The annual Best Illusion of the Year Contest encourages scientists and artists to showcase their ingenuity by creating clever optical illusions. Now celebrating its seventeenth year, the fun contest is the brainchild of the Neural Correlate Society, a nonprofit that promotes scientific research on how the brain functions. Here are 2021's top three winners, selected by fans from the ten finalists in an online vote on December 15, 2021.
Black History Month, celebrated every February, commemorates the many, often overlooked, contributions African Americans have made to society. American historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson came up with the idea in 1926 as a way to share his love for Black history with students. Today, African American History Month, as it is also called, is one of the most celebrated cultural heritage months on the American calendar.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai — an underwater volcano located 40 miles (65km) north of Nuku'alofa, the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga — has erupted a couple of times over the past few decades. However, its January 15, 2022, explosion was like none other seen on Earth in over 30 years. The spectacular 13-mile-wide eruption, with a sonic boom heard 6,000 miles away in Alaska, spewed large plumes of ash and gases as high as 19 miles. The massive waves that followed triggered tsunami warnings in Peru, New Zealand, Japan, and the US West Coast.
Researchers have long suspected that Mars was once home to several rivers, lakes, and perhaps even oceans. But while they have been able to detect ice, and some salty lakes, in the planet's polar regions, finding water in other areas has proved elusive. Now, scientists have finally found evidence of a large water reservoir just a few feet below the surface of the Red Planet's Valles Marineris canyon system.
The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) — the world's largest and most complex science telescope — was successfully launched into space atop a European Ariane 5 rocket on December 25, 2021. The $10 billion revolutionary space observatory — a joint effort between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency — is designed to detect the faint infrared light from the earliest stars and galaxies formed over 13.5 billion years ago.
The season's first winter storm — which brought significant snowfall to the Washington, DC, area on January 3, 2022 — could not have come at a better time for the residents of the Smithsonian's National Zoo. With the park closed to visitors due to the inclement weather, the animals were able to welcome the New Year with several snow days all to themselves.
The name millipede, which translates to a "thousand feet," is a bit of a misnomer. Many species of the arthropods have fewer than 100 legs, and even the record holder — the Illacme plenipes — boasts a "mere" 750 legs. Now, a team led by Virginia Tech entomologist Paul Marek has finally found the world's first "true" millipede — one with over 1,300 legs!
On December 14, 2021, NASA officials revealed that the Parker Solar Probe had successfully pierced through the Sun's outer atmosphere — the corona — and "touched" the star. The historical feat was achieved on April 28, 2021, during the spacecraft's eighth flyby, when it was about 8.1 million miles away from the star. The space probe spent five hours collecting magnetic and solar particle data from the Alfvén critical surface — the point that marks the end of the Sun's atmosphere.