Saturday, 31 December 2016


The Most Massive Earth-Moving Projects of 2016​
By Patrick J Kiger,
Seeker, 30 December 2016.

While much of the world seems to be focused on shrinking their footprint, more is more appears to be a resonant mantra for a lot of engineers, architects and planners across the world.

This year, numerous superlatively massive projects were completed, underway or in the planning stages - from the world's tallest building to the rerouting of some of India's waterways to form what would be the world's biggest river. Here's a roundup.

1. A Neighborhood Built on a Platform


In New York City, the US$20 billion Hudson Yards mixed-use development - which eventually will include five office towers, 5,000 homes, more than 100 stores and 20 restaurants - is being built on 28 acres of artificial land, in the form of a pair of platforms that cover 30 active sets of railroad tracks. The project is supported by 300 caissons, basically posts drilled deep into the bedrock between the tracks. The drilling began in 2014 and the platforms were completed in 2015. The project's biggest structure, the 90-story, 1,296-foot-tall 30 Hudson Yards skyscraper, is currently under construction, with completion scheduled in 2019.

2. The World's Longest River

Credit: IWMI/Wikimedia Commons

India's Interlinking of Rivers plan, which a recent New Scientist article reports is on the verge of official approval, would spend US$168 billion to build 30 gigantic canals and 3,000 dams, with the aim of connecting 14 rivers in northern India with another 16 in the country's western, central and southern regions. The result would be a massive single waterway that would stretch for nearly 7,800 miles - almost twice the 4,160-mile length of the Nile, the world's longest natural river.

3. The Biggest Urban Transit System

Credit: Riyadh Metro

Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, is planning to build the biggest-ever mass-transit system created from scratch. The US$23 billion Riyadh Metro Rail project will include nearly 110 miles of track and include six different rail lines and 85 stations. When completed in 2019, it will be able to handle 3.6 million passengers daily. ME Construction News reported in June that excavation for one of the train lines had been completed.

4. The World's Longest Floating Bridge


In April, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee cut the ribbon on the new SR 520 Floating Bridge and Landing Project, which spans 1.5 miles across Lake Washington in the Seattle area. The US$4.56 billion structure, which replaces a smaller floating bridge built back in 1963, holds the distinction of being the world's longest floating bridge. The structure floats on pontoons and uses anchors to enable it to withstand strong winds and waves.

5. The Kilometer-High Skyscraper


Back in the 1950s, visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright drew up a plan for the Illinois, a mile-high skyscraper that was never built. The planned Azerbaijan Tower, located on an archipelago of artificial islands in the Caspian Sea, won't be quite that monumental. But at 186 stories and approximately 3,445 feet in height, it would be the world's tallest building, exceeding even Dubai's 2,717-foot high Burj Khalifa tower. The project was announced back in 2012, but there haven't been any recent updates on its progress.

6. Enlarging an Historic Canal


The decade-long, US$5.25 billion effort to modernize and expand the 102-year-old Panama Canal was completed in June 2016. The new locks, which are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than the original, are designed to accommodate modern mega-sized cargo ships. In December, the Valparaíso Express, which is big enough to carry roughly 10,600 20-foot-long shipping containers, became the largest-capacity ship ever to pass through the canal.

7. The World's Biggest Urban Nature Park

Credit: Trinity Trust

The city of Dallas and other groups, in an effort to transform the shoreline of the Trinity River, are in the early stages of building a network of green recreational areas and a nature preserve. If all of the projects are completed, the green spaces would cover an expanse 12 times the size of New York's Central Park. The remaking of the Trinity's surroundings is part of a new approach to managing the river, whose route was straightened and heightened after a devastating 1908 flood. "Engineering and other efforts worked to corral the river, so flooding would not occur," said Brent Brown, an adviser and design facilitator for the Trinity Trust, a non-profit organization that raises funds for restoring and developing the river corridor. "Now we're in that next chapter - how we move beyond controlling and bring back a more natural river landscape."

Top image: Riyadh Metro Project. Credit: Riyadh Metro.

[Source: Seeker. Edited. Some images and links added.]


The Biggest Car Technology Stories Of The Year And What's Next
By Ryan Felton,
Jalopnik, 28 December 2016.

As this whirlwind pile-of-shit year comes to a close, it’s probably best to remember that, if you squint hard enough, a silver lining can appear and make you forget momentarily the imminent doom that lays ahead. 2016 was all about the continued convergence of the auto and tech sectors, and what’s coming next will be big for the brimming autonomous market - and may bring some hope for us drivers, too.

But in 2017, the viability of some startups remains in flux, while the future of autonomous technology again promises to be front-and-center throughout the year. At least the car industry has some sense of what to expect after the new year. The rest of us aren’t so lucky.

1. The First Fatality in a Self-Driving Car

View of a Tesla Model S in its self-driving mode. Photo credit: Raphael Orlove.

In May, the driver of a Tesla Model S died while cruising in its semi-autonomous Autopilot mode. The crash happened when neither the driver, nor the car’s sensors caught a tractor trailer pulling across the highway.

The driver, 40-year-old Joshua Brown, crashed into the trailer’s high side, which broke through the windshield of the Model S. Brown, a former Navy Seal, had previously recorded a video where he said the vehicle saved his life from a collision.

Brown’s death, expectedly, drew wide attention for being the first known one in an autonomous vehicle. Tesla stressed in a statement at the time that it disables Autopilot by default and “requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.”
When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it. Additionally, every time that Autopilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to “Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time.” The system also makes frequent checks to ensure that the driver’s hands remain on the wheel and provides visual and audible alerts if hands-on is not detected. It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.
News of the crash didn’t emerge weeks later, in June, and soon after two federal agencies got involved in investigating what took place. Consumers Report urged the company to disable the software, saying it was “too much autonomy too soon,” but Tesla’s founder and true starboy Elon Musk has consistently defended the feature and promised to roll out an “Enhanced Autopilot.” But the updated feature has been delayed, and Musk said last weekend that it was “getting close” to making it a reality.

2. Near-collision With (Potentially) An Uber Self-Driving Car

Photo: Screengrab via Charles Rotter/YouTube

Uber claimed the vehicle wasn’t part of a self-driving pilot program in San Francisco, but by the looks of this video, it sure seems to be the case. A few hours after the ride-sharing giant’s program began, one of its Volvo XC90s, equipped with seven cameras and laser detection systems, seemed to have busted through a red light on a busy street.

Uber blamed the driver on the incident, but the company wasn’t in need of any hiccups. After the company that’s literally valued at $69 billion declined to pay a meager $150 California state permit to drive an autonomous vehicle on the road, regulators ordered the program to shutdown. Uber said fuck it, and kept things rolling anyway, because that’s how Uber operates. On Wednesday, California made good on its ultimatum, announcing the company’s registrations for Uber’s 16 self-driving vehicles had been revoked.

Soon after, Uber confirmed it was temporarily suspending the program, telling BuzzFeed that it remains “100% committed” to California, and suggested it was looking elsewhere to re-deploy its fleet. So, things are...not so great for Uber.

3. More Driverless Testing On Public Streets, But What About Bad Weather?

Photo: Screengrab of Tesla video

While a near-collision on day one isn’t as catastrophic as a full-blown accident, Uber’s future more and more seems contingent on the success of the pilot program in California and another in Pittsburgh, and future expansion of self-driving efforts. But who knows how long that’ll take. Speaking of the Pittsburgh effort, the Uber vehicles there were blamed for raising all sorts of hell, but it appeared to be more of human-error than anything. See, silver linings.

Back in sunny California, Tesla sought to push back against the haters and touted a video that aimed to show one of its vehicles navigating a “complex urban environment.” What actually emerged was a slick production set to The Rolling Stones, showing a car cruising about town in near-idyllic California conditions. Which, that’s OK.

As we said at the time, we’ve tackled hundreds of miles seamlessly with Tesla’s Autopilot engaged. But the video was basically much of the same. It’s cool to see more self-driving action on the road, but it’ll be far-more impressive - and worth the hype - when a vehicle’s shown navigating through a driving rainstorm.

The new Pacifica Hybrids developed by Fiat Chrysler didn’t hit the road this year, but the company unveiled the Hybrid minivan concept, and said 100 were made as part of a deal with Google. The vehicles are being outfitted with self-driving technology and expected to be tested next year.

4. Waymo (Whatever That Means) And Way More

Photo credit: Waymo

Speaking of Google, the company was reportedly ready to throw in the towel for making a self-driving car on its own, and planned to work with traditional automakers. Earlier this month, it rolled out plans to rename the project something a bit more in-your-face and weird: Waymo. It’s hoping to do Way-mo (I’m sorry).

The company announced the move in San Francisco with Waymo’s new CEO John Krafcik, who jointed the project from Hyundai. Spinning off the self-driving efforts into its own company effectively staked out the long-term goal of commercializing the autonomous technology.

With the build-out of the Pacific Hybrids underway, it’s expected that we’ll hear way more (god, I’m so sorry) about Waymo in 2017.

Apple is a bit more up in the air. The company decided to axe plans for its own self-driving vehicle entirely, instead refocusing its plans to build autonomous systems for other automakers.

After a turbulent period that reportedly brought layoffs for hundreds of engineers, the company said it set a deadline of late 2017 to prove the feasibility of its self-driving car technology and decide on a final direction. At this point, it seems like a crapshoot to think the project will succeed - but we’ll see. Apple’s too big and probably too smart to be written off entirely.

5. Crossover Boom Meets EVs

Photo credit: Jaguar

As we noted last month, the way to lure hesitant consumers to electric vehicles amid the current SUV sales boom may be just to start producing crossovers. Mercedes and Jaguar picked up on that line with a pair of concepts that easily would’ve been sedans a few years back.

Mercedes rolled out the new “EQ” brand, and lordy does the initial “Generation EQ” concept pack a punch. Mercedes’ chief Dr. Dieter Zetsche said the wild-looking vehicle will be in production by the end of the decade, and it’s expected to house two electric motors, producing a range of up to 310 miles. And at 400 horsepower, it will not be wanting for speed. Mercedes says it wants to have 10 fully-electric cars offered by 2025, when it hopes to have 15-25 percent of global sales comprised of EVs.

Meanwhile, Jaguar unveiled the I-Pace concept, supposedly close to a production variant in typical Jaguar Land Rover fashion. That’s good because it looks superb.

The company announced the car at the LA Auto Show, and it’s aiming to be the brand’s first fully-electric vehicle in 2018. The I-Pace is powered by a 90kWh lithium-ion battery pack, sending the juice through two electric motors, all with a supposed range of over 220 miles. With roughly 400 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, the zero to 60 mph time is in the ballpark of four seconds. And a basic 50 KW DC charging network should charge the vehicle in about two hours, according to Jaguar.

These moves are clearly the electric future for both brands, and could signify that we’re beginning to witness the accelerating-dominance of crossovers. Both are very Tesla Model X-ish, but with the scale and production abilities of these two giant established players, they could be real contenders in the EV world.

6. More Vehicles Talking And Doing More Stuff

Photo credit: Audi

If you have an Audi, and you’re driving in Las Vegas in the near-future, you’ll probably now have a moment to spare at red lights to read a text or reach for something behind your seat. The company announced its Traffic Light Information technology will allow some of its vehicles-initially, the Q7 and A4 all-road models -  to chat with nearby traffic lights. The “talk” function will signal to drivers when the light is about to turn green.

Audi said the car receives real-time signal information from the traffic management system that governs traffic lights to work its magic. The company also hopes to expand to other cities beyond Las Vegas in the coming years, but it’s unknown how soon that’ll happen.

Eventually, Audi wants the system to offer “speed recommendations designed to maximize the number of green lights one can make in sequence,” because we know how fulfilling it is to not hit a single red light on a drive.

In another hopeful sign, the U.S. Department of Transportation also stepped up efforts to deploy more vehicle-to-vehicle technology, and expects to introduce a rule soon for V2I technology, so transit planners can “integrate the technologies to allow vehicles to ‘talk’ to roadway infrastructure such as traffic lights, stop signs and work zones to improve mobility, reduce congestion and improve safety.”

The DOT says vehicles with automated driving functions like emergency braking and adaptive cruise control would benefit from an increase of V2V data “to better avoid or reduce the consequences of crashes.”

7. Faraday Future (Barely) Hangs On

Photo credit: Faraday Future

If there needed to be a winner crowned for most-bizarre car story of 2016, Faraday Future likely gets the nod. The earnest and ambitious start-up burst onto the scene in 2015, and quickly fizzled out by this year’s CES, when it unveiled more of a Dark Knight-looking pipe dream concept than anything resembling a production-ready vehicle.

Then, the story of its finance trickled out. It came as a bit of a surprise that FF scored a $335 million tax incentive deal with the state of Nevada - and became even weirder, when it emerged that not a single official had a fucking clue what their finances were like. Its investor is the “Chinese Netflix” titan Jia Yueting, and some aren’t even sure if he has any money.

Jia, whose LeEco business is described in an absurdly ambiguous manner as FF’s “strategic partner,” also apparently asked had FF take time away from developing its own vehicle to design a separate project - that is, the LeEco car. Nice.

Well, if CES goes bad next month, and it doesn’t unveil something even remotely resembling a buyer-ready car, we’ve already been told FF is done.

8. Can Lucid Motors Pull It Off?

Photo credit: Lucid Motors

On the flipside, another EV startup called Lucid Motors (which also has Jia Yueting as a financial backer) is apparently taking a cooler approach to their hopeful EV offering, but while its Air model is sleek, the company said it’ll produce 1000 HP, which sure, maybe?

With a claimed range of 400 miles on a single charge, however, the Air would certainly be nothing short of remarkable. If it makes it to production. Still, Lucid so far seems - how do I put this, less full of shit than others. They’ll be one to watch in 2017.

9. Give Me Your Data

Photo credit: j-No/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

With all of this data, there’s a potentially-colossal industry afoot, as well. McKinskey & Co. released a report this year that suggested car data could be the makings of a $750 billion industry.

Automakers told the Los Angeles Times that building up a stock of software developers is priority right now.
The former chief technology officer at Cisco Systems and Motorola tells them that’s good, but not sufficient.
“Because of the heritage they have, it’s hard to say, ‘How can I build this from ground zero?’” Warrior said in an interview at the L.A. Auto Show. “They are trying to look at it as, ‘Can I just get the software and put it on an existing hardware platform,’ and I’m [making] the point it never works that way.”
The full package will come together for some, technologists say. But their concern is that the likes of Ford, Toyota and others are underestimating obstacles. What seems five years away could be 10 years out, and business and strategy executives are jumping the gun on technology development teams.
“To implement data-based business models, cars need to look like cellphones,” said Josh Hartung, chief executive of automotive software start-up PolySync.
The McKinsey report said that roughly 30 data-related business opportunities could produce up to $750 billion - really, that’s with a b - in annual revenue worldwide by 2030.

10. EVs Go Mainstream Too

Chevrolet Bolt. Photo credit: Chevrolet.

As the year passed, it became obvious that EV-makers are eager to get a palatable vehicle into consumers’ hands. At this year’s Paris Auto Show, Volkswagen touted an EV that would be somewhere in the mid-$20,000 price range, with a claimed range of up to 250 miles. Tesla’s Model 3 is a bit more expensive, but not nearly as prohibitive as some models may have been before.

General Motors’ is also intent on making the Bolt work, and has plans - thanks to GM’s home state welcomed autonomous-car testing with open arms in 2016 - to do self-driving tests and work with the automaker’s ride-sharing investment, Lyft.

Even with a electric-centric future being envisioned, are consumers down? EV sales are actually up in 2016, even though automakers aren’t marketing them hard. But gas is still cheap, so if that trend continues is something to watch for in 2017.

11. Automation In The Trucking Industry

Otto self-driving truck. Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons.

Automation and the trucking industry seem like a marriage made to prevent long-sleepy drives for truck drivers, but there’s some fear in what’s possibly going to transpire. Some in the industry have raised concerns about displacing drivers themselves, but that’s likely - if even plausible - decades out from happening.

Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Association, told federal lawmakers earlier this month that drivers, for instance, will still be needed for pickups and deliveries. From The Detroit News:
“What we’re really talking about is not displacing drivers: I think you’re always going to need drivers in trucks in the cityscapes to do the pickups and deliveries,” Spear told a panel of U.S. lawmakers during a Tuesday roundtable on the future of autonomous vehicles that was organized by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“If you equate it to pilots - you still have pilots in the cockpit. They do the taxiing, they do the takeoff, they do the landing,” Spear said. “What we’re talking about is at cruising altitude hitting that autopilot button. For a trucker, it’s really the long haul. That’s where you really get the return on this kind of investment.”
But analysts have predicted that self-driving trucks could be rolled out at a far-quicker pace than cars, usurping the truck driver as early as within a decade. Of course, that’s not a complete overhaul. According to the News, Spears said it’s likely the near-future will have drivers monitoring a self-driving truck.

“I think we need to be a bit realistic,” Spear said. “We’re talking decades out. It’s going to take a long time for that to filter out of the mainstream marketplace.”

Top image credit: Raphael Orlove.

[Source: Jalopnik. Edited. Some images added.]


Surreal Science: 7 Strange Health Findings from 2016
By Stephanie Bucklin,
Live Science, 28 December 2016.

Science is weird - and a number of new findings during 2016 proved it. From the superpowers that alcohol may give you, to the weird health risks associated with longer legs, this year has brought us some scientific studies whose conclusions were strange, funny and thought-provoking.

Here are seven of the strangest health stories we covered in 2016.

1. Leprosy found in red squirrels


A medieval plague in modern squirrels? Yes, said a study published in Science in November. Researchers found that all 25 red squirrels they collected from England's Brownsea Island were infected with the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. M. leprae is the oldest pathogen associated with leprosy, and was responsible for outbreaks of the disease in medieval Europe.

"The main message of this is that the number of non-human reservoirs of leprosy might be much higher than previously thought," Charlotte Avanzi, a doctoral assistant in molecular life sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told Live Science. Previously, the only known animal reservoir of the bacteria was the nine-banded armadillo, which is found in North, Central and South America, including parts of the southern U.S.

The good news is that the likelihood of people catching the disease from red squirrels is low, researchers said. [6 Strange Facts About Leprosy]

2. Arthritis drug may help reverse hair loss


In November, researchers reported that two patients, one man and one woman, regrew at least some of their hair after taking a drug aimed at treating arthritis. The patients had a condition called alopecia universalis, in which people's immune system attacks their hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the entire body. But after taking the arthritis drug tofacitinib, they regrew hair on their scalp, eyebrows and in their armpits.

However, the drug has side effects. The long-term use of tofacitinib is known to cause an increased risk of serious infections, as well as tears in the stomach and intestines, according to Pfizer, the company that makes the drug.

Still, the new finding offers hope for patients. "Hair loss really affects your self-esteem," Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who was not affiliated with the study, told Live Science in November. By studying how tofacitinib works, researchers may better able to understand what goes wrong when people experience hair loss, and then be able to develop new treatments with fewer side effects.

3. Long legs? You may have a higher risk of colon cancer

Credit: dmgreen44/Pixabay

There may be a surprising drawback to having fashion-model-length legs: A study presented in April found that, compared with men who had shorter legs, men with longer legs had a 42 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Researchers used data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, which included a cohort of more than 14,500 men and women, analyzing overall height, torso height and leg length. They examined how many participants developed colorectal cancer over a nearly 20-year period, and found that the only factor linked to people's colon cancer risk was leg length. Men with the longest legs (an average of 35.4 inches) had a whopping 91 increased risk of colorectal cancer, compared with the men with the shortest legs (an average of 31.1 inches). In women, no statistically significant differences in risk were linked with leg length, the researchers said. [6 Strange Things the Government Knows About Your Body]

Guillaume Onyeaghala, a graduate student in epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of the study, told Live Science that one hypothesis for why they saw these results is that the factors that drive bone growth in the legs are also a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

4. Drinking a beer could help you read other people's emotions

Credit: quinntheislander/Pixabay

A study published in September showed one surprising superpower that you may get from your next beer: recognizing emotions such as happiness.

Even though many people drink beer, "there is surprisingly little scientific data on its effects on the processing of emotional social information," study co-author Matthias Liechti, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said in a statement.

In the study, 60 participants drank either 17 ounces (500 milliliters) of alcoholic or nonalcoholic beer over the course of 15 minutes. They were not told whether their beer was of the alcoholic or nonalcoholic variety. The results? People who were given regular beer, rather than nonalcoholic beer, were better at recognizing faces that expressed happiness. They also expressed a greater desire to spend time in the company of other people than those who consumed the nonalcoholic beer.

The researchers believe that such results may stem from alcohol’s effects on social cognition, which in turn enhances sociability.

5. Cardiac arrest is deadlier in a high-rise

wpsFA1E.tmpCredit: sanmoorg/Pixabay

Living in the penthouse may make cardiac arrest deadlier: A study published in January found that people who go into cardiac arrest - meaning that their hearts stop beating - while they are on the middle or upper floors of high-rise buildings are less likely to survive than those on the lowest floors. Over the course of the five-year study, conducted in Canada, 4.2 percent of patients who went into cardiac arrest while located below the third floor survived, whereas only 2.6 percent of those on floors 3 and above survived.

And, the higher the floor, the starker the numbers, the researchers said. Less than 1 percent of those above the 16th floor survived, and no one above the 25th floor survived, according to the study.

Dr. Robert A. Silverman, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead, New York, who was not associated with the study, told Live Science that the greatest delays in reaching cardiac arrest patients typically occurred in multistory, residential buildings, according to his own research. "Barriers to reaching the patient included the height and complexity of the layout of the building, locked lobby doors and the lack of an escort that could have facilitated movement to the location of the patient," Silverman told Live Science.

The sooner a cardiac arrest patient receives care, the higher the chances of survival, Silverman added.

6. Higher levels of education linked to higher risk of brain tumors

Credit: paseidon/Pixabay

Do graduate degrees give you brain cancer? Not quite - but a new study from Sweden suggests that people with higher levels of education may be more likely to develop certain types of brain tumors.

The researchers in the study found that women who completed at least three years of university courses were 23 percent more likely to develop a glioma, a type of cancerous brain tumor, compared with women who did not go to a university. In addition, men who completed at least three years of university courses were 19 percent more likely to develop a glioma, compared with men who did not go to a university.

But before you give up on higher education, consider this: Amal Khanolkar, a research associate at the Institute of Child Health at the University College London and a co-author of the study, noted that "one possible explanation is that highly educated people may be more aware of symptoms and seek medical care earlier." In other words, they're more likely to be diagnosed, which may explain the difference found in the study.

7. Your genes may influence the age at which you lose your virginity

Credit: qimono/Pixabay

Genetics may play a role in determining the age at which people first have sexual intercourse, according to a study of more than 125,000 people in the United Kingdom that was published in April.

Felix Day, a genetics researcher at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and a co-author of the study, told Live Science that although social factors play a role in when people lose their virginity, "by using genetics, we hope to uncover additional biological factors that contribute" to the age at which people first have sexual intercourse. Researchers looked at 38 genes that affect things like the timing of puberty, tendency to take risks and level of irritability.

The researchers noted that a young age of first sexual intercourse is linked with negative outcomes in educational achievements and mental health. So, by exploring genetic influences, Day told Live Science that researchers hope to better understand the relationship between genes and health outcomes.

Top image: DNA methylation. Credit: Christoph Bock/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Live Science. Edited. Some images added.]

Friday, 30 December 2016


Wildest Alien Planet Discoveries of 2016
By Samantha Mathewson,, 28 December 2016.

The hunt for alien worlds has been the source of many exciting discoveries, as the number of confirmed planets outside Earth's solar system has more than doubled this past year.

Here's a look at the top 10 planetary finds of 2016, including the discovery of the closest Earth-like neighbor, Proxima b; alien worlds that have more than one sun; and even one distant planet potentially located in Earth's solar system:

1. Earth's cosmic neighbor

In August, astronomers announced the discovery of a world called Proxima b, which orbits Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth's own sun.

Proxima b has a minimum mass of about 1.3 times the Earth's, and it's located roughly 4.22 light-years away. What's more, it orbits within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, which means this planet could have a surface temperature that would allow for the presence of liquid water. This means that this rocky world has the potential to support life.

2. Planet Nine

A giant, icy world called Planet Nine is thought to exist in the Kuiper Belt at the outer edge of Earth's solar system, and astronomers could be on the cusp of actually finding the distant world.

This undiscovered planet is believed to be about 10 times more massive than Earth and have an average temperature of minus 374.8 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 226 degrees Celsius). Astronomers announced the potential for the discovery of Planet Nine in January 2016, and in October, they predicted the planet would be found within 16 months or so.

Astronomers are using mathematical modeling and computer simulations to pin down the location of this alien world. Observations of the orbits of six other, smaller objects in the Kuiper Belt suggest that a much more massive body (which would, theoretically, be Planet Nine) has a strong gravitational influence in this region.

3. 1,284 new exoplanets

In May, astronomers announced the discovery of 1,284 new exoplanets, the single largest haul of alien worlds made to date.

Among the exoplanets discovered were nine rocky worlds that could possibly support life as we know it. This discovery was made using NASA's Kepler space telescope, which finds planets that dim their stars as they orbit past. The number of confirmed exoplanets now stands at a staggering grand total of 3,439.

"This gave scientists hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth," NASA officials said in a statement.

In fact, two of the exoplanets, Kepler-1638b and Kepler-1229b, are among the most Earth-like planets ever found, as they orbit within their host stars' habitable zones.

4. Rogue planet


A giant alien planet called 2MASS J2126 was found orbiting 600 billion miles (1 trillion kilometers) from its host star, making this planet's star system the largest one known.

In fact, the exoplanet has such a wide orbit that astronomers previously thought it was a "rogue" planet flying freely through space. For comparison, 2MASS J2126 orbits 7,000 times farther from its star than Earth does from the sun. At that distance, the gas-giant exoplanet completes one orbit every 900,000 years or so.

5. 1 star, 3 exoplanets

In May, astronomers found an alien solar system called TRAPPIST-1, which lies 40 light-years from Earth. The system features a tiny, ultracool dwarf star and three small potentially habitable exoplanets.

As an ultracool dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1 is 2,000 times less bright and less than half as warm as the sun. What's more, this alien world is only about one-twelfth the sun's mass and less than one-eighth the sun's width, making it only slightly larger in diameter than Jupiter.

This strange star was discovered using the TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) telescope in Chile. The three exoplanets found orbiting TRAPPIST-1 are each only about 10 percent larger in diameter than Earth. The discovery of this alien solar system marked the first time that an exoplanet had been found orbiting an ultracool dwarf star, astronomers said.

6. Jewel clouds


Also this year, astronomers detected exotic weather on a large exoplanet known as HAT-P-7b. The upper atmosphere of this alien world boasts powerful winds and clouds composed at least partially of corundum, the mineral that forms sapphires and rubies. This was the first discovery of weather on a gas giant planet outside the solar system.

HAT-P-7b is about 40 percent larger than Jupiter and is located 1,040 light-years from Earth. The planet orbits its host star every 2.2 days, and it is tidally locked, with the same side always facing its parent star - just like the moon always presents the same face to Earth.

7. Characterization of super-Earth atmosphere

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers characterized the atmosphere of a "super-Earth" exoplanet for the first time, revealing hydrogen and helium, but no water vapor, in the air of an alien world called 55 Cancri e.

Located 40 light-years from Earth's solar system, 55 Cancri e is an exoplanet that is about two times wider and eight times more massive than Earth. What's more, this alien world lies incredibly close to its host star, completing one orbit every 18 hours, indicating that the planet is far too hot to host life as we know it. In fact, scientists estimate that surface temperatures on 55 Cancri e can reach up to 3,630 degrees F (2,000 degrees C).

8. Star trio

Credit: ESO

Another exoplanet discovered this year was also spotted orbiting multiple stars. The strange new world, HD 131399Ab, circles three stars at once in a highly exotic celestial arrangement.

HD 131399Ab is located 340 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Centaurus. For about half of the planet's orbit through the system, which lasts 550 Earth-years, all three stars are visible in the sky.

The system exhibits a strange configuration: Exoplanet HD 131399Ab orbits a large, bright star - call it Star A - and then the exoplanet and Star A are orbited by a pair of stars referred to as Star B and Star C. This multistar system was the first found with such an exotic configuration.

9. New K-2 finds


NASA's Kepler space telescope suffered two gyroscope failures in 2013 that rendered it unable to hold its former focus on one precise patch of the sky. But that didn't stop Kepler: Scientists developed a new mission for the scope, aptly named K-2. Using its two remaining gyroscopes, its thrusters and the pressure of sunlight, the telescope now observes different portions of the sky, each for up to 83 days, and then rotates to prevent sunlight from coming into its field of view.

K-2 has unveiled 58 candidate planets, 127 of which have already been confirmed. This includes two rocky exoplanets called K2-72c and 72e, which orbit within the habitable zone of their host star (located about 181 light-years from Earth).

K2-72c circles slightly closer to the host star with a 15-day orbit, while sibling K2-72e has a 24-day orbit. Additionally, K2-72c is about 10 percent warmer than Earth, while K2-72e is about 6 percent colder than Earth.

10. Triple suns


Yet another planet with multiple stars was discovered in 2016. A newfound alien planet called KELT-4Ab has three suns in its sky.

Similar to exoplanet HD 131399Ab and its star trio, KELT-4Ab has a strange celestial configuration. KELT-4Ab orbits the star KELT-A once every three days. In turn, a nearby pair of stars then orbits KELT-A.

What's more, the twin stars, KELT-B and KELT-C, orbit one another once every 30 years, and together they travel around KELT-A and its planet every 4,000 years or so. Astronomers estimate that, to viewers on the planet, KELT-A would appear to be about 40 times as large as the sun appears in the sky on Earth, while the pair of stars would appear about as bright as the full moon in the sky. This strange system is only one of the few known to contain three stars.

Top image: An artist's illustration of various exoplanets and suns. Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel.