 – EU reveals its largest R&D fund yet with €8.1bn ready to invest

The EU Commissioner in charge of Innovation and Science Maire Geoghegan-Quinn unveiled a new FP7 programme that will allocate €8.1bn to research and development initiatives across Europe. The announcement came as Dublin hosted the European City of Science.

The €8.1bn is expected to leverage an additional €6bn of public and private investment in R&D.

This is estimated to increase employment by 210,000 in the short-term and over a 15-year period provide €75bn in economic growth.

sign-language app Sign4Life

47 – Sign-language app created by Irish students scoops European prize

Five Irish students won a European competition for junior achievers in Bucharest, Romania. The students won out over teams from 32 countries for their sign-language app Sign4Life.

The students themselves are from Salesian Secondary College in Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. Their app, which teaches sign language using video technology, apparently covers sign language in categories such as food, numbers, sport, calendar, colours and family.

The students said their template can be adapted to any international language.

Ronan Leahy

46 – Astronomers discover ‘rogue’ planet drifting through space

Astronomers are claiming to have found a free-floating planet some 100 light years away that’s wandering alone through space without a parent star. Such planets are dubbed rogue or nomad planets because they do not orbit a star.

The free-floating planet has been labelled CFBDSIR2149 by the scientists who discovered it. Their findings have been published in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The researchers said they found the planet based on observations from the European Space Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope, which is based in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, based on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.