The Top 10 ScienceNOWs of 2009

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Every year, ScienceNOW publishes hundreds of breaking science news stories, from the discovery of Earth-like planets to new insights into how the brain works. Picking our Top 10 is never an easy task, so we've relied on you to help us out. Most of the stories below were our most popular of 2009, as judged by reader clicks. And we've thrown in some of our staff favorites as well. Enjoy the selection--and Happy Holidays!

10) Closer Look at Einstein's Brain

Ever wondered what made Albert Einstein so smart--and such a good violin player to boot? The answers may lie in a new analysis of the famed physicist's brain, which is unusual in several ways.

<p class="p1">Penny Chisholm made a photosynthesizing microbe called <em>Prochlorococcus</em> (green) her life's work.</p>

Penny Chisholm made a photosynthesizing microbe called Prochlorococcus (green) her life's work.


9) Ancient Virus Gave Wasps Their Sting

A virus that infected wasps millions of years ago has given the insect the ability to paralyze caterpillars and turn them into nests for their young. Experts say the discovery could improve gene therapy techniques for humans.

Hubert Raguet/CEMES/CNRS Photothèque; Patrick Mansell/Penn State; OGphoto/iStockphoto

8) New Zealand Tree Stuck in a Time Warp

The lancewood tree is still defending itself against a predator that went extinct 500 years ago. A case of evolution gone awry--or something far more simple? Check out the robust discussion in the comments section.

7) Neutron Stars: Billions of Times Stronger Than Steel

Neutron stars--the rapidly spinning ashes left over from supernova explosions--contain the densest and strongest material in the universe. So dense, in fact, that the gravity of the mountain-sized imperfections on the surfaces of these stars might actually jiggle spacetime itself.

6) That Bird Can Boogie

Justin Timberlake has nothing on Snowball the cockatoo. Watch this bird rock out to the Backstreet Boys--and learn what he's telling us about the evolution of music.

5) A Billion-Year Hard Drive

Thanks to a new technology, people may still be reading this Top 10 list millions of generations from now. Researchers have come up with a way to store data practically forever.

4) Bad Decisions May Be Contagious

Can watching someone else make a bad decision turn you into a bad decision maker, too? Perhaps so, especially if you have something in common with that person.

3) Mission Improbable: A Concise and Precise Definition of P-Value

Even if you're not a fan of statistics, you're likely to be intrigued by this discussion (some say argument) between one of our staff writers and a prominent scientist. It's an entertaining insight into how science works.

<p class="p1"><span class="s1">This ancient skull, uncovered in a new cave system, gives <em>Homo naledi </em>a nearly complete face.</span></p>

This ancient skull, uncovered in a new cave system, gives Homo naledi a nearly complete face.

Wits University/John Hawks

2) A Little Fellatio Goes a Long Way

Humans haven't cornered the market on kinkiness. Researchers have found that fruit bats engage in oral sex--the first time the practice has been seen in a non-primate. And for voyeurs, there's a video, too.

1) Early Risers Are Mutants

Why are some people zombies if they get less than 8 hours of sleep, while others do fine on just a few winks? Find the answer in our most popular story of the year.