The biggest mysteries from 2014 – revisited

Water on Mars
Water on Mars


The riddle of Mars has captivated people for generations. Dozens of artists, writers, astronomers and dreamers — from H.G. Wells to Orson Welles, Ray Bradbury to Carl Sagan — have speculated about what life might be like on the Red Planet.

In 2011, NASA’s Curiosity Rover was launched into space, landing on Mars the following year. Mankind’s amazing little mechanical scientist trooper has spent the past few years poking, plodding and examining the surface. A lot has been learned about Martian climate and geology, but in 2014 the biggest news was that Curiosity gathered evidence that a peak there, known as Mount Sharp, was created by sediments in a huge surrounding lake bed.

Missing stars!
Missing stars!


If you’re lucky enough to get away from urban light pollution and into rural areas, it’s astonishing how many stars you can see; they seem to litter the sky. And, of course, only a small fraction of the stars are visible to our naked eye. But even still, there should be more of them — many more.

One of the most enduring astronomical puzzles has been not why there are so many stars, but instead so few. According to computer models there should be an estimated 100 to 300 sextillion stars, or 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, give or take a few. It’s a number so large that it defies comprehension and raises an interesting question: where are they?

Why isn’t the night sky positively lit up with stars? Surely the light from a small number of them (say, maybe a few hundred million or so) might be blocked from reaching us by planets or other celestial objects, but that still leaves some ridiculously large number of stars unaccounted for.

The year of the missing plane
The year of the missing plane


Though a variety of old and new mysteries were solved in 2014, many more mysteries remain unexplained as we begin 2015.

In what was one of the most bizarre unexplained mysteries of 2014, on March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 veered off course after it left Kuala Lumpur and soon vanished. It seems impossible that with modern technology, the cooperation of several countries, and an estimated $33 to $42 million in search costs, the plane would simply vanish, never to be found. Dozens of planes, submersibles and ships searched in vain for the Boeing 777, but as 2015 arrives not a trace has been found.

Hopes for finding the flight mostly depended on locating the airplane’s “black box,” equipped with an electronic pinger that sends out a regular sound signature. Unfortunately, the batteries died after three months, and early pings detected by the U.S. Navy were later determined to be false alarms that wasted precious time. The search for the missing plane was plagued by problems from the beginning, with erroneous information sending teams from one search area to another and another.

To this day many questions remain: Were the pilots on a suicide mission, and if so, why? Did a mechanical failure cause the plane to go down? The search continues and though it’s likely that this mystery will be solved one day, it may take months or years longer.

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