Science News Top 25

The Year in Science 2012

Introduction: Stories worth losing sleep over

By Matt Crenson

When it came to choosing the year’s best stories, the editors of Science News applied a simple criterion: We picked the ones that kept us up at night.

The top two stories on our list literally had us working the graveyard shift. In the wee hours of July 4, we tuned in online as physicists in Geneva held a morning (their time) seminar announcing the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson. The next month found us working in our pj’s yet again, this time as NASA’s Curiosity rover executed a spectacular touchdown on Mars in the early a.m. of August 6, Eastern time.

Then there were the stories that thwarted our sleep with their terrifying implications. In June, researchers described in two controversial papers how easily bird flu can be mutated to render it capable of airborne transmission. And if global pandemic flu wasn’t enough to keep us staring at the ceiling, we could rest assured that no rest would come from pondering a warming trend that, far from being a theoretical concern for the distant future, is a clear and present danger. Several studies this year pinned recent record heat waves and droughts on human-caused warming, and in September the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice cover reached its smallest size on record, surpassing the previous record low by almost 20 percent.

But it wasn’t just anxiety and dread that kept us tossing and turning. Other stories made the list because they filled our sleepy heads with fascinating questions: Will we ever visit the planet that has been discovered in the Alpha Centauri system, just a few light-years away? What led humans to meet and mate with Neandertals and even more exotic relatives whose DNA has ended up in the genes of people living today? It’s enough to keep you up for days.

There’s just one story here that’s not worth losing a wink of sleep over. Despite archaeological evidence to the contrary, some modern-day mystics have claimed that the ancient Maya predicted a global apocalypse on December 21, 2012. Now we can put that one to bed for sure.

Science News Top 25
Edited by Erika Engelhaupt

1. Higgs discovery helps make sense of matter

2. Curiosity goes to Mars

3. Controversial bird flu papers fly

4. Bionic women (and men) get closer to reality

5. Climate change goes to extremes

6. Your social brain

7. Scientists take on Twitter

8. Women may make new eggs

9. Earth’s new neighbor looks familiar

10. Prions may cause Alzheimer’s

11. Finding new ways to spell L-I-F-E

12. Quantum hops

13. Polar bears have seen hard times

14. Kissing, and missing, human cousins

15. Milky Way will bite the dust

16. Out on a limb

17. You really can learn while you sleep

18. Obesity research gets weightier

19. ‘Good’ cholesterol may be overrated

20. Avant-garde cave art

21. New species of the year

22. Venus sails across sun in rare display

23. Evolving E. coli

24. Big drain on groundwater

25. Maya apocalypse goes boom


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