Solar eclipse, crashing spacecraft, volcanoes and more: Biggest science stories of 2017

The biggest science event of 2017 was the incredible solar eclipse that captivated millions of Americans on Aug. 21.

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The coast-to-coast eclipse carved a 70-mile wide path of totality from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic, with hordes of people donning solar eclipse glasses to experience the unusual event. The eclipse, which began in Oregon and ended in South Carolina, was the first to cross the continental U.S. since 1918.

SOLAR ECLIPSE: THE BIG EVENT IS FINALLY HERE

Families from all over the country flocked to cities in the line of totality, such as Charleston and Nashville, which hosted over one million visitors.

The unusual event also had a strange effect on nature. Live Science noted that some flowers spontaneously shut their petals during the total solar eclipse. High tides and currents off the coast of Washington also caused the accidental release of thousands of farmed fish, according to The Seattle Times.

BABY BORN IN FLORIDA HOSPITAL DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE SOLAR ECLIPSE

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NASA, NOAA and other organizations such as the European Space Agency released fascinating images and footage of the eclipse from space.

End of the road for Cassini

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its dramatic ‘death plunge’ into Saturn’s atmosphere Sept. 15, ending an epic 20-year space journey.

As expected, Cassini made its final signal to Earth around 7:55 a.m. EDT. Travelling at about 70,000 mph, the orbiter broke up just seconds later. 

GOODBYE CASSINI: NASA SPACECRAFT MAKES 'DEATH PLUNGE' INTO SATURN’S ATMOSPHERE

With Cassini low on fuel, scientists opted to destroy the spacecraft rather than leaving the orbiter to drift around space.

The spacecraft, which spent 13 years exploring the Saturn system, generated a trove of scientific data on Saturn and its moons. Earlier this year, NASA announced that Saturn’s moon Enceladus could support life thanks to the discovery of hydrogen.

SPACECRAFT'S FINAL MOMENT: SCIENTISTS RELEASE LAST IMAGE FROM ROSETTA PROBE BEFORE COMET CRASH

Cassini made a total of 22 dives between Saturn and its rings as part of the orbiter's so-called "Grand Finale," which began May 2.

Another doomed spacecraft made headlines in September when scientists pieced together a final image from the Rosetta spacecraft when it crashed into a comet last year. Rosetta made its slow-motion crash into comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 30 2016, marking the end of an audacious 12-year mission.

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Experts, however, used final telemetry from Rosetta before the spacecraft shut down to build a last image of the probe’s touchdown site, dubbed Sais.

A year of volcanic activity

The eyes of the world have recently been on Bali’s erupting Mount Agung. Indonesian authorities ordered 100,000 people to evacuate from areas close to the erupting volcano on the popular vacation island. Ash clouds also forced the closure of the island’s airport.

The last major eruption at Mount Agung was 54 years ago and left a trail of destruction in its wake, causing more than 1,100 fatalities. The 1963 eruption was categorized as Volcanic Explosivity Index 5, placing it at the same level as the Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D. and Mount St. Helens in 1980.

BALI VOLCANO: WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE LAST MAJOR ERUPTION AT MOUNT AGUNG?

Indonesia is part of the so-called called “Pacific Ring of Fire” where the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates are pushed under the Eurasian plate. As a result, the nation is the most volcanically active the planet.

Glowing light of hot lava is seen during the eruption of Mount Agung as seen from Amed in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, November 27, 2017. (REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo)

Supervolcanoes have also been in the news this year. In June, the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park was hit with 464 earthquakes in one week, although scientists from the University of Utah said that the swarm was nothing to be worried about.

464 EARTHQUAKES IN ONE WEEK HIT MUCH FEARED YELLOWSTONE 'SUPERVOLCANO'

Experts from Arizona State University also analyzed minerals around the Yellowstone supervolcano, which brought them to the conclusion that the volcano could blow much faster than previously expected. However, the researchers noted that it is not expected to blow anytime soon. If it did, the event would not be catastrophic, they added.

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The supervolcano’s last major eruption was 630,000 years ago.

Digging history

2017 has been a busy year for archaeologists. Scientific tests, for example, recently offered fascinating new insight into the tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre venerated as the resting place of Jesus Christ.

National Geographic reported that construction materials used on the tomb have been dated to the Roman era. The results of tests provided to the publication confirm that the remains of a limestone cave enshrined in the famous church are the remnants of a tomb found by the Romans 1,700 years ago.

NEW EVIDENCE DATES CHRIST’S TOMB TO ROMAN ERA, MATCHING HISTORICAL RECORDS

The findings are significant because, up until now, the earliest architectural evidence around the cave complex dated it to the Crusader period, which would make it about 1,000 years old.

Other archaeological sites in the Middle East have also been in the headlines. At the site of an ancient city on the West Bank, for example, archaeologists are hunting for evidence of the tabernacle that once housed the Ark of the Covenant.

EXPERTS HUNT FOR BIBLICAL TABERNACLE THAT HOUSED THE ARK OF THE COVENANT

Other experts believe they have found the lost Roman city of Julias, formerly the village of Bethsaida, which was the home of Jesus' apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip.

Earlier this month, experts in Egypt announced that they had discovered a mysterious chamber inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza.

VIKING SWORD DISCOVERY: HUNTER FINDS 1,100-YEAR-OLD WEAPON ON NORWEGIAN MOUNTAIN

Fascinating finds have emerged across the globe, from a 1,100-year-old Viking sword discovered on a remote Norwegian mountain, to a 19th-century log cabin discovered by a couple renovating their new home in Dublin, Ohio.

DNA breakthrough

In a major scientific breakthrough, researchers harnessed a gene-editing tool to correct a disease-causing gene mutation in human embryos, preventing the mutation from passing to future generations.

In the stunning discovery, a research team led by Oregon Health and Science University reported that embryos can fix themselves if scientists jump-start the process early enough.

DNA BREAKTHROUGH: SCIENTISTS REPAIR GENES IN HUMAN EMBRYOS TO PREVENT INHERITED DISEASES

The new technique, which was tested on clinical-quality human eggs, uses the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool to target a mutation in nuclear DNA that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, according to the researchers. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a common genetic heart disease that can cause heart failure and sudden cardiac death. 

This sequence of images shows the development of embryos after co-injection of a gene-correcting enzyme and sperm from a donor with a genetic mutation known to cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. (OHSU)

CRISPR has been compared to a pair of “molecular scissors” that lets scientists alter or replace specific sections of DNA.

GENE EDITING BREAKTHROUGH COULD PAVE WAY FOR PIG-TO-HUMAN ORGAN TRANSPLANTS

This year, scientists also harnessed gene-editing technology to eliminate viruses in pigs that could be harmful to people, potentially laying the foundations for pig-to-human organ transplants. Researchers from biotech company eGenesis used CRISPR-Cas9 to produce pigs lacking active Porcine Endogenous Retrovirus (PERV).

The Associated Press and Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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