The Top 10 Science Stories of 2012
As we grow older, it gets harder and harder to believe how quickly time passes by. This shouldn't come as a surprise, however, as researchers know that adults and children perceive time differently.
Regardless, in celebration of this fantastic year, we present the top 10 science stories of 2012:
Pushing the envelope of possibility, in March, filmmaker James Cameron piloted a solo submarine to the world's deepest ocean trench, at an astounding depth of 35,804 feet! On that excursion, one undertaken in the name of both science and thrill-seeking, Cameron only returned with a small scoop of mud due to a tool malfunction. But other missions yielded fascinating finds.
In addition to exploring murky ocean depths, mankind also soared to new heights. Daredevil Felix Baumgartner set the record for the highest manned balloon flight (128,100 feet) before leaping from said height, thus breaking the record for the highest skydive. During his free-fall, Baumgartner also became the first human to break the sound barrier outside of a vehicle.
9. Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, dies at age 82.
On July 20th, 1969, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong took one small step. It was a step that would leave an indelible footprint on all of history, the first time man had set foot on the surface of a celestial body. After landing on the moon, Armstrong, a true "everyman" and a constant American, would ever remain a reluctant hero. He was just doing his job, he insisted. To an everlastingly grateful nation, this humility was even more endearing. Sadly, Armstrong passed away on August 25th. He will always be remembered as the helmsman for one of the human race's finest hours, one giant leap for mankind.
8. The first large map of the human microbiome is published.
6. New particle physics data spells trouble for string theory.
5. Arctic sea ice hits new record low.
On August 26th, the extent of Arctic sea ice shrank to 1.58 million square miles, eclipsing the previous low set in summer 2007. The melt continued into mid-September, reaching, at its lowest, 1.3 million square miles, before beginning it's cyclical freezing. An increasingly ice-free Arctic may be the most visual evidence we have of climate change. Moreover, the ice acts as a solar reflector, sending light (and thus heat) back into space. As more dark ocean water is laid bare before the sun, more light is absorbed, warming the water further and causing more ice to melt: a positive feedback loop. The lack of Arctic sea ice may have also given rise to the rare high pressure area over Greenland that caused Hurricane Sandy to take a hard left turn, smashing headlong into the East Coast, where it wreaked $65.6 billion in damages and killed 131 Americans. On the bright side, an ice-free Arctic may open up new economic opportunities.
4. ENCODE helps decode the "junk" in our genome.
3. Mars Rover "Curiosity" explores the Red Planet.
Blazing streaks of fire, yet only tepid fanfare, followed the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft as it ascended into space on November 26th, 2011. On-board was NASA's newest Mars rover, the $2.5 billion, SUV-sized Curiosity. Similar flames accompanied Curiosity as she tumbled through the Martian atmosphere to the planet's surface in early August, but this time, the whole world was watching. Despite a harrowing, seemingly impossible landing procedure, the rover touched down safe and sound to onlookers' exuberant cheers back on Earth. Since landing, Curiosity has been busy. Already, she's found concrete proof that water once flowed on Mars. The rover has also discovered organic compounds, though NASA scientists haven't precisely pinpointed whether or not they are of Martian origin.
2. SpaceX becomes the first private company to soar into space.
In 2011, after the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle program, Americans were left wondering, "Who would pick up the torch of American spaceflight?" This year, SpaceX didn't just pick up that torch and run with it; it blasted that torch into outer space. On May 22nd, the private company launched its Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral. Three days later, the Dragon successfully docked with the International Space Station. Elon Musk, the company's founder, has also shared plans for an 80,000-person Martian colony. How's that for dreaming big?
1. The Higgs boson is discovered.