THE TOP STORIES OF 2012

REUTERS: SANA
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Turmoil in Syria & collapse of a cease-fire

The discoveries, scandals and tragedies that framed the year in news. See gallery

May:

It began as a protest movement among Syrians looking for reform. But in 2012, the fighting in Syria devolved into civil war, with bloody sectarian clashes and an increased likelihood of Al Qaeda involvement pushing it near the top of the White House agenda. Some Arab leaders are now pressing for a larger US role in toppling Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who reportedly has readied chemical weapons to use in the fighting.

Getty Images: Kevork Djansezian
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Scientists discover the 'God particle'

JULY:

In 2012, participle physics competed with Lindsay Lohan and Lady Gaga for headlines. And, sometimes, this obscure bit of science actually won out. The Higgs boson, the so-called 'God particle,' became a household term this year when on July 4, 2012, scientists at CERN announced that they'd found a particle that behaved the way they expect the Higgs boson to behave. In a very basic explanation, the Higgs is the particle that gives all matter its mass. The elementary particle has never been seen before. Named after Peter Higgs, an Edinburgh University physicist, the Higgs boson is crucial to understanding the origin of mass. Shortly after the big bang, it is thought that many particles had no mass, but became heavy later on thanks to the Higgs field. Any particles that interact with this field are given mass.

REUTERS: Danny Moloshok
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US goes wild for 'Gangnam Style'

JULY:

Bow-legged dancing, MC Hammer shorts, and “Heyyy, sexy lady!” All three of the aforementioned components make up South Korean rap star PSY’s “Gangnam Style” music video. The video was first posted on PSY’s official YouTube channel in July and has since gone viral, overtaking Justin Bieber’s “Baby” (which was uploaded in February 2010) as the most-watched video on YouTube, surpassing 900 million views. PSY’s parents sent him to business school in the U.S., but the rapper admitted buying musical instruments with his tuition money instead. He first won fame in his native South Korea with his 2001 debut album. But “Gangnam Style” has inspired break-out dancing around the world and the rapper has famously taught singer Britney Spears the dance on “The Ellen Show." In December, it came out that PSY performed a song in 2004 with lyrics about killing "Yankees" who have been torturing Iraqi captives, and that during a 2002 concert, he smashed a model of a U.S. tank on stage. PSY apologized for using what he called "inflammatory and inappropriate" language, and the flak from his remarks didn't seem to dampen “Gangnam Style,” when he performed at a holiday concert attended by President Barack Obama and his family.

More: 'Gangnam Style' changes the money in music

AP Photo: Thao Nguyen
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The fall of Lance Armstrong

OCTOBER:

He was a sports hero, athletic wunderkind, cancer survivor and, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a performance enhancing drug user. In October, 2012, Lance Armstrong was stripped of all of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from professional cycling for life, marking an epic downfall for the cyclist once lauded as the greatest of all time. He has maintained he never cheated. Armstrong stepped down as the chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the cancer charity commonly known as Livestrong that he founded in 1997, a year after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 25. Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek Bicycles and Oakley all severed ties with the cycling superstar this year as well. His dominance of the Tour de France elevated the sport's popularity in the U.S. to unprecedented levels. His cancer survival story also seemed to inspire the world. And his epic fall from grace shocked the country.

Read more:  IOC ready to strip Armstrong of bronze medal

See more:  Lance Armstrong through the years

AP Photo: Mark Lennihan
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Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast

OCTOBER:

A week before Sandy made landfall, the airwaves were already hysterical about a “Frankenstorm” that would potentially wallop most of the Eastern U.S. But jaded Northeasterners had Hurricane Irene on their minds – a storm that had barreled toward them one year earlier only to largely fizzle out. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was relentless in berating stragglers who refused to evacuate low-lying areas and in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg shut down the entire subway for only the second time in the system’s 108-year history. Many didn’t evacuate and some paid a terrible price; more than 100 people died (mostly from New York and New Jersey). The financial cost is expected to top $70 billion, making Sandy the second most-expensive hurricane in U.S. history, after Katrina. And in the collective American memory, Sandy will be remembered as a big one – the superstorm that destroyed the Jersey Shore and left the nation’s largest city in the dark for days on end.

See more:Pets among those rescued after Superstorm Sandy

More info:Sandy by the numbers

Photos:Recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy

REUTERS: Jason Reed
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Obama is re-elected

NOVEMBER:

President Barack Obama won his second and final bid for the White House on Nov. 6, defeating Mitt Romney in the nation’s most expensive presidential campaign. The economy and jobs loomed large in debates and political ads as the nation sputtered toward recovery from the recession.  Other popular topics of contention included health care, the nation’s debt and, a perennial favorite, taxes.  Despite the deluge of hard-hitting ads and 24/7 news coverage, only an estimated 58 percent of eligible voters chose to cast their ballots, which was down 4 percent from the 2008 election. Of those who voted, the most recent data showed that 50.9 percent chose Obama, while 47.4 percent chose Romney. The president won 27 states and the District of Columbia for a total of 332 electoral votes, while Romney won 24 states and 206 electoral votes. The two-term limit on U.S. presidents means plenty of political jockeying between now and 2016 for who will next sit in the Oval Office.

The year in politics:  The scandals, memes & events that defined 2012 politics

MSN News: Joe Dyer
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Legalization of pot and gay marriage

November:

Just say “yes.” Colorado, with its libertarian leanings, and Washington, with its liberal bent, voted to become the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, defying federal law. More than a decade ago, the two were among the first states to approve marijuana use for medical reasons, which is now allowed in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Although still illegal under federal law, President Obama said that going after recreational pot smokers should not be a "top priority" for law enforcement. Washington voters also approved same-sex marriage, along with Maine and Maryland – the first time it was passed at the ballot box. It was a huge twin for gay-rights advocates who’d seen similar efforts voted down 30 times previously. Same-sex couples can now marry in nine states and the District of Columbia, though in 30 state constitutions, marriage remains defined as being between a man and a woman.

Read more:  See which states approved gay marriage

See more:  As pot goes proper, a history of weed

AP Photo
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Gen. David Petraeus scandal

November:

The nation’s top spy chief, David Petraeus, resigned as head of the CIA on Nov. 9 after he was caught having an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The scandal began to unravel when Florida socialite Jill Kelley complained to an FBI agent in June about anonymous emails that accused her of flirting with Petraeus. An FBI investigation traced the emails to Broadwell, whom Kelley had never met, and also uncovered emails between the former general and Broadwell. The investigation also ensnared Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, after the Pentagon revealed in November that Allen was under internal investigation for thousands of "inappropriate communications" with Kelley over a two-year period. Petraeus’ romantic intrigue blew apart his hard-earned prestige as a four-star general who led the U.S. military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan and was appointed in April 2011 to head the CIA.

AP Photo: Bernat Armangue
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Trouble in the Middle East: Violence escalates between Israel & Palestinian militants; UN votes on Palestine

November:

The ever-uneasy standoff in Gaza blew up for eight tense days in November as Israel and Palestinian militants blasted missiles at each other, the world held its breath and the media counted the dead. "Israel will not tolerate this situation," Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu said of sporadic rocket strikes from Gaza. Then Israel hit its red line. On Nov. 14, it killed the No. 2 Hamas deputy in a pinpoint strike. From that day, missile, rocket and air strikes ramped up. Each side’s allies sent envoys to Gaza or Jerusalem to plead for an end. After days of conflicting reports that a truce was in the works, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi got credit for brokering a cease-fire, helped by last-minute pushes from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The cease-fire held and details were carved out afterward. As a complication, though, the United Nations Nov. 30 officially recognized Palestine as a nonmember state, which may give it more leverage in the world community should fighting start anew. Over eight days, five Israelis and 162 Gazans, including 37 children, were killed.

Read more: Gaza children struggle to cope with life under fire

AP Photo: Carolyn Kaster
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Congress teeters on the edge of the fiscal cliff

November:

After the November elections, the political sparring shifted to the ominous “fiscal cliff.” If Congress fails to act by Jan. 1, more than $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts will take effect, which could well lead to a recession and higher unemployment. The showdown between Democrats and Republicans involves both political maneuvering and public relations as each side jockeys to promote its solutions. The deadline came about from the Budget Control Act of 2011, another product of political gridlock, which still remained as the clock ticked just weeks from the deadline. Some lawmakers have argued that going over the “cliff” for a brief spell would ramp up the pressure for compromise.

AP Photo: Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks
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Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

December:

Peace was shattered in the small, idyllic community of Newtown, Conn. on the morning of Dec. 14, when a gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 six- and seven-year-old children along with six teachers and administrators. Earlier, the 20-year-old suspect shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, to death in their home. President Obama visited Newtown two days later to comfort the victims’ families, decrying the fact that it was the fourth time during his administration that he had to make such a trip. As investigators continued to search for a motive in the mass killing of innocents, the debate over gun control in the United States reignited with an urgency – and willingness to enact reform – not typically seen in the wake of other such incidents in recent years. Five days after the shootings, Obama announced a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden to come up with policy recommendations on curbing gun violence. Setting a January deadline, Obama said, "this time, the words need to lead to action."

See more: Remembering the victims of Newtown