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Marcelo Gleiser

It finally happened. On Tuesday, the space probe New Horizons passed by a mere 7,800 miles from Pluto, the closest encounter ever with a world that is, on average, 3.7 billion miles from Earth.

It took nine years for the very fast probe to get there, something that our 13.7 blogger Adam Frank estimated would take some 6,923 years by car "give or take a few decades."

The age of genetic design is here.

It is now possible to edit genes of diverse organisms — almost like we edit a string of text — by cutting and pasting (splicing) genes at desired locations. A recent technology known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) allows for the targeted control over cellular organization, regulation and behavior. CRISPR has its origins in the immune systems of bacteria, using short RNA sequences to disrupt the genetic structure of foreign attackers.

In a technological feat that moved the world, last November the European Space Agency landed the small probe Philae on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which is cruising at some 100,000 miles per hour toward the sun. Excitement turned to high drama when the landing put the probe away from the sun's rays and, thus, from its energy source.

"God of the Gaps": When God is invoked to fill in the blanks in scientific knowledge. An old-fashioned and doomed theological approach, but one that is nevertheless very much alive in the minds of many.

News of medical studies fill the headlines and airwaves — often in blatant contradiction. We've all seen it: One week, coffee helps cure cancer; the next, it causes it.

From a consumer's perspective, the situation can be very confusing and potentially damaging — for example, in a case where someone with a serious illness believes and follows the wrong lead.

Over the years, I've been collecting thought fragments and sentences that come to me during the day or in the course of my writing books and essays.

Since this is a time of introspection and self-analysis, I wanted to share some of them with the 13.7 readers — along with my wishes for a creative and healthy 2015. I hope these may be useful to you in one way or another. Here it goes:

Limits are not obstacles but triggers that expand your boundaries.

Boundaries can be jails or invitations — it all depends on how you see them.

Last week, I came across George Johnson's piece for The New York Times, "Beyond Energy, Matter, Time and Space," where he writes, in his usually engaging style, about two recent books with opposite viewpoints concerning what we can and cannot know of the world.

Last week, our own Tania Lombrozo ignited an intense discussion of the differences between factual and religious belief. I want to take off from there and examine a no less controversial issue, one that has been in the limelight of cutting-edge physics for the past few years: Do some scientists hold on to a belief longer than they should? Or, more provocatively phrased, when does a scientific belief become an article of faith?

The other day, I was giving a public lecture when someone asked me a question that I wish people would ask me more often: "Professor: Why are you a scientist?"

I answered that I couldn't do anything else, that I considered it a privilege to dedicate my life to teaching and research. But what's really special in this profession, to me at least, is that it allows us the space to create something new, something that will make us matter. It gives us an opportunity to engage with the "mystery," as Albert Einstein called our attraction to the unknown:

Given that science is believed to be about certainty, betting on a scientific idea sounds like an oxymoron.

Yet scientists bet on ideas all the time, even if mostly for jest. Of course, this only makes sense before we have any data pointing toward the correctness of the disputed hypothesis.

Well into the 21st century, it is indisputable that we know more about the universe than ever before.

So that we don't get lulled into a false sense of confidence, today I provide a short list of open questions about the cosmos, focusing only on its composition. These are some of the mysteries that keep many fundamental physicists and astronomers busy and hopeful.

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