The year in sci-tech

REUTERS: Lucas Jackson
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Apple unveils the iPhone 5

The top scientific and technological events of 2012 See gallery

In the smartphone wars, most are familiar with iPhonenomena – the heightened emotions and overnight lines in anticipating a new iPhone on the market. iPhone 5’s release in September did not disappoint – FedEx even planned for a “surge volume event” Sept. 21-24, while Verizon stores scheduled a vacation blackout for employees the week after the release. Features that had Apple aficionados twitterpated were a new 4” screen size, high-speed Long-Term Evolution network, a quad-core A6 processor, updated camera functionality.

See more:  The best iPhone autocorrect fails

Read more:  Apple to invest millions in US manufacturing

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AP Photo: Zef Nikolla
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Facebook stock goes public

Accompanied by much online speculation, Facebook celebrated its 8th anniversary by filing paperwork for its IPO on February 1. Public trading for the company began in May, with the valuation around $104 billion – the largest in Internet history. With such a bright start, things crumbled quickly – the Nasdaq exchange experienced a computer glitch during the early hours of the IPO, with millions of dollars in trades wrongly placed. There was also a dust-up around rumors that Facebook executives allegedly notified insiders to earnings before the information was public. Within three months, the stock had fallen to less than half of its initial public offering.

Read more:  Facebook unveils new privacy controls

Find:  Get current FB stock info

Read more:  Who were the most-searched people of 2012?

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Curiosity rover lands on Mars

After a 36-week journey through space, NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down safely on Mars on the evening of August 5. Live coverage of the successful event allowed the world to share in the tension and explosive joy of scientists behind, according to NASA, one of the most difficult feats of robotic exploration ever attempted. Curiosity, which is about the size of a car, is loaded with 10 science instruments that will be used during its two-year mission to investigate the possibility of microbial life on Mars.

Learn more:  Follow Mars Curiosity on Twitter

Read more:  Mars rover finds volcano-like soil


Getty Images: Kevork Djansezian
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Space shuttles take final trips home

NASA's Space Shuttle program was the United States government's manned launch vehicle program from 1981 to 2011. In 2012, Americans were witness to two incredible sights: Endeavor, inching down Los Angeles streets on a 160-wheeled carrier to its final destination, the California Science Center, and Discovery, flying over DC on the back of a jet on its way to the Smithsonian. Endeavor was the baby of the shuttle fleet, replacing Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986, killing seven astronauts. Although Discovery and Endeavor hadn't flown in space since their final missions to the International Space Station, more than a year ago, the two ferry sightings this year were definitive as a signal that a 30-year era in spaceflight had come to an end. With the shuttles in retirement, private U.S. companies hope to pick up the slack, beginning with space station cargo and then, hopefully, astronauts.

Read more:  Where are all the space shuttles now?

AP Photo: Matt Kapust
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Scientists discover the 'God particle'

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.

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Deadly meningitis outbreak

As of Dec. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 541 cases of fungal meningitis have been reported with 36 deaths due to moldy medicine from contaminated steroid shots that were distributed across the Midwest and East Coast. The packager and supplier of the shots, the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, MA., (NECC) has since been shut down and their products have been recalled. The compounding center shipped thousands of fungus-tainted vials of methylprednisolone acetate to medical facilities throughout the United States. The illnesses manifested as fungal meningitis and many resulted in strokes related to that disease. At least 50 federal lawsuits in nine states have been filed against NECC, and more are being filed in state courts every day.

Read more:Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy director fired


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The search for Amelia Earhart gets interesting

Seventy-five years after Amelia Earhart disappeared, a “debris field” of “man-made objects” thought to possibly be evidence of her aircraft was found in a reef slope off the west end of Nikumaroro, part of the Phoenix Islands, in the western Pacific Ocean. The search, carried out by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by Earhart, started their search on July 12. A parallel investigation into a little jar, suspected to be Earhart’s freckle cream, recovered on Nikumaroro in a previous expedition might provide further circumstantial evidence that Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan made an emergency landing on the island's flat coral reef and eventually died there as castaways.

AP Photo: NASA
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Private rocket SpaceX takes a commercial flight to space

Elon Musk was best known for being the founder of PayPal and Tesla. But now, he is probably better known as the man who wants to create a colony on Mars and who successfully launched a rocket into space carrying supplies for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Musk founded SpaceX in June 2002 and successfully launched the 178-foot tall rocket called Dragon in October, 2012 which carried a cargo capsule with a freezer to ferry medical research samples to and from the outpost. It also contained ice cream, a rare treat for the orbiting astronauts aboard the International Space Station, and food and clothes. This mission was the first of at least 12 to the International Space Station that SpaceX will fly under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Read more:  How much does a private trip to the moon cost?

Read more:  SpaceX lands military contracts

AP Photo: NASA
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Amateur astronomers find 'Tatooine times 2' planet

Reality outdid science fiction when two amateur astronomers discovered a planet with four suns in October. The real-life version of Tatooine from "Star Wars" is orbited by two more stars — a solar system that is the first known of its kind. The alien planet, called PH1, is slightly bigger than Neptune. Its discovery in the midst of a strange planetary system is the first confirmed world discovered as part of the Yale University-led Planet Hunters project, in which armchair astronomers work with professional scientists to find evidence of new worlds.