Our favorite science news stories of 2017

A neutron-star merger is getting all the attention as our scientific Breakthrough of the Year. But what about slimy hagfish and massive arctic balloons?

Every year, we compile some of our favorite online stories. They aren’t always about the biggest advances in science, but rather, are some of our most popular, exclusive, or undiscovered articles.

Did your favorites make the list? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook

 

iStock.com/PeopleImages

What dogs hear when we talk to them

We often talk to our dogs using the same high-pitched gobbledygook that we use with our babies. But do our dogs care? This study suggests that they do, at least when they’re puppies, and that using baby talk with your dog may even help it learn words.

iStock.com/4kodiak

New theory may explain the ‘music of the meteors’

Indigenous people living at high latitudes have long claimed that auroras make clapping sounds. Others say meteors hiss as they arc through the sky. Now, science is lending credence to these observations.

Tom McHugh/Science Source

How the slimy hagfish ties itself up in knots—and survives shark attacks

The jawless, eellike hagfish isn’t much to look at. But hagfish are masters of contortion, able to squeeze through remarkably tight spaces and tear flesh off the carcasses they feed on by twisting themselves into knots. Watch them in the act in the accompanying video.

Megan May/Missourian/AP

Moms, should you eat your placentas?

It’s a growing practice around the world, and celebrities like Kim Kardashian West have touted its benefits. But will it really make a new mom feel like a million bucks? Scientists are on the case, and their initial findings are not encouraging.

Roxanne Makasdjian/University of California, Berkeley

Why do shoelaces untie themselves?

Here’s some news you can use: Why do your shoelaces come undoneand what can you do to stop them? The work has implications beyond your sneakers, potentially informing everything from surgery to new cancer drugs.

P. M. Holl and F. Reinhard, Physical Review Letters

Stray Wi-Fi signals could let spies see inside closed rooms

 Wi-Fi is seemingly everywhere, and when it’s not available, we get huffy. But wireless networking may be doing more than you bargained for. Physicists have found a way to use the radio waves to create 3D images of objects, in principle enabling outsiders to “see” the inside of a room using only the Wi-Fi signals leaking out of it.

Simon Williams/NPL/Minden Pictures

‘Chemist’ ants brew antibiotic cocktail to protect their colony

Call it the world’s smallest pharmacy. Researchers have discovered that wood ants protect their colonies from disease by crafting a potent antibiotic made of tree resin and poison from their own bodies. It’s one of the most sophisticated examples of animal pharmacology, scientists say.

istock.com/Fabrice-Chanson

Monarch miscalculation: Has a scientific error about the butterflies persisted for more than 40 years?

Sometimes errors stick around in the scientific literature because no one bothers to go back and check them. And sometimes they persist for decades, as seems to have happened with monarch butterflies being assigned the wrong number of chromosomes. This scientific detective story reveals what happenedand why not everyone agrees the mystery has been solved.

East Greenland Ice-core Project

Massive balloons help polar scientists build underground tunnels

Here’s a question you probably never thought about: How do you build tunnels in arctic snow to house your research station, with no infrastructure or building materials in sight? The answer: balloons the shape of giant hot dogs. Just don’t deflate them too soon.

© Yann Forget/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

The Greeks really do have near-mythical origins, ancient DNA reveals

The epic poems of ancient Greece have some grounding in reality, this story reveals. Odysseus and Agamemnon may have been fictitious, but ancient DNA suggests they were based on real people. It’s a fun history lessonand one of our most popular stories of the year.