The top 10 science news stories of 2014

If you want to know about the most amazing science discoveries of 2014, check out our Breakthrough of the Year section. But if you want a list of our favorite science news stories of the past 12 months, you’ve come to the right place. Below are some of the highlights from 2014, a combination of staff picks and our most popular articles.

10. 'Space bubbles' may have led to deadly battle in Afghanistan

One of the deadliest battles of the U.S. war in Afghanistan may have been caused by plasma bubbles. That’s the conclusion of this unusual study, which finds that the turbulent pockets of ionized gas may have deflected U.S. military satellite radio signals enough to cause temporary communications blackouts in the region. Be sure to check out the amazing artwork.

9. Isolated tribe makes contact for the first time

Beginning in early July, a few members of an isolated Amazonian tribe emerged from a dense rainforest in Brazil and approached a team of scientists—the first time the villagers had willingly made contact with the outside world. Officials suspect that the tribe fled illegal logging and drug trafficking in their traditional homelands in Peru. Anthropologists remain deeply concerned about the tribe's future as it encounters novel diseases and resource-hungry outsiders.

8. Are beards about to die out?

Certainly our hairiest story of the year. Men seem to be growing beards in unprecedented numbers, but a recent study suggests that this look is becoming too popular for its own good. In fact, bushy faces may be on their way out.

7. Ancient magma plumbing found buried below moon's largest dark spot

There may be nothing new under the sun, but scientists have found something new under the moon. Several kilometers below the largest dark spot on our satellite’s near side, researchers have discovered a giant rectangle thought to be the remnants of a geological plumbing system that spilled lava across the moon about 3.5 billion years ago. The finding shows that the moon, early in its history, experienced tectonic and volcanic activity normally associated with large planets.

6. How to survive a nuclear explosion

Run! A mathematical model of nuclear fallout suggests that sheltering in place (the first option above) is not always the best survival strategy. If you can reach higher quality shelter in less than 30 minutes (the second option), you should go for it. An

Run! A mathematical model of nuclear fallout suggests that sheltering in place (the first option above) is not always the best survival strategy. If you can reach higher quality shelter in less than 30 minutes (the second option), you sho

Adapted from illustration by Michael Dillon/LLNL

Here’s a bit of news we hope you never have to use. Scientists have figured out what you should do if deadly radioactive fallout is headed your way. Here’s a hint: You’ll need a watch and a good knowledge of your surroundings.

5. 'Vampire' squirrel has world's fluffiest tail

Any time you can get both “vampire” and “fluffiest” into a headline, you know you’ve got a good story. This one is about the rare tufted ground squirrel, which is twice the size of most tree squirrels and reputedly has a taste for blood. Oh, yeah: It also has the bushiest tail of any mammal compared with its body size.

4. Rocks made of plastic found on Hawaiian beach

It’s been a big year for plastic, from researchers developing self-recycling plastic to discovering trillions of pieces of plastic trapped in Arctic ice. But our favorite plastic story is this one: scientists finding a new type of rock on Hawaiian shores, one cobbled together from beach sand, seashells, corals, and, yes, plastic.

3. 'Bigfoot' samples analyzed in lab

We here at Science don’t spend a lot of time covering ghosts and UFOs, but we couldn’t resist this study—the first peer-reviewed, genetic survey of biological samples claimed to be from Bigfoot and his kin. The conclusions may not surprise you, but the reaction of Bigfoot hunters just might.

2. Even in the wild, mice run on wheels

 

Our favorite story of the year, this one is also among the most surprising. We all know that mice like to run on wheels in cages, but wild mice will do the same on a wheel placed outside. And not just mice—rats, shrews, and even frogs also gave the toy a spin. Many animals, it seems, were just born to run.

1. Black Death left a mark on human genome


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The Black Death may have decimated Europe nearly 700 years ago, but it’s still leaving an impact on people today. A new genetic analysis helps explain why Europeans respond differently from other people to some diseases and have different susceptibilities to autoimmune disorders. The story also left a mark on our readers, who made it our most popular of the year.

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A 3D plot from a model of the Ebola risk faced at different West African regions over time.
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