The coming year is going to be a big one in all kinds of areas, from space to supercomputing, research done both above and below the ocean, examinations into our distant past and into our future. And salmon. Expect to hear lots about salmon.
Click to launch our guide to the upcoming year in science. 2012: THE YEAR IN SCIENCE
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A New Human Emerges
Archaeologists will get a clearer picture of human evolution this fall when they begin analyzing the complete skeleton of Little Foot, a small hominid found deep inside a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa (entrance pictured), that may be more than three million years old.
Ocean Secrets Revealed
Autonomous underwater vehicles, also known as gliders, will deliver data on water density and plankton counts near Oregon and New England this fall—the first concrete results from the ambitious Ocean Observatories Initiative, a wide-reaching network of undersea sensors and other monitoring devices.
By May, IBM will finish building a computer that churns through 20 petaflops, or 20 quadrillion calculations a second, double the current record. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (aerial view pictured) will use the new machine, called Sequoia, to perform simulations of nuclear explosions and weather systems.
Tesla Offers a Luxury Sedan
Tesla, better known for its high-end Roadster, will begin delivery of its $77,400 (before tax credits) Model S sedan [see “Luxe Electric,” page 14], which will use lithium-ion cells similar to its sibling and travel up to 300 miles per charge.
Turing Turns 100
Alan Turing, a founding father of artificial intelligence, was born on June 23, 1912. Computer scientists around the world are celebrating his centenary with conferences, museum exhibits and competitions, called Turing Tests, to find a computer program that can convince a human that it is human too.
Largest Offshore Wind Farm
The first 175 turbines of the London Array wind farm, which sits 12 miles off the English coast, will generate up to 630 megawatts of power by year’s end—more than twice the current record and enough to power 470,000 homes.
This summer, California will kick off the country’s largest carbon-swap agreement by selling the right to emit greenhouse gases. Polluters can redeem these allowances in 2013, when a limit on emissions kicks in. Estimated price: $15 per metric ton. A typical power plant’s discharge: 150,000 tons.
Curiosity Explores Mars
On August 6, the largest rover yet—the size of a car rather than a golf cart—will land on the Red Planet. Curiosity is carrying new equipment that will drill into rocks, analyze their chemistry, and look for compounds that support life.
Fracking Under Scrutiny
The Environmental Protection Agency will release the first results of a study designed to answer a controversial question: Does hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas pollute drinking water? The researchers will study data from sites in four states and monitor drill locations before, during and after fracking.
Fusion Delivers Extra Energy
Researchers at the National Ignition Facility in California will attempt to produce a net energy gain from a nuclear fusion reaction by using 192 lasers to crush a hydrogen-filled target. Past fusion experiments have always consumed more energy than they created.
Salmon Stage a Comeback
State and federal agencies will return salmon to California’s newly flowing San Joaquin River, parts of which had been dry for 50 years. Researchers will study up to 2,000 tagged fish to see if a full salmon run can thrive.