2012 was a huge year.  From testing our limits in space, to testing our Limits as humans.  We discovered what makes up the small stuff, and found a bunch of new big planets.  Every day we add to our list of most important stories from 2012.  From Outspace to our innerspace, here are the best 15 Science and Tech stories from the past year

#15: Facebook’s Failed IPO

Facebook Logo in front of stock charts and prices
Facebook Logo in front of stock charts and prices

The most hotly anticipated and exciting IPOs of the year, Facebook, finally went public this year.  With the largest IPOs for a tech company, everyones favourite social media site entered the game valued at $104Billion USD before snapping up photo-sharing giant Instagram.

After lots of problems and botched IPO, the stock went public and plummeted by $38/share.  After NASDAQ admitted to a technical glitch on opening day and Morgan Stanley was fined for influencing share sales, the stock hit $17.55 in early September.  After outrage over privacy changes and its effects over Instagram, Facebook has yet to recover

#14: Return of Microsoft

2012 saw the return of Microsoft as the company saw a comeback, with a brand new version of windows, a totally redesigned UI to work on both mobile and desktop and a new tablet.

Microsoft’s Windows 8

Microsoft, being best know for its Windows operating system, took big risks in an attempt to get a slice of the market share.  Windows 8 saw Microsoft ditch the start button and windows it had become ubiquitous with and launch a system that runs on playful ’tiles’ that can be used the same by either mouse or touch.

The company also made huge gains into the hardware market with its first tablet, the Surface, while also launching Windows phone 8.  All platforms run different version of the new windows OS.

While it may to be too soon to tell whether it worked, Microsoft has hinged its hopes of competing with Google and Apple on its new branding.  Either way, Microsoft made its presence known in 2012

#13: Solar Fury

Back at the tail of summer, our very own sun sent out a cloud of plasma.  At speeds of over 900 miles per second, the plasma filament was estimated to be around 100,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Measuring an astounding 30 earths across, NASA captured images and data using its newest Sun-watcher, the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

2012 saw a peak of Solar Activity, as the Solar cycle of activity came to a head.  The height of the 11-year cycle is due to continue into this year, increasing the risk to satellites and solar walks, but also raising the increasing in brilliant solar phenomena such as this.

#12: Deep Diving and SkyJumping

2012 was a year that pushed the highs and lows of the human experience in the most literal way.  James Cameron made headlines by diving to nearly 36,000 feet to the ocean deepest point, placing his life in the care of technology to keep him safe from the crushing pressure and frigid temperatures near the bottom of our planet.

Felix Baumgartner  earned headlines, as he leaped from 23 miles in the air to parachute back to earth, marking the highest point from which has ever parachute, dropped, jumped, or in any fashion come back to the planet.  His capsule and parachute were feats of technology, as Baumgarter neared the furthest reaches of the atmosphere.

In both cases, their success was rooted firmly in their high-tech toys to protect them, help them journey to, and help them come back from the limits of our planet’s friendly, familiar, realm.

#11: Apple Maps Fiasco

Every new iPhone or Mac usually means a big story, from rumours to the slick keynote and release stats.  New stores in new cities, a new screen, new features, a lower price.  Apple consistently makes the year ending news.  2012, however, saw Apple’s yearly entry marred by mistakes and missteps.

in 2012, Apple dropped its Google-powered maps in favour of its own, in-house Maps.  Behind the stunning graphics, turn by turn directions and flyover features, Apple Maps were inaccurate and riddled with outdated information, and mistakes.

Open-Letter-from-Apple-CEO-Tim-Cook-Apologizing-to-iOS6-customers-for-problems-with-the-Maps-App

The fiasco saw newly-instilled CEO Tim Cook apologize and led to the firing of long-time Jobs protégé Scott Forstall, after his refusal to apologize and resign.

When Google released its long-awaited iOS app for its own Maps, users snapped it up in record number.  Even with a new iPad Mini and iPhone 5 along with new features to iOS 6, Apples major headache with Apple Maps may be what consumers remember most from 2012

#10: QUANTUM COMPUTING GETS REAL

For almost a quarter century, the laws of Quantum Physics had been taking the world by storm in ways that no one even noticed – USB drives, for example, use quantum tunneling to rewrite their data.  Certain laws, such as the Law of Quantum Entanglement – where by two particles can exist in two states at the same time – were theoretically going to change the way we used, designed and built computers.

Quantumn Computing

Early last spring, a team of international researchers made a huge, and potentially culture-rocking announcement.   They built a processor that utilized and preserved the entanglement process, creating a processor with speeds that make today’s top of the line models look like antiques.

While a small step only, it is an important first step into creating the next wave of computers and processors.

#9: 3D PRINTERS COME HOME

formlabs-form1-3d-printer-@2x

Having been used in Laboratory shelves and University labs, 2012 marked the year 3D printers when from R&D’s secret weapon to being the next great appliance for tech-savy homeowners and DIYers.  With huge implications, 3D printers take in materials and create real-world objects from digital renders.

Amongst the huge strides taken this year included Glasgow University’s printing of chemical compounds in a pill shape, with future plans to print the off-the-shelf drug Ibuprofen.  A groups called Defence Distributed printed a political hot potato when they printed a working gun, and then made the digital plans free online, giving anyone the ability to print their own gun at home.  2012 also saw Belgian engineers print a full-sized, functional race car from digital plans and a 3D printer.

With staggering implication, people could begin home printing of tools, equipment, merchandise and, with chemical compounds being created, potentially pharmaceuticals.

With text and books being pirated, could we see a crackdown on open source and free plans to build toasters and coffee machines?  Is the next great battleground for copyright material going to be fought over patents for merchandise?

2013 and beyond shows great promise in this field and many people cannot wait for 3D printers to go further mainstream.  2012 will be look back on as the year 3D printers got off the ground and started coming into homes.

#8: RISE OF THE SELF DRIVEN CAR

In May of 2012, 3 cars and a truck dove along highway in Spain.  The one thing they were missing? Drivers.The convoy drove 120 miles without human intervention during the experiment in which Sarte project – driven ahead by European Commission – aims to develop autonomous road trains to lead these convoys and reduce traffic, accidents and improve flow.

This was a small milestone in a year that saw large leaps in the field of self-driving cars.

Google-driverless-car

Google’s self-driven vehicles have famously gone 30,000 miles without an accident or incident, and are now licensed in both Nevada and California for road use.

Stanford University designed a car that drove at 115 mph, flawlessly and driver-less on a test track, and Michigan and Germany both successfully tested systems that allow conventional cars to update and share information on traffic and weather conditions.

2012 quickly became the year that cars drove themselves – leaving drivers and passengers to eat, drink coffee, catch up on the news and even work while reducing traffic, accidents, and all manner off issues.  With cars that could simply drive themselves from destination to destination, no minimum or maximum ago for safety of driver could exist, drunk driving could be a thing of the past, and traffic jams caused by ‘volume’ would be mere memories.

It a true test of the theory, Google’s self-driving car got into a fender bender in California – when a real life person was at the helm driving the car.

#7: PLANETS, PLANETS, PLANETS

This year, 800 planets were confirmed to exists outside our own solar system, and almost 2,000 more are potential planets.

One of those planets, PH1, was discovered by amateur sky trackers.  PH1 is remarkable, as it is the first planet known to orbit not just one, but FOUR separate suns.

Ph1 4 suns

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft also made a planetary discovery this year.  Vesta, a strange body that was originally thought to be an asteroid is indeed a Protoplanet. While not a full planet, something interrupted its evolution, and it never fully became a planet in its own right.

#6: BIONIC IMPLANTS BECOME SCIENCE FACT

They had just been able to move a limb with their minds.

They would be paralyzed no more.

DARPA Bionic Arms

This was just the edge of the bionic iceberg.  DARPA, the R&D wing of the Pentagon, has been working on this sort of technology for years.  In 2008 a breakthrough was made using a similar idea to help a man move his new prosthetic hand, using nothing more than a chip implanted into his brain.  Three years later, DARPA has moved on to having this system move entire arms.

Beyond arms and hands, some soldiers are being outfitted with new knees and legs, which are so functional, that the recipients can return to the battlefield.  One man from Canada has even had a camera implanted in his eye and connected to his visual cortex.

How long will it take for Robots and Cyborg to walk amongst us?  The tech is already here, and is so convincing that they indeed already walk amongst us.

#5: CHANGING OF THE (SPACE) GUARD.

Launch-SpaceX-NASA

2012 was a big year that saw us retire a ship that made us believe in Space, and replace it with a vessel that shows the reality of going to space.  2012 was the year of Endeavour’s Retirement and Dragon X’s Birth

Technically, we said our goodbyes to the Space Shuttle program in 2011, as NASA’s long time workhorse fleet were grounded and retired.

In 2012, all 4 remaining shuttles made their own journeys – to a resting place in a museum or space centre.

Space Shuttle Atlantic ended up at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.  It was the last to go to space, and the last to land in its final resting place, moving a mere 10 miles to where it now sits.

Discovery, ended up in Virginia, at the Smithsonian National air and space museum.  Discovery earned the honour of clocking the most miles of any shuttle – 148 Million.

Space Shuttle Enterprise was originally designed as a prototype, and never actually flew.  It made headlines as it flew from Washington to New York on the back of  a747.

Endeavour had the most enamouring goodbye journey; crossing the bustling streets of Los Angeles, towed behind a truck as trees and Traffic Sings were cut down.  It came to rest at the California Science Centre.

While these retirements were huge, a brand new day in Spaceflight was launch.  No NASA shuttles may have flown, but SpaceX managed to send nearly 900lbs of cargo on its first official mission to the International Space Station, merely months after its demonstration flight in May.

SpaceX and NASA have come to terms on a contract for a dozen cargo trip to and from ISS.

The bigger story is this:  SpaceX isn’t alone.

Orbital Sciences is under contract with NASA and is set to launch its own demonstration, and Virgin Galactic have completed high altitude tests, as well as finishing construction on SpacePort America.

2012 saw a changing of the guard, and ushered in a brave new dawn for space flight, both commercial and otherwise.  WIll 2013 see spaceflights become mainstream?  Will 10 years down the road see Spaceports become as day-to-day as Airports?

#4: FETUS HAS DNA SEQUENCED

This type of DNA sequencing is no cheap feat:  it costs around $50,000 USD, but giving the quick and steady decline of genetic testing costs, it could soon be in the hands of many middle class citizens.  Like all things genetic, this report raises a myriad of ethical issues: Will we pick traits we like?  Will we abort fetus’ that cannot be spared a crippling disease?

#3: WILD WEATHER

amazing lightning storm front

2012 saw a great number of weather and climate related stories hit the mainstream media.  Not only was there a lot of heat, but there was also a TON of rain. 2012 saw some wild weather.

In Canada, 80 percent of Oysters never made it past the larval stage in hatcheries.  This die off is being attributed to ocean acidification, which are being driven by CO2 emissions escalating.  An Study in april confirmed the theory.  Meanwhile the Arctic Ocean shrank to its smallest point ever: 1.32 million square miles.  That’s less than half the area occupied by Ice a mere three decades ago.  Greenland also lost ice, when in July a NASA satellite revealed that an Ice sheet, responsibly for covering 80 percent of Greenland has shrunk rapidly.  In 4 days, over 90% of the ice sheet had begun to melt.

The United States saw its share of Flooding and disasters, as warmer oceans and melting arctic ice helped steer hurricanes towards the North East coastline, most notably being Sandy.  Rising sea levels made the impact that much more severe.  Other parts of the US experienced the opposite, as record temperatures affected 80% of the country.  July alone saw 4,420 separate daily records being broken or tied.  Wildfires burned almost 9 million acres and rolling thunderstorms cut power lines to 4.2 million american homes.

India’s summer monsoon, which are usually responsible for 3/4 of the country’s rainfall failed to materialize.  The lack of water caused a national drought for the country as well as lower levels at hydroelectric damns, causing power outages that left 1.2 billion people in the dark for 2 days in July – the largest blackout in history.

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Flooding was also rampant in Africa, where the worst flooding in 40 years displaced 1.4 million people, claimed 431 lives and left 120,000 homeless.  May through July saw vast amounts of rain fall on Yunnan province in China.  38 million people were affected by flooding and landslides and 1.3 million were evacuated.  The economic losses were thought to be in the $6.2 Billion range, and the flooding damaged 1 million acres of farmland.

Australia also saw floods, as an intense La Nina system caused heavy monsoons.  Rising waters were a concern for about 70 percent of New South Wales, where about a third of country lives.  Off shore, however, The Great Barrier Reef was discovered to have lost more than half its total coverage over the past 27 years.  A report than came out in October blamed intense storms, invasive species, and coral bleaching, caused by warming oceans.

Climate future NCAR-Mid Century

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