Ups + Downs of 2003

For oenophiles and chocoholics, it was a very good year. For clean air: not so much.

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The weak-willed

Are we dreaming? Pinch us: Daily 3.5-ounce doses of dark chocolate lower blood pressure, according to researchers at the University of Cologne, and a team led by molecular biologist David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School reported that an ingredient in red wine extends life span up to 70 percent — the life span of yeast, that is (future research will test the effect in mice). The beneficial ingredients: natural plant chemicals called polyphenols.

Faithful spouses

A biologist studying Ghanian wildlife says monogamy may be a risk factor for extinction. Mammals that mate for life or live in small harems were hit harder by overhunting and habitat loss than were those that play the field. The reason? Loyal females may have trouble hooking up again if their partner dies.

Felix Baumgartner

With carbon-fiber wings and a parachute strapped to his back, the 34-year-old Austrian became the first person to leap the English Channel. On July 31 he soared 22 miles from Dover to Cap Blanc-Nez.

Michel Fournier

In August the Frenchman, 59, failed for the third time in his 11-year quest to become the first person to jump 25 miles from space to Earth. The helium balloon that was to carry him aloft burst while being inflated.

Mars enthusiasts

Mars came within spitting distance of Earth — just 34.7 million miles away — giving skygazers the best view of the Red Planet in 60,000 years. Earthlings will get an even closer look when three craft — two launched by NASA, one by the European Space Agency — land on Mars, beginning in late December 2003.

The U.S. environment

Bush administration policies reversed existing safeguards: Tracts of old-growth forest were opened to logging; key elements of the Endangered Species Act were abandoned; and the EPA set back the Clean Air Act by letting 17,000 of the nation’s dirtiest power plants and factories expand without adding modern pollution controls.

THE TOP SCIENCE STORIES OF 2003

  • Strike 2, NASA. What Now?
  • Discovered! Fame Descended on These Newcomers in 2003
  • SARS: A Rehearsal?
  • Dark Energy: Cosmic Mojo
  • Winners + Losers: Ups + Downs of 2003
  • Iraq, Science and the Elusive WMD
  • They Die by the Score
  • Europe Roasts. Is It Global Warming?
  • Obituaries
  • Cloning, Continued
  • Murder of the Bounty: The Seas Empty
  • The New Space Race