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Scientific American's top 10 science stories of 2012

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Scientific American named the top ten science stories of 2012 -- a list that touches on big topics like climate change, technology and daredevil attempts that stretch the limits of humanity.

Tell us what you think of them, or what else you would add, in the comments below.

10. Exploring the depths and heights

The magazine named as notable the skydive that Felix Baumgartner made from 23 miles in the air -- the highest ever -- and James Cameron's dive (photos) almost 36,000 feet below sea level, to the ocean's deepest point. SciAm said:

The success of both feats hinged not only on the cutting-edge gear that protected the men from either thin air or crushing pressure, but also on clever thinking to reach their destinations.

9. The debunking of calorie-restricted diets for longevity

While previous studies have indicated that animals such as rats and roundworms had aged more slowly if they consumed fewer calories, a study conducted over 25 years comparing rhesus monkeys on a restricted-calorie diet to those on a normal diet found no difference. However, two factors did seem to make a difference: genetics and eating healthy food. And here are some others studies showing just what kind of food is healthy: not eating red meat, eating a Mediterranean diet or even avoiding fatty food.

8. The commercialization of space travel

As the U.S. ramped down its space shuttle program in 2011 (and China ramped up its own), private companies took up the slack. Most notably, SpaceX made a cargo delivery to the International Space Station (photos of launch).

7. Avian flu genes revealed

In 2011, two research groups identified what mutations could make a feared avian flu virus, H5N1, transmissible by air -- and much more contagious. For a few months, the government, scientists and journal editors held off publishing them for fear the information would fall in the wrong hands, though others argued such information could help epidemiologists identify and fight any dangerous mutations in the wild. Eventually, they published the information.

6. Arctic sea ice reached an all-time low

On September 16, the area of ice covering the Arctic was at its smallest since record-keeping began in 1979. In recent years, scientists have said the lack of ice up north was creating strange weather patterns in the northeastern U.S. and Europe. This year, some even said the same of Hurricane Sandy:

Some scientists ventured to say that the loss of sea ice helped Hurricane Sandy “turn left” from the Atlantic Ocean into New Jersey and New York City. Such a shift in direction had never been recorded before. A “blocking high pressure system” in the North Atlantic—a likely result of the lack of ice—prevented Sandy from heading northeast out to sea, as hurricanes would typically do.

5. 'Obamacare' mostly upheld by Supreme Court

The health care ruling will have a large effect on scientific research, as SciAm reports:

the law contains provisions to boost comparative- and cost-effectiveness research (via the newly established Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute). Such research could lead to medical and public health advances that will help the largest number of people.

4. Publication of Encode, Encyclopedia of DNA Elements

Following on the publication of the human genome project 12 years ago, the Encode project, which stood for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements. As we wrote in September, it is helpful in understanding the behavior of cells, tissues and organs:

The news could drive drug research and help us understand the environmental influence of disease risk and even explain why one twin gets a disease while the other doesn’t.

3. The landing of NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars

Curiosity has a pretty big mission: to look for evidence of whether life could have existed on the Red Planet. But it's landing was itself a big deal, involving some complex maneuvering whose success caused an eruption of cheers at NASA and around the world. Here are some photos of what Curiosity saw on Mars in its first few weeks, and the first color, panoramic photos.

2. The finding of the Higgs boson

It was one of the biggest physics breakthroughs in the last century: the detection of the elusive "God particle," the Higgs boson. As SciAm said:

The Higgs represents the final chapter in the story of 21st-century particle physics. It completes the Standard Model, the theoretical description of all the known particles and forces (and by some metrics the most successful theory in the history of science)

1. Hurricane Sandy's destruction of the U.S.'s East Coast

"Meteorologists dubbed Sandy a “frankenstorm” for its meteorologic mash-up of a hurricane moving up from the south, a winter storm moving in from the west and a ridge of high pressure forcing the systems to merge and move inland," says Scientific American. The superstorm caused $250 billion worth of damage and claimed about 250 lives.

Related on SmartPlanet:

via: Scientific American

photo: James Cameron, post-dive. (Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)

— By on December 27, 2012, 12:32 PM PST

Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure