It was a year for setting precedents. We went deep to the ocean’s bottom and farther into space in 2012 than ever before. People broke new records in the name of science and technology, from the “seven minutes of terror” of NASA’s Curiosity Mars descent to Felix Baumgartner’s ten-minute fall from the edge of space.
It was also a big year in science and technology ethics, with some difficult questions coming out of tragedy and breakthrough. Decisions by authorities to prosecute scientists accused of failing to predict a devastating earthquake and the publishing of controversial bird flu study results have forced us to confront how we use scientific information and how we will continue to use it in the future.
While this list is by no means exhaustive of all the biggest science and technology news made this year, we’ve documented a range of stories that set the tone in 2012 and will no doubt have influence in the years to come.
Our cups ran over with the many beautiful and amazing images scientists and satellites captured this year when they looked around and out from Earth. From things microscopic to those light years across, and from morning coffee to the deep recesses scattered around the universe, we bring you some of our favorite science pictures created in 2012.
These are in no particular order and by no means inclusive of all the best.
1. The first, above, comes from Hinode - a joint JAXA/NASA mission to study the connections of the sun’s surface magnetism. The project brings us this unique image of the transit of Venus between the Earth and sun, the once-in-a-lifetime event that occurred on June 5. Courtesy: JAXA/NASA/Lockheed Martin.
Click through to see the rest.
It may be weeks yet before the Mars Rover team at NASA reveals the nature of its big discovery, the one they’ve referred to as “for the history books.” And there’s only one way to fill this awkward silence. Let’s talk about the weather.
Better yet, let’s look at it.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured a mosaic image of a massive sand storm that churned up last week between the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars Rovers, on the southern hemisphere of the planet. A second image taken this Sunday shows the winds pulling back (after the jump). Although the storm never reached either rover, Curiosity’s environmental monitoring station has picked up changes in air pressure and atmospheric temperature.
The Query: Will NASA ever recover the 3.9 kg of plutonium from Apollo 13’s SNAP-27 nuclear RTG* from the depths of the South Pacific Ocean.
The Response: “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” said astronaut Jack Swigert on April13, 1970. But the problem wasn’t as simple as three astronauts potentially trapped in the void of space, 200,000 miles from Earth. The catastrophic risk came from the SNAP-27 radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), a small nuclear power source* that contained Plutonium 238. The RTG, which was in the lunar module, was intended to be placed on the moon to power experiments. As luck would have it, NASA had experience losing RTGs – a navigation satellite failed to reach orbit in 1964 and scattered small amounts of plutonium over the Indian Ocean. The SNAP-27 had been engineered to make it back to Earth intact in such an incident. The plutonium, like the astronauts, apparently survived reentry and came to rest with what remained of the lunar module the Tonga Trench south of Fiji, approximately 6-9 kilometers underwater (its exact location is unkown). Extensive monitoring of the atmosphere in the area showed that no radiation escaped.