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Our favorite science news stories of the decade

Science’s online news site has been reporting breaking research news for more than 2 decades, and every year we bring you a list of some of our favorites. Now, for the first time, we’ve compiled some of our best from the past 10 years. As with our yearly lists, these weren’t necessarily the most important stories of the year—just some of our personal favorites, most popular stories, and articles that have stood the test of time. Here they are, listed from earliest to most recent year.

acilo/iStock.com

Superaccurate clocks confirm your hair is aging faster than your toenails

If your hair is going gray before its time, you can pin a tiny bit of the blame on relativity. That’s the conclusion of one our favorite physics stories of the decade, which relies on Albert Einstein’s famous theory. An object closer to the ground should experience time slightly more slowly than one higher up, the thinking goes, because the lower one is closer to Earth’s gravitational field. The same is true for your hair versus your feet, physicists have demonstrated, thanks to the help of two superaccurate clocks.

Vivien Kent/Alamy Stock Photo

Old termites blow themselves up to protect the nest

Certainly our most explosive animal story of the past 10 years. Neocapritermes taracua harbor blue crystals on their back, which they detonate when something invades their nest. Older insects are more likely to carry out these suicide missions, which can save the entire colony.

AleksandarGeorgiev/iStock.com

Microbes survive, and maybe thrive, high in the atmosphere

As of this year, we have yet to find life on other planets. But we have found it quite far from terra firma. Such is the revelation of this 2013 story, which uncovers that billions of microbes live high in our atmosphere, forming an active ecosystem high above Earth’s surface. They may even affect the weather.

Even in the wild, mice run on wheels

A bit of backyard science produced one of our favorite animal stories of the past 10 years. When neurophysiologist Johanna Meijer placed a running wheel in an ivy-tangled corner of her garden, wild mice scampered into it and began to run. Over 3 years, rats, shrews, and even frogs followed suit—more than 12,000 animals in all. The creatures didn’t seem to be trying to get exercise; they were just having fun.

S. RONEN ET AL., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences EARLY EDITION (2014)

Want to influence the world? Map reveals the best languages to speak

One of our favorite language stories of the decade contains some news you can use. If you want to spread your ideas far and wide, some tongues work better than others. The key is a map of three global language networks based on bilingual tweeters, book translations, and multilingual Wikipedia edits. English has the most transmissions to and from other languages, and is thus best for global communication. But other languages—including some surprising ones—are also good for spreading ideas far and wide around the world.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY/Science Source

How to survive a nuclear explosion

And here’s some news you’ll hopefully never have to use. Assuming you survive the initial blast, the official recommendations for staying alive after a nuclear explosion may not do you much good. Here are some better approaches, including how far—and fast—you should run to a fallout shelter.

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How long would it take you to fall through Earth?

How long it would take to fall down a hole drilled through the center of Earth and out the other side? That’s one of our favorite “gee whiz” questions of the decade—and one physicists thought they had the answer to a long time ago. But this story from 2015 finds a more accurate solution. One expert says it best: “This is the kind of paper we love.”

V. RACHAI/ISTOCKPHOTO

‘Undead’ genes come alive days after life ends

This spooky story didn’t come out on Halloween, but it still gave us the creeps. Some of our genes may remain active days after we die. The work could lead to better ways of preserving donated organs for transplantation and more accurate methods of determining when murder victims were killed. No zombies required.

Why do shoelaces untie themselves? This team may have the answer

Velcro shoes were popular in the 1980s, but since then most people have returned to old-fashioned shoelaces—and their major annoyance: always becoming untied. This story from 2017 reveals why this “catastrophic failure” happens—and the best knots to avoid it.

R. CHABUKSWAR ET AL.; ARXIV:1804.07389V1, 2018, ADAPTED BY J. YOU/SCIENCE

This ocean path will take you on the longest straight-line journey on Earth

Let’s say you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to go right or left. Or make turns of any kind. This story from 2018 has good news for you. Pick the right path, and you can keep going for more than 32,000 kilometers—the longest straight-line journey on Earth. Will researchers ever discover a longer one? If they do, it might make our top stories of the next decade.

Still want more top stories? Check out our best online news stories of 2019, our year in pictures, and of course our Breakthrough of the Year.

*Correction, 26 December, 10 a.m.: In the item titled “Even in the wild, mice run on wheels,” more than 12,000—not 200,000—animals were caught running on wheels.