Science stories tells breakthroughs, current developments, future plans as well as results in all realms of science. Some news receives large amounts of attention and discussions as they present major developments or milestones. However, the attention they receive does not always correspond to lasting importance as not all news remain remarkable many years after being released. Chosen here for discussion are two science stories from the past year that received attention. Both stories are chosen from the Science Magazine, a peer reviewed journal by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in the section titled “2019 Breakthrough of the year”. The first story is the top breakthrough according to the section, “Darkness made visible”, about the first ever imaging of a black hole. The second story is one of the runners-up, “A close-up of a far-out object”, about the most distant flyby explored. While both stories are in the list top science stories of 2019, one is believed to be continued to be seen many years from now and another is expected to be forgotten in ten years.
Daniel Clery’s article “Darkness made visible” describes the accomplishment of the imaging of the black hole M87* by a team of radio astronomers. The astronomers proposed that the glowing gases close to a giant black hole might make it visible. Along with other technological improvements such as receivers and antenna, very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI), a technique that combines data from many radio dishes to simulate a larger telescope, was used to study distant objects in finer detail. Since Saggittarius A* (Sgr A*), the closest black hole to Earth being at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy was small and the materials around Sgr A* being unstable, the team focused mainly on producing an image of M87* instead with the international Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). As described in the official ETH website, “ETH is a global network of synchronized radio observatories that work in unison to observe radio sources associated with black holes using a virtual Earth-sized telescope”. Members of the ETH involves more than 200 scientists internationally. This image of the M87* is significant as it confirms previously made black hole theories and predictions, for example that a black hole’s shadow should be perfectly round. It also rejects alternative theories of gravity. Furthermore, with this successful imaging, scientists are working on improving tools and methods for observing Sgr A* as well as including 20 other supermassive black holes for imaging. Through the expansion of EHT, still images will be able to be made into video clips of the whole process of materials being sucked into a black hole. As Clery quoted astrophysicist Roger Blandford in the article, “this year’s triumph ‘is the beginning, not the culmination of this research project’”, suggesting that further implications can be made and will bring new insight to future studies of the black hole. Quoted from NASA’s article “How Scientists Captured the First Image of a Black Hole”, not only is this imaging a major breakthrough in astronomy, “accomplishing what was previously thought to be impossible”, but it also allows scientists to “test observation methods and theories such as Einstein’s theory of general relativity” as well as other hypothesized theories and behaviors that are “made possible as more data is acquired”. Since many future applications would use black hole imaging, it is logical to think that such important news would be discussed and be seen many years from now.
Similar to the black hole imaging article, the second science story also describes an astronomical accomplishment in 2019. The story depicts the discovery of an orbiting object Arrokoth, the name given to a space rock. Arrokoth was the farthest planetary object ever explored and was discovered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in the Kuiper belt, a region beyond Neptune. Arrokoth consists of two icy lobes formed separately but later collided and joined after the Sun formed. Rather than the expected “snow-man shape”, Arrokoth has a shape of “two lumpy pancakes” as Paul Voosen describes in the article “The space ‘snowman’ at the edge of our solar system is actually two lumpy pancakes”. The significance of Arrokoth comes from the small size, the flat disk shape, the relatively craters-free surface as well as the location of Arrokoth. Located in the Kuiper belt suggests that Arrokoth might have has existed for more than 4 billion years and remained unchanged as stated in NASA’s article “Far, Far Away in the Sky: New Horizons Kuiper Belt Flyby Object Officially Named ‘Arrokoth’”. Since the Kuiper belt has materials from early phases of the Solar System, Arrokoth provides new insight of the formation of planets and potentially contain information on the origin of life. The images of Arrokoth supports a newer theory of planetary formation called streaming instability, hypothesizing that planetesimals are formed when gravitationally and linearly insecure disks create drag that leads to clumping. Although the analysis of Arrokoth shows scientific importance and drew attention in 2019, “much work remains to be done; the spacecraft will not even finish beaming back all its observations of Arrokoth until the end of 2020” as Paul Voosen says in the article “A close-up of a far-out object”. This suggests that the discovery of Arrokoth is only one of possibly many discoveries from the Kuiper belt about the origin of the universe, and there would be further discussions on such discoveries rather than this science story alone. Therefore, it is expected that this story might be forgotten in 10 years when newer observations on the origin of the Solar System are found.
Although both science stories of black hole imaging and the discovery of Arrokoth received attention in 2019, one depicts major scientific break-through and another depicts a discovery in a large space project. Black hole imaging is expected to be seen many years from now whereas the discovery of Arrokoth is expected to be forgotten in ten years. Looking back at top science stories from 2009, many of which are reminded from the article and are not talked about despite their major significance back in that time. This shows that the attention of science-stories does not correspond to their level of importance, and all news are confirmations to scientists’ efforts in research and discoveries regardless of their popularity.