The incredible discoveries and scientific feats of 2023 prove just how far curiosity and wonder can take humanity.
Archaeological findings allowed researchers to take intriguing steps into the past and reveal more about our mysterious ancestors and creatures who roamed the planet before humans.
At the same time, technological advancements enabled scientists to make daring leaps forward in how we understand the vast expanse of the universe and our little cosmic neighborhood within it.
Each week brought new marvels and insights, along with dozens of pinch-me moments and awe-inspiring views of the cosmos once invisible to the human eye.
In this golden age of scientific discovery, my hope is that, like living legend Sylvia Earle, we never take the ability to solve mysteries and gain new knowledge for granted so we can better understand how to protect this extraordinary world.
Nearly 1,000 new species were found across the globe in 2023, adding significantly to the tree of life and illuminating how much biodiversity is waiting to be found on Earth.
Researchers at the California Academy of Sciences and London’s Natural History Museum uncovered hundreds of creatures and plants from the bottom of the ocean to an isolated peak in Angola.
The majority of newfound species were insects — including metallic-hued wasps named after “Doctor Who” characters that help eliminate agricultural pests. And scientists found unusual creatures such as a rare type of silent frog and a gecko that shoots goo out of its tail.
As the climate crisis continues, scientists are racing to identify species in an attempt to protect them before they disappear.
Back to the future
An emerging scientific trend in 2023 was resurrection biology, or the attempt to revive once extinct molecule strands and complex organisms.
The field of study sounds like the basis of “Jurassic Park,” but scientists are using it to raise awareness of the rise of once dormant viruses as the climate crisis causes permafrost to thaw for the first time in centuries. Resurrection biology is also being used in the search for pharmaceutical solutions by studying the genetic proteins of our ancient ancestors.
Scientists employed the technique to recreate the scent of Egyptian mummification balms. Visitors can catch this whiff of the past at Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum.
And yes, efforts to bring extinct animals such as the dodo, woolly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger back to life are underway.
Truth is stranger than fiction, especially when recalling some of the celestial moments from this year that rivaled sci-fi.
A moon race kicked off between multiple countries, with robotic missions ending both in success and crash landings.
Meanwhile, a spacecraft delivered a sample collected from an asteroid to Earth for the first time — the rocks and dust are already surprising researchers.
And the most powerful rockets ever constructed launched and exploded twice, reminding once again that the path to spaceflight is tricky.
When conservators used X-rays to scan one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces, “The Night Watch,” the scans revealed a secret that had remained hidden for nearly 400 years. Tucked beneath the painting of Dutch civilian soldiers was a layer full of lead.
Completed in 1642, the massive painting was displayed in Amsterdam’s Kloveniersdoelen, or a musketeer’s shooting range. There, the piece would have been vulnerable to humidity and moisture.
Experts believe that Rembrandt used lead, rather than the typical stiff layer of glue, to protect the canvas of the dramatic piece, which featured his mastery of illumination and shadows.
Researchers have used an unusual source to solve one of history’s mysteries about the West Antarctic ice sheet, which is rapidly melting due to global warming.
By studying the DNA of Turquet’s octopus, which can be found along the Antarctic seafloor, scientists have determined that the ice sheet last collapsed more than 100,000 years ago. Understanding how the ice sheet has behaved over time could provide insight into how future sea levels could rise.
“DNA of living animals today contains all the information about their ancestors (in the) past, so it’s like a time capsule,” said Dr. Sally Lau, a postdoctoral research fellow at James Cook University in Australia.
Catch up on these mind-blowing stories:
— Apes can recognize old friends they haven’t seen for decades, according to new research that documented the lengthiest social memory ever seen outside of humans.
— The Hubble Space Telescope captured a new image showcasing ghostly shadows called “spokes” dancing along the rings of Saturn.
— Traces of a power surge that occurred in Earth’s magnetic field thousands of years ago were literally baked into ancient Mesopotamian mud bricks.
— Before the year ends, send your name to one of Jupiter’s moons to accompany a poem written by US Poet Laureate Ada Limón that will fly aboard NASA’s Europa Clipper mission.
The Wonder Theory team wishes you a Happy New Year, and we’ll see you in 2024!