2015 Science Wrap

  Homo-Naledi, apenile transplant, and water on Mars are some of the top science stories of 2015. 

SA reveals new human species: Homo-Naledi

A new human species was revealed at the Cradle of Humankind on Gauteng's West rand, called the Homo-Naledi.

The new species was identified based on the largest human fossil ensemble yet to be discovered on the African continent.

Besides shedding light on the origins and diversity of our group, Homo Naledi appears to have intentionally deposited bodies of its dead in a remote cave chamber, a behaviour previously thought limited to humans.

Cape surgeons conduct first ever successful penile transplant

Surgeons from Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital have conducted the world's first ever successful penile transplant.

The ground-breaking procedure was part of a pilot study to develop a procedure that could be performed in a typical South African hospital theatre setting.

The nine hour operation was led by Professor Andre van der Merwe.

Water on Mars raises possibility that planet could support life

Briny water flows during the summer months on Mars, raising the possibility that the planet, long thought to be arid, could support life today, scientists analysing data from a NASA spacecraft say.

Although the source and the chemistry of the water is unknown, the discovery will change scientists' thinking about whether the planet, that is most like Earth in the solar system, hosts microbial life beneath its radiation-blasted crust.

Scientists puzzle over Pluto's polygons

New pictures relayed by the first spacecraft to visit distant Pluto show odd polygon-shaped features and smooth hills in an crater-free plain, indications that the icy world is geologically active.

The goal of the $720 million New Horizons mission is to map the surfaces of Pluto and its primary moon Charon, assess what materials they contain and study Pluto's atmosphere.

US spacecraft reaches dwarf planet Ceres for 16-month study

A US space probe slipped into orbit around Ceres, a miniature planet beyond Mars believed to be left over from the formation of the solar system.

Launched in 2007, the Dawn spacecraft made a 14-month tour of the asteroid Vesta before steering itself toward Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Dung beetles use sun, moon to orientate with dung ball: Study

Researchers have discovered that dung beetles use the sun, moon, and polarisation pattern of skylight to orientate with their dung balls. But which cue is used depends on the reliability of the information it gives.

The experiments which took place near Vryburg, South Africa and Sweden over a period of four years, tested the insect's brain activity to match it to their behaviour in the field, using celestial cues like the sun or moon.

The study which was published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that day active beetles use the cue signals differently to night active species.

Astronomers spot closest star to ever pass earth

Astronomers spot closest star to ever pass earth Astronomers have detected the closest star to ever pass through the earth, other than the Sun.

 The star, known as the Scholz's star passed through the Oort Cloud of comets and the solar system 70 000 years ago, at a distance 0. 8 light years.

 This is five times closer than the currently nearest star, Proxima Centauri which is at 4.2 light years away.

Second comet discovered in SA

A second comet has been discovered in South Africa, 37 years after the first one was discovered.

This brings to 20 the number of comets discovered so far this year.

An unmanned robotic telescope, MASTER-SAAO, situated near Sutherland in the Karoo, discovered the new comet.

SA scientists make ground breaking gamma-ray discovery

Wits University astronomers have discovered three extremely luminous gamma-ray sources in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), the satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, using the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) telescopes.

After seven years of collecting 200 hours of data, the scientists found these new sources, namely, the Pulsar Wind Nebula, Supernova Remnant, and the Superbubble.

The discovery was featured in the latest edition of the scientific journal, Science, in a research paper titled: The exceptionally powerful TeV ƴ-ray emitters in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

A Cape fur seal disembowels a blue shark off Cape Point.

For the first time in history Cape fur seals turned the tables when they were recorded catching and killing several blue sharks off Cape Point in the Western Cape.

The ground-breaking discovery which is published in the African Journal of Marine Science was made by South African shark expert, Chris Fallows.

"It was the first time such behaviour had ever been recorded and obviously it was an exceptional interaction, we were privileged enough to watch."

Meteorite crash caused formation of Gauteng cave

Geologists believe a very large meteorite impact which occurred two billion years ago formed structures that led to a formation of a giant cave in Vredefort, south of Johannesburg.

A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from such sources as asteroids or comets that originates in outer space and survives its impact with the Earth's surface.

University of Johannesburg postgraduate student, Pedro Boshoff, who is one of the first groups of people to go down the cave, stumbled across this early finding while doing his research into the structures of the cave.