These are the most popular Science News stories of 2023

Science News drew over 21 million visitors to our website this year. Here’s a look back at the most-read and most-watched stories of 2023.

Top news stories

1. Fungi that cause serious lung infections are now found throughout the U.S.

An analysis of Medicare records from 2007 through 2016 reveals that Histoplasma, Coccidioides and Blastomyces fungi have become more widespread in the United States. The fungi, which cause serious lung infections, were once thought to be confined to certain regions of the country (SN: 1/14/23, p. 32).

2. A new look at Ötzi the Iceman’s DNA reveals new ancestry and other surprises

Ötzi the Iceman’s ancestors may have been Neolithic farmers, a new genetic analysis indicates. Previous studies suggested that the roughly 5,300-year-old frozen mummy had ancestors from the Pontic-Caspian steppe. Ötzi also had male-pattern baldness and darker skin than previously thought (SN: 9/23/23, p. 5).

3. Mathematicians have finally discovered an elusive ‘einstein’ tile

A newfound 13-sided shape dubbed the hat is the first true “einstein,” a tile that forms a pattern that can cover an infinite plane but does not repeat (SN 4/22/23, p. 7). Mathematicians had been searching for an einstein for half a century.

4. Earth’s inner core may be reversing its rotation

Earth’s heart may have temporarily stopped spinning relative to the mantle and crust in 2009 (SN: 2/25/23, p. 7). Now, the inner core may be reversing its spin as part of a cycle that happens every few decades.

5. Astronomers spotted shock waves shaking the web of the universe for the first time

Shock waves ripple along the magnetic fields that permeate the cosmic web — the tangle of galaxies, gas and dark matter that fills the universe (SN: 3/25/23, p. 14). Studying these shock waves, which were revealed by hundreds of thousands of radio satellite images, could help astronomers better understand those mysterious magnetic fields.

Top long reads

1. A massive cavern beneath a West Antarctic glacier is teeming with life

A vast, water-filled “cathedral” roughly 500 meters beneath the Kamb Ice Stream, a glacier in West Antarctica, bustles with marine organisms. The cavern provides a window into the continent’s warmer ancient past (SN: 4/22/23, p. 18).

2. Why scientists are expanding the definition of loneliness

Social scientists now increasingly recognize that loneliness results not just from isolation from people, but also from animals, places, routines, rituals and more. That view may lead to new ways to manage the feeling, which is becoming a public health concern in the United States (SN: 11/4/23, p. 24).

3. How brain implants are treating depression

Deep brain stimulation, a technology that pulses electricity deep into the brain, may be the only hope for relief for some patients with severe depression. In this series, the stories of Jon Nelson and three other patients undergoing the experimental treatment offer an intimate look at how it has changed their lives (SN: 9/23/23, p. 16).

4. A chemical imbalance doesn’t explain depression. So what does?

Depression is often blamed on a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. In reality, despite decades of sophisticated research, scientists still don’t have a great explanation of what depression is or what causes it (SN: 2/11/23, p. 18).

5. How one device could help transform our power grid

Coal-fired power plants across the United States are shutting down as society shifts toward clean energy sources. A smooth transition to renewables could depend in large part on grid-forming inverters, devices that hook up solar and wind farms to the existing power grid and stabilize the system (SN: 8/26/23, p. 22).

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