The year is wrapping up with the end of the Pluto imagery chapter: NASA has just started releasing the most highly resolved images taken during the July 14 Pluto flyby. It's likely that these pictures are the best we'll ever see.
That doesn't mean that New Horizons is over. The spacecraft has 16 months worth of data to send back to Earth, which means mission scientists still have about a year of new information to look forward to. And it's likely that the mission will be extended to observe an even more mysterious object -- 1 billion miles closer to the edge of our solar system -- that New Horizons will reach on Jan. 1, 2019.
3. The microbial explosion
Let's pivot right from big things to small things: 2015 was an excellent year for research on bacteria. The microbiome is so hot right now. We learned that the hygiene hypothesis -- which suggests that kids should be exposed to diverse germs early on -- is probably pretty well-founded, so get your baby to a farm (or at least let them play on the floor of a subway car). Scientists revealed that our microbial signatures are stunningly unique, and might even be able to serve as a sort of fingerprint.
4. The brave new world of gene editing
This year, rumors started circulating that a team of Chinese scientists had edited the human genome for the first time -- and those rumors wound up being true. CRISPR, a cut-and-paste gene editing tool, has opened the floodgates for this stuff. While actually editing the genome of a viable human is probably pretty far off (the Chinese scientists had a pretty high error rate, and presumably wouldn't have gestated any of their edited embryos anyway for ethical reasons), I wouldn't be surprised if we saw CRISPR-customized pets within the next few years. And scientists are already working on editing animals so their organs are better suited for human transplant.
5. Other good science things
Those are just our favorite sweeping topics, but a lot of other stuff happened this year -- and we wrote some fun things that we're proud of. Be sure to peruse the links above for more info on the greatest hits, but check out the links below for more reading material. And hey, while we've got your attention: Thanks for reading! 2015 marks our first full year of publishing on Speaking of Science, and we couldn't have done it without you.