THIS DISCOVERY DESERVES ALL CAPS. LOOK AT IT. GRAVITATIONAL WAVES ARE REAL. You know how radio telescopy changed astronomy and was able to detect stuff visible light telescopes couldn't? This is like that: a brand new era of space discovery. There's even been a second detection already. If you didn't bounce around in excitement in the wake of this announcement, you have a cold, dead heart.
The search for extraterrestrial life is ongoing and may never yield results in our lifetime, but Kepler, originally slated for a 3.5-year mission, has now been hanging out in orbit around the sun looking for exoplanets for seven years, nine months and counting. The number of confirmed planets is 3,431 as of December 2016 -- a number swelled by the discovery of 1,284 confirmed planets in May 2016, and 104 in July 2016. This latter number may not seem high, but it's the largest number discovered yet by K2, the spacecraft's second round of planet-hunting.
Our closest neighbour has an Earth-like planet
Possibly the most exciting exoplanet discovered yet is one known as Proxima B (pictured here as an artist's impression), discovered by the European Southern Observatory. It's orbiting Earth's nearest neighbour, Proxima Centauri; and, moreover, it's hanging out in Proxima Centauri's Goldilocks zone, neither too close nor too far from the star, so that it will have temperatures that may support life. And, like Earth, it's rocky. It may not have life, but it's our best shot yet.
The more efficient renewable energy options are, the better they'll be at replacing fossil fuel reliance down the road. This year, researchers at the University of New South Wales made an awesome solar cell efficiency breakthrough, breaking the world record for solar cell efficiency by 44 percent. Mark Keevers and team created a new device that pushed sunlight-to-energy conversion efficiency to 34.5 percent, meaning solar cell efficiency is moving much faster than experts predicted.