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The Top 10 ScienceNOWs of 2012
20 December 2012 2:03 pm
At the end of every December, we here at ScienceNOW take a look back at some of our favorite stories of the year. These aren’t necessarily the biggest scientific advances (see our Breakthrough of the Year). They’re simply the funniest, wackiest, and most popular items we’ve run. Enjoy, and let us know your own favorites in the comments section!
The fossil record has preserved some stunning creatures. But sometimes it also preserves some private behaviors, as in this pair of turtles, frozen in flagrante delicto for 47 million years. Far from a mere salacious representation of the unfortunate reptiles, the fossils provide critical clues about the environment in which they lived.
Here’s some news you can use. Physicists have figured out how coffee spills from your mug—and how to keep it from sloshing all over your keyboard. One hint: Watch the acceleration.
Elderly termites do not go softly into that good night. When another species of termite or a predator approaches the nest, the termites activate explosive crystals on their backs and go boom. Secretions released by the blast kill opponents—and save the nest.
Talk about a pile of … well, excrement. By digging into a 2-meter-deep mound of bird poop laying at the bottom of a five-story-high chimney and deposited over 48 years, researchers have uncovered new clues about why the chimney swift and other species like it have begun to disappear.
Three thousand years before the ancient Egyptians began mummifying their dead, hunter-gatherers known as the Chinchorro adopted the practice in Chile's Atacama Desert. Their inspiration, according to this study, was seeing corpses rising from the sand during their daily journeys.
In about a hundred million years, you may be able to take a train from South America to Australia. That’s because most, if not all, of today’s continents will be merged into a giant landmass called Amasia. If you can’t wait, flying is still your best option.
Finally, science has proved what most of us always suspected: Physics is difficult. One of the most common goals in the field—finding an equation that describes how a system changes over time—is defined as "hard" by computer theory. Just don’t expect to get out of that pop quiz.
Pity the humans that come across our nuclear waste repositories tens of thousands of years hence. How will they know what they are? Enter a sapphire disk engraved with platinum that can store information for more than a million years. Now we just need to decide what language to write it in.
Footprints of the gods? Signs from extraterrestrials? Namibia’s so-called fairy circles have long puzzled scientists. Now, one researcher thinks he has come close to solving the mystery.
Potholes. We all hate them. But filling them rarely solves the problem. A group of college students may have hit upon a solution, employing non-Newtonian fluids, which pour like a liquid but turn stiff when you hit them. One of our "silly"-est stories of the year is also our most popular.