Ruhrfisch, Wikimedia Commons
This tower drills horizontally into the Marcellus Shale Formation for natural gas, from Pennsylvania Route 118 in eastern Moreland Township, Lycoming County, Penn.
Dec. 30, 2012 --
With the last days of 2012 upon us, we're taking a look back at some strangest stories that stood out during the past year. Although Dec. 21, 2012 was a perfectly ordinary day in most quarters, the 2012 doomsday phenomenon was among the most bizarre stories of the year. The doomsday date was based on controversial interpretation of the Mayan calendar, even though living Mayans themselves publicly denied the supposed impending apocalypse. We all know how it turned out: The world didn't end, and once again doomsayers will have to go back to the drawing board.
SEE ALSO: No Doomsday! The Quick Reference Guide
Rudy Eugene, left, the perpetrator of the att
Even though the apocalypse didn't occur in 2012, some stories in the news seemed to suggest that we were seeing signs of the end of days. This year, there were several high-profile cannibal attacks. The most infamous occurred in Miami, Fla., on May 26 when 31-year-old Rudy Eugene went on a naked rampage, attacking a homeless man and chewing off his face before being shot dead by police. The grisly episode led to speculation about drug abuse, particularly emerging designer drugs called bath salts (though it was later found that Eugene only had marijuana in his system). It also drew parallels to zombie fiction, given the attacker's methods and mental state. Shown here: Rudy Eugene, left, the perpetrator of the attack. Ronald Poppo, right, the victim.
SEE ALSO: Miami Cannibal Attacker: What Are Bath Salts
Nevada Division of Environmental Protection
If the world is on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse, don't waste your time seeking shelter in a brewery with the hopes that you can ride out the post-apocalyptic nightmare with an endless supply of beer. Although a 1955 nuclear test suggest beer could survive a detonation, modern scientists have questioned that reasoning. Copper and other contaminants picked up during the brewing process are much more susceptible to holding radiation than pure water.
SEE ALSO: Buzzkill: Beer Goes Bad After Nuclear Bombs
It's hard to take issue with young people trying to make a difference. But in the case of a teen trio dubbed by ABC News' Good Morning America as a "real-life Charlie's Angels," we'll make an exception. All three girls are black belts in karate and expert horseback riders. (So far, so good.) They're also, however, self-proclaimed exorcists. According to a piece on ABC News' website, the girls' father, who trained them to be exorcists, believes "50 percent of the population is probably affected by demons in some way and his girls are the front line of defense. Armed with crosses, Bibles and holy water, the girls summon the demon within the subject, and then the demon apparently takes over the person's body."
SEE ALSO: Teen Trio 'Charlie's Angels' Are Exorcists
France is famous for its wine. Its people are also well known for maintaining a culinary tradition that turns food into an art form. Bringing these two passions together, this year marks the occasion when the French have started to feed their wine to their food. A French winemaker is experimenting with feeding wine to cattle in an attempt to create better beef. The cows get between two and three bottles of wine a day.
SEE ALSO: Why Is France Feeding Wine to Its Cows?
Sometimes, a relationship can go on for a long time before both partners realize they aren't meant for each other. In the case of a tortoise couple residing in Reptilien Zoo Happ in Austria, the two apparently determined that the thrill was gone after a 115-year partnership. The tortoises had what is considered the oldest relationship ever recorded between two animals. After the breakup, zoo officials had to keep the animals in separate pens. They tended to avoid each other, but confrontations would lead one to attack the other.
SEE ALSO: Tortoise Couple 'Divorces' After 115 Years
2012 saw some of the biggest lottery prizes in history. But this year, a British boy hit the jackpot in a way that most wouldn't necessarily consider lucky at first sight. The boy discovered a chunk of whale vomit weighing just over a pound and worth upwards of $60,000. The substance, called ambergris, is prized by the perfume industry.
Two animals this year showed how entirely different species from us can seem a little more human. An Asian elephant male named Koshik is able to imitate words spoken in Korean. As Discovery News' Jennifer Viegas explains, "the elephant's vocabulary at present consists of five words: annyong (hello), anja (sit down), aniya (no), nuo (lie down), and choah (good)." A white whale named NOC, currently under the care of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, was able to imitate human voices, although individual words are harder to distinguish in this animal's case.
Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library/Corbis
Earth has gone through periods of warming and cooling throughout its history. During the time of the dinosaurs, the planet might have gotten a few degrees warmer for a reason you might not expect: dinosaur flatulence. During the Mesozoic period, large, plant-eating dinosaurs known as sauropods produced about about 520 million tons of methane per year. These dinos were gassy due to their fiber-rich diet. To put it in context, that figure is "on par with the total amount of methane currently produced by both natural and man-made sources," according to LiveScience's Jennifer Walsh.
SEE ALSO: Dinosaur Farts May Have Warmed Ancient Earth
One of the biggest mainstream stories of the year was the 2012 election. While the media focused on candidates in the presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races (and rightly so), there were a few surprising election results that received less attention. This year saw the election of two candidates who won the races they competed in, but were unable to assume office for one simple reason: They were both dead by Election Day. As Discovery News' Tracy Staedter reported at the time: "Florida Democrat Earl K. Wood and Alabama Republican Charles Beasley won their respective elections but unfortunately, they won't be showing up for work. Wood, aged 96, died on October 15 and Beasley, age 77, died on October 12."
One of the most remarkable stories of the year was the stranger-than-fiction raid on the compound of Megaupload mega-millionaire Kim Dotcom in New Zealand. The international raid seemed to come straight out of an action movie with Dotcom playing the role of a kind of real-life Bond villain who fashioned himself a lifestyle of some kind of cyber gangster. Although the raid was heralded by American investigators as the kind of action they intend to take on all major copyright violators, the case against Dotcom has deteriorated as the U.S. position in the case has disintegrated over time. Dotcom has since become a kind of online cause celebre. While waiting the outcome of his trial, Dotcom has since released a music album and promised a new site called Megabox based on Megaupload's success.
Looking at this microscopic algae-eater magnified to a visible level might not quite be like looking in the mirror. But believe it or not, in 2012, scientists discovered that this organism, which lives in a lake in Norway, may be one of the world's oldest organisms and human's remotest relative.
SEE ALSO: Oldest Human Ancestor Found in Lake Sludge
With the world consuming an ever-increasing amount of energy to power the global economy, new energy resources are more vital than ever. But how far is too far when it comes to tapping into natural energy reserves? Apparently, even cemeteries aren't off limits. Energy companies have found a wealth of natural gas reserves beneath grave sites which can be exploited by using the controversial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technique. Despite the potentially controversial practice, these organizations have begun to buy up cemetery land to tap into these reserves.
Deo Perfume Candy
Perfume and candy make great gifts for that special someone you don't actually know anything about. So wouldn't the two combined into a single product be that much better? Deo Perfume Candy are an edible treat that make your sweat smell as sweet as it tastes. Although the candy hasn't hit store shelves in the United States yet, the sweets are available online for around $10 per bag.
SEE ALSO: Edible Deodorant: The Perfume Candy
Making mechanical creations more human is the ambitions of many robotics engineers. Some work on artificial intelligence. Others focus on mimicking muscle motions. But a team of Japanese scientists has, in a development that Discovery News' Nic Halverson describes as asstonishing
, perfected the robotic butt, which twitches, tenses up and responds to touch just like a real butt. What an age we live in.
Countless news stories have dedicated millions of words to the increasing trend toward sedentary lifestyles among Americans. This year, we discovered that we're not the only ones who are part of this alarming trend. Couch potato fish are on the rise, according to Discovery News' Christy Reed. Some species of fish are getting soft and lazy as a result of humans overfishing.
NASA is responsible for the greatest technological feats ever accomplished by humankind. The space agency has a reputation for engineering excellence and employing the most cutting-edge tech in their missions. That's why it was surprising this year when spacewalking astronauts had to improvise and resort to a toothbrush to fix a key power system aboard the International Space Station. The incident seemed almost to come straight out of fiction. It's not quite an "inanimate carbon rod," but every Simpsons fan has seen this scene play out before. (Whether the toothbrush will get a ticker-tape parade remains to be seen.)
SEE ALSO: Astronauts Use Toothbrush for Space Station Fix
Before 2012, the only way for humans to really deal with fears was to face them head on. Technology, thankfully, has made those character-building exercises a thing of the past. Researchers from Uppsala University in Switzerland have devised a method to interrupt the formation of fearful memories during the critical stage they're being anchored in our brain by proteins. The research currently could only be applied to newer memories, but future efforts might be able to tackle long-standing fears.
SEE ALSO: Tech Erases Your Fears
The Ohio State University Radio Observatory a
Anyone familiar with e-mail etiquette knows that it's rude to let a personal message go unanswered. Thirty-five years might be a long time to write back, but scientists who believe a mysterious radio transmission detected in 1977 might be an alien broadcast are preparing a response. Known as the "Wow!" signal based on the message printed by the astronomer who first detected it, the transmission has never been decoded.
SEE ALSO: Possible Alien Message to Get Reply from Humanity
No slideshow of the strangest stories of 2012 would be complete without a public service message: Stay away from the chimp named "Santino" at the Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. The chimp has been known to plan attacks on human visitors. Santino initially acts calm and cool, then suddenly hurls hidden rocks at humans in a surprise attack.
PHOTOS: How Santino, the Chimp, Attacks Visitors
Methane is spewing from natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania. Only seven wells, out of dozens observed by airborne sensors and hundreds in the region, spit out high levels of the potent greenhouse gas. However, those seven wells produced four to 20 percent of methane emissions in the areas around the wells.
Those seven wells released the methane during drilling, a stage in the natural gas extraction process previously not thought to result in serious greenhouse gas pollution. Horizontal drilling precedes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and allows fracking operation to reach larger areas of gas-rich shale rock.
"These findings present a possible weakness in the current methods to inventory methane emissions..." said study co-author Paul Shepson, professor of analytical and atmospheric chemistry at Purdue University, in a press release.
"This small fraction of the total number of wells was contributing a much larger portion of the total emissions in the area, and the emissions for this stage were not represented in the current inventories."
Methane pollution has serious climate consequences. Methane, a major ingredient in natural gas, traps 28 to 34 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a century-long timeline.
The actual methane emissions during drilling from the seven wells were 100 to 1,000 times higher than industry estimates. Airplanes measured the plumes of methane above the wells, which gave Sherson's team a top-down view of pollution sources.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the results.
Where these seven wells malfunctioning or leaking? Or do all wells spew methane during drilling? Sherson couldn't comment on that, he told Discovery News.
“During our study, we quantified emissions from several high-emitting wells,” Sherson said. “After the fact, we determined from our analysis that these were all in the drilling phase.”
Keeping an eye in the sky with airborne sensors could bolster weaknesses in current methods of monitoring methane release.
“The top-down approach clearly represents an important complementary method that could be added to better define the impacts of shale gas development,” Sherson said in the press release.