The Top 10 ScienceNOWs of 2012

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!

Turtle Sex—Preserved for the Ages

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.

The Physics of Spilled Coffee

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.

Old Termites Blow Themselves Up to Protect the Nest

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.

Clues to Species Decline Buried in Pile of Bird Excrement

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.

Landscape of Dead Bodies May Have Inspired First Mummies

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.

Meet 'Amasia,' the Next Supercontinent

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.  

It’s Official: Physics Is Hard

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.

A Million-Year Hard Disk

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.

Mysterious Fairy Circles Are 'Alive'

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.


Silly Putty for Potholes

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.