14 science and tech breakthroughs we’re thankful for this year

2016 has been a rough year, but it's not all doom and gloom

Pandas are no longer endangered

In September, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature moved panda bears from their “endangered” list to merely “vulnerable.” And pandas aren’t the only ones. The fuzzy creatures that inspired teddy bears got de-red-listed, and monarch butterfly populations seem to be bouncing back as well. Keep up the good work, guys.

SpaceX sticks the landing

Remember that time, back in April, when SpaceX made history by landing its rocket on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean? That was pretty cool. It was also kind of a big deal. Landing on a moving platform makes it easier for the company to recover and (hopefully one day) reuse their rocket boosters, which could cut the costs of going to space by 30 percent.

Virtual reality for everyone

While most high-quality VR experiences require powerful (read: pricey) computers, Sony’s headset works via the PlayStation 4. It also doesn’t require an engineering degree to set it up. For its plug-and-play ease of use and relative affordability, Popular Science thinks this is the virtual reality headset that will finally take America by storm.

That time we found gravitational waves

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves from a pair of black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago. It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to sense these ripples through space-time, which will give scientists a whole new way to study the cosmos.

Hero judge defies petroleum industry, lets kids sue government over climate change

The world is heating up, and the next generation is going to have to bear the brunt of the melting ice caps, drying farmlands, wildfires, and more severe storms. But thanks to Oregon judge Ann Aiken, a group of 21 youths has won the right to sue the government for failing to curb climate change. This strategy worked last year in the Netherlands, when a court ruled that the government “has to ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990.”

A virus that fights cancer

Scientists have long known that viruses could trigger the immune system to attack cancer, but modifying the viruses without affecting our resistance to them has taken time. In late 2015, IMLYGIC became the first FDA-approved viral cancer drug. Green-lit to treat melanoma, the modified herpes virus is injected into a tumor, where it may ignite an immune response to the cancer.

Lonely Planet

Artist’s concept of a planet at the outer edges of our solar system. This particular planet was catalogued in 2005 as 2003UB313.

WhatsApp encryption makes 1 billion people safer

Starting in April, WhatsApp enabled end-to-end encryption for voice calls and texting, making it much harder for the NSA or third-parties to snoop on our conversations.

New nature preserves

Thanks, Obama! No, really, thank you for setting up marine preserves in Antarctica and the Atlantic Ocean. The penguins, orcas, and octopi that live there would probably thank you, too, if they could.

A vaccine for dengue

Every year, 400 million people contract dengue, a mosquito-transmitted disease that causes high fever, severe headaches, vomiting, and sometimes death. This year, the World Health Organization ­started recommending the first vaccine to prevent dengue, and inoculations have begun in hot zones like Brazil and the Philippines.
Solar Impulse II flies over the Golden Gate Bridge

The ozone hole is healing

The giant hole in the ozone layer that protects Earth from UV radiation has shrunk by 1.5 million square miles since its peak in 2000, thanks to a combination of a reduction in CFCs and changing weather patterns.

An alternative antibiotic, from Tasmanian devil milk

The devil may actually care. As bacteria grow increasingly resistant to humankind’s antibiotics, antimicrobial peptides found in the milk of Tasmanian devils could provide a new weapon against bacterial disease.