Tuesday, 31 December 2013


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10 Obscure And Completely Delusional Nazi Schemes
By Marc V.,
Listverse, 31 December 2013.

The Nazis were undoubtedly one of the most fanatical groups of people to have ever lived. So fanatical, in fact, that they murdered millions of people who couldn’t conform to their ideals. That fanaticism also spurred them to hatch plans so outrageous that we can only describe them as downright insane. This list reflects the grandiose and delusional way of thinking with which the Nazis used to pursue total domination, whether it be against their enemies or on their own people.

10. They Tried To Breed A Race Of Super-Cattle

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During the 1920s and 1930s, the Nazis attempted to resurrect a long-extinct race of cattle called aurochs. Described in ancient times by Julius Caesar as just slightly smaller than an elephant and with a nasty temperament, aurochs roamed the European continent and were prized by hunters and warriors who killed them as a test of courage. Due to their near-legendary status, the aurochs fitted perfectly with the Nazi belief of a glorious Aryan civilization. Two zoologist brothers, Lutz and Heinz Heck, won active support from the Nazis to try to bring back the aurochs.

They employed several selective-breeding programs of different cattle until they could achieve a genetically perfect auroch. They ended up with a smaller and less muscular version of the auroch, which later came to be known as “Heck cattle.” Most of these cattle died during the Second World War - those that did survive were transported and kept in a Belgian preserve. Most recently, more than a dozen Heck cattle were taken from the preserve in 2009 and shipped to a farm in Devon, UK...not exactly the Nazi invasion of Britain Hitler wanted.

9. They Planned To Brainwash Germans With Nationwide Cable TV

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In a move that eerily resembles George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel 1984, the Nazis attempted their own brand of national mind control using television. More than anything, Adolf Hitler and Nazi propagandists saw how effective televised broadcasts were in controlling the masses. To that end they enlisted the help of Walter Bruch - an engineer who had earlier developed CCTVs to help the military safely monitor experimental rocket launches.

Bruch proposed setting up a broadband cable from Berlin to Nuremberg. Television screens would be installed across the country in various public spots and included a variety of Nazi propaganda that focused mainly on pro-Aryan programs. Ideas for the broadcasts included a reality show called Family Chronicles: An Evening With Hans and Gelli, which showed the ideal lifestyle of an Aryan family. Another, bloodier idea involved showing the films of traitors executed by the Nazis. Fortunately, Germany’s subsequent defeat prevented the Nazis from ever realizing their plan.

8. They Tried To Steal Christmas

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Photo credit: Bundesarchiv

The Nazis took great pains to make everything conform to their misguided ideology, and Christmas was no exception. At first they tried to ban the celebration of Christmas, but failed to do so - it was simply too popular for the German people. Having failed to abolish it, the Nazis instead tried to corrupt Christmas in its entirety. They tried to convince the public that Christmas was a winter solstice festival.

Familiar figures such as Santa Claus became Odin, while Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were transformed into Aryan-like figures. Even the Christmas tree was not spared, as Nazi swastikas and runes replaced the traditional decorations. Christian hymns were omitted in favour of songs that feted the Aryan race. This delusional attempt to subvert Christmas reached its peak when the Nazis attempted to glorify Hitler as the Messiah. As the war turned against them, the Nazis turned Christmas into a public observance for their dead, which the German public again largely ignored (they were too busy trying to not get killed by then).

7. They Wanted To Send The Jews To Madagascar

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After their quick victory over France in 1940, the Nazis wanted to turn the French colony of Madagascar into a sort of Jewish settlement. They wanted to ship all the European Jews whom they felt stole the “lebensraum,” or the living space, of the German people. While exile sounded like a better option than wholesale slaughter, the Nazis would have total control over the island and completely cut off the Jews from the rest of the world. They also expected that the tropical diseases and internal squabbles would eventually lead to the Jews killing themselves - problem solved.

However, the plan required the Germans to decisively defeat and acquire the British Royal Navy’s ships to transport the Jews. When that didn’t materialize, they considered exiling the Jews to either Siberia or the Arctic, especially after they started invading the Soviet Union. As the war dragged on longer than expected, the Nazi leadership couldn’t wait any longer to get rid of the Jews and so instead opted to just exterminate them all.

6. They Had A Program For The Ideal Aryan Woman

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During their rule, the Nazis left no stone unturned when it came to ensuring that their lifestyle and heredity remained “racially pure.” In cooperation with the SS, Gertrud Scholtz-Klink - the top-ranked woman in the Third Reich - organized bride schools that taught German women how to be the perfect Aryan wife and mother to her family. The schools were racially exclusive - non-German women were barred from attending. The program ran for a month and two weeks, and typically included domestic classes such as cooking and cleaning the house.

At the end, those who passed were given a certificate signifying that they were fit to become wives and mothers. Heinrich Himmler - head of the SS and ardent supporter of the program - stated that it was a national obligation for a German woman to produce racially perfect offspring. This idea became less prevalent in the later stages of the war when more German women were enlisted for industrial work to help supplement the growing shortage of able-bodied men.

5. Their Angora Project Treated Rabbits Better Than Humans

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However horrible the Nazis treated their fellow human beings was exactly inversely proportional to the way they treated animals. This baffling paradox was especially evident in several concentration camps where the Nazis forced the prisoners to take care of giant Angora rabbits. Known as the Angora Project, the SS, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, employed thousands of prisoners to grow these rabbits for their fur, which they used to line military clothing. A number of officers also kept them as pets.

What made this especially cruel was the fact that the Nazis treated the rabbits infinitely better than the prisoners. While millions of prisoners starved or died inside the camps, the rabbits enjoyed their own spacious pens, complete with nutritious meals every day. One camp commandant stated in his confession “the best-fed creatures of Mauthausen [concentration camp] were the Angora rabbits that the SS used for pets.”

4. They Fed Their Soldiers Candy-Coated Drugs

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One of the lesser-known reasons why Germany’s “blitzkrieg,” or lightning war, was so successful early on in the war was due in large part to the Nazis turning their own soldiers into drug addicts. After having studied the effects of Pervitin (German meth) on university students, the Nazi leadership decided to distribute the drug to all branches of the armed forces. The drug enabled the soldier to perform for longer periods without rest and take more risks; later on the drug became coated with either candy or chocolate to make them more edible. However, as one might guess, soldiers who became addicted to Pervitin became heavy drinkers and took opiates to counter the effects of meth.

By 1944, the Nazis experimented with an even more powerful drug to help them counter the Allied invasion. They mixed Pervitin, cocaine, and morphine to create D-IX which they first tested out on prisoners. They were convinced of the drug’s effectiveness after the prisoners displayed superhuman amounts of strength and endurance and would have started mass production were it not for the Allies’ rapid advance into Germany. On the other side of the world, the Japanese also gave out its own version of meth called Hiropon to their soldiers. The drug contributed heavily to the Japanese attitude of never surrendering, and especially in the willingness of kamikaze pilots to follow through with their suicide missions.

3. They Actually Employed Occultists

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While it is general knowledge that some high-ranking Nazis engaged in the occult, more obscure is the fact that they actually believed enough in the power of occultists to have employed them for military purposes, with three of the most well-known examples being Wilhelm Wulff, Ludwig Straniiak, and Wilhelm Gutberlet. Wulff - an astrologer - was tasked by the Nazis to find Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (who was captured and kept in captivity), which he did correctly using his “psychic gifts.” Straniak - an architect by profession - used his “dowsing” abilities to precisely guess the location of the German battleship, the Prince Eugen, which was on a secret mission near Norwegian waters.

Perhaps the most dangerous of the three was Gutberlet, a physician. As one of Hitler’s earliest and closest followers, he allegedly possessed the power to sense the presence of Jews even if they were in a large crowd. Hitler sought him out for his power and even turned him into something of a race consultant.

2. They Almost Completed the World’s Largest Hotel Resort

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Not all Nazi propaganda focused on fear and deception - they figured that they could control the masses better if they provided them with a wide range of benefits. Under its “Strength Through Joy” program, the Nazi government attempted to build one of the largest hotel resorts in the world. Situated on an island off the coast of Germany’s Baltic Sea, Hotel Prora had a length of 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) and was designed to accommodate 20,000 people. The hotel came complete with luxurious amenities such as restaurants, cinemas, and even a railway station. The Nazis especially hoped that the hotel would ease the tensions between the German working class and their employers and enable them to work better together.

Unfortunately, the hotel was never finished, as workers involved in the construction were transferred to weapons-manufacturing plants after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Later on the Soviets discovered the hotel and tried to destroy it, but with little success. In 2011, the hotel was re-opened as a youth hostel and has since attracted the attention of tourists and history buffs due to its ignominious connection to the Nazis.

1. They Had Plans For A Fourth Reich

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After Germany’s defeat in the battle for Stalingrad in 1943, it became clear to some top-ranked Nazi economists and industrialists that the war would be lost. It was about that time that they began to make contingency plans for a post-war Fourth Reich. In a document titled the Red House Report, key industrialists met in Strasbourg and agreed that this new regime would focus on financial rather than military operations, and would fund the underground Nazi Party until such time that they could again resurface and take over the country.

The industrialists - with the aid of the Nazi government - managed to smuggle huge amounts of Germany’s assets into friendly or neutral countries such as South America. After the war, most of the Nazi leadership was sentenced to death or duly punished while the industrialists got away with a mere slap in the wrist. Nowadays, conspiracy theorists have argued that the Fourth Reich is alive and well in the form of the Germany-led European Union. Who knows, maybe they’re right.

Top image: The Angora Project - rabbit hutches at Dachau concentration camp, ca. 1943. Photo source: Wisconsin Historical Society.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]


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10 Bizarre Ant Behaviours
By Richard Sheild,
Listverse, 31 December 2013.

Most of us don’t pay any attention to ants, and if we do, it’s probably because they’re either helping themselves to our food or infesting our warm, dry houses. But these wee critters do things that are amazingly human-like, downright disturbing, and just plain weird. Read on to see a side to the humble ant you’ve never seen before.

10. Weaving

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Weaver ants are a widespread group. They’re found across Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia, and they make their homes in the canopies of rainforests. They make their nests by folding together bundles of leaves and sewing them together using silk. This silk comes from the colony’s larvae; the workers grasp the larvae in their jaws and gently squeeze them, kind of like a bottle of glue. This tactic can produce some massive nests - the largest ever found have been more than half a meter (1.5 ft) across, made entirely from bundles of leaves sewn together. These nests can be assembled in less than 24 hours, and new ones are built constantly to replace ones damaged by storms or predation.

9. Living Honey Pots

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Photo credit: Greg Hume

As far as ants go, honeypot ants have it pretty sweet. These individuals don’t have to do any work for the colony; they just lounge about underground, gorging on the tastiest morsels of food tracked down by other workers. As a result, their abdomens swell up to the size of grapes, and are filled with a sugary liquid. The downside to this easy life? During tough times (which aren’t exactly rare in the deserts these ants live in), hungry workers that come to these honeypot ants must be fed regurgitated sugar-liquid. On top of that, raiding colonies often make a beeline for these swollen, immobile sources of sugar, as do many other predators - including desert-dwelling humans.

8. Herding

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Photo credit: viamoi

Ants are well-known herders; their mutualistic relationship with aphids is taught in pretty much any biology class. Essentially, ants will seek out aphids and drink the honeydew the aphids secrete from their bodies, providing the ants with a high-energy, easily accessible snack. The ants repay the aphids by protecting them from predators, and will fight to the death to keep them alive.

However, new research suggests that this relationship might be somewhat one-sided; ants will often bite the wings off the aphids to stop them from flying away, and can secrete chemicals from their feet that stunt the regrowth of the aphids’ wings while simultaneously making them more passive. The ants can then easily herd them wherever they need to, including shelters specially built by ants for their “livestock.” This behaviour doesn’t only happen between ants and aphids; ants do the same to some caterpillars as well.

7. Group Sacrifice

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A lot of ant species have no trouble sacrificing their own soldiers for the good of the colony. Since the whole colony functions as a single organism, losing a few individuals is no more detrimental than, say, getting a haircut. An ant species found in Brazil, however, takes this to an extreme - every night, the ants kick sand into the entrances of their nest to seal it off. When the hole is almost sealed, a squad of about eight ants stays outside and continues the job, spending the next hour painstakingly plugging the hole with sand. And it’s a lethal sacrifice - most of the time, the ants outside are dead by morning. But in return, their sacrifice guarantees the safety of the rest of the nest.

6. Raft Building

Fire ants live in the South American jungle and make their nests underground, a tried and true strategy for ensuring a secure nest. However, they often live in areas that flood when heavy rains cause rivers to burst out of their banks. So in order to stop their colonies from being wiped out, fire ants will make life rafts. These ants have a hydrophobic (water-repelling) outer casing, so when they clip themselves together they create a waterproof raft on which the rest of the colony can float safely through the flooded jungle. These ants can remain like this for weeks, and can carry hundreds of thousands of “refugees” on their backs. Such rafts have been created by these ants in laboratory experiments in as little as 100 seconds.

5. Living Doors

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There can’t be many things in life that suck as much as being born for the sole purpose of having your head used as a door. Yet, that is the hand that life deals to some turtle ants, also unflatteringly (but accurately) known as door-head ants. These ants live in the rainforests of the Americas, and usually belong to polymorphic species, meaning that certain castes within the colony exist for certain, specific purposes, and have unique bodies specially designed to fulfil this role. These ants typically make their homes in tunnels dug by beetles in trees, meaning that there will often be several entrances already in place. So in order to stop intruders from coming in, door-head ants will hide inside the tunnels with their flat heads facing outwards, making it virtually impossible for predators to get into the colony.

4. Suicide Bombing

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Kamikaze warfare isn’t unique to humans. In fact, several species of carpenter ant have evolved a way to make themselves self-destruct as a living chemical weapon that instantly kills their enemies. These ants have two glands traveling up the length of their bodies. When death comes knocking, they can contract their bodies, rupturing this gland and spraying the toxic chemical onto their foes. A worker ant will grasp the enemy ant in its jaws before deliberately rupturing its body. The result is an explosion of yellow goo that kills the enemy. This tactic has also been observed being used in hunting; one ant will sacrifice itself by self-destructing on the prey, leaving the rest of the workers free to carve up the now-dead prey without any risk to themselves.

3. Agriculture

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As well as being highly capable herders, some species of ants are highly capable farmers. Several different ant species cultivate fungi to feed their colonies. One of the coolest examples of this is the Cyphomyrmex genus. Rather than growing normal “mushroom” fungi, they cultivate yeast - the same type of stuff used to make bread. But Cyphomyrmex ants don’t bake it into biscuits; they eat it raw and alive. To grow the yeast, they lay down an open graveyard of dismembered insect parts and spread the spores on top. The yeast grows in thin, spotted sheets, which the ants harvest a bit at a time to feed their larvae.

And the graveyards are surprisingly colourful - for some unknown reason, the ants choose mostly brightly coloured beetle carcases, leading to a kaleidoscope of reds, blues, and greens, all maintained by an army of dedicated ant farmers.

2. Vampirism

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Vampire ants, also known as Dracula ants, were only discovered fairly recently in Madagascar, and are some of the most horrifying things nature has produced. They live in small colonies by ant standards (around 10,000 individuals), often hidden in rotting wood. They get their name from their gruesome feeding practice - workers and queens will bite holes in their colony’s own larvae, and feast on their hemolymph (the insect version of blood). This harvesting is done in a very controlled way; enough is taken to ensure the ants get their meal but the larvae are not killed. Entomologist Brian Fischer, who discovered these ants, has spoken of seeing all the larvae in a colony covered with clearly visible scars where they had been cut open and drained.

1. Owning Slaves

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Most readers will likely be surprised to discover that slavery is not unique to humankind. There are more than a few species of ant that do this, with some even having workers bred specifically to go out and capture slaves from other colonies. The general M.O. of slave-maker ants is to raid a nearby enemy colony and kidnap eggs and larvae, then raise these as their slaves. These slaves do everything, from gathering food to cleaning the queen to defending the colony; they even carry their masters to a new nest site when the colony moves. Interestingly, raiders from slave-maker colonies will often target the strongest enemy colonies for invasion, likely associating strong defense with strong, healthy slaves.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]


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5 Most Amazing Spaceflight Feats of 2013
By Elizabeth Howell,, 29 December, 2013.

The year 2013 marked an incredible one for spaceflight, with space agencies around the world making giant leaps in their own exploration of the solar system, while NASA welcomed the addition of a new commercial cargo ship to its list of supplies for the International Space Station.

Also this year, Virgin Galactic and other private spaceflight companies made strides in their work to make space tourist flights a reality, while one Canadian astronaut became a social media mega-star by showing what life is truly like in space.

Here's a look at five of the most amazing spaceflight feats of 2013:

1. China rover lands on the moon

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China's lunar rover Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") is seen by a camera on the country's Chang'e 3 lander after both
successfully landed on the moon together on Dec. 14, 2013. It is China's first lunar rover mission and the
first soft-landing on the moon in 37 years.

When China's Chang'3 spacecraft landed on the moon on Dec. 14, it marked the first soft lunar landing in 37 years and the country's first-ever successful touchdown on an extraterrestrial surface. Chang'e 3 also delivered the rover Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") to the lunar surface for a three-month exploration mission.

China is the third country to achieve a soft landing on the moon after Russian and the United States, Chang'e 3 beamed live views of its landing on the moon's Sinus Iridium (Bay of Rainbows), as well as the Chinese flag on Yutu - a symbol of how far China's space program has come in a short while. Chang'e 3 is China's third moon mission, following two orbiter flights, and is expected to spend a year studying the lunar surface. It is named after the legendary Chinese moon goddess Chang'e, with Yutu named after her mythical pet rabbit. [See photos from China's Chang'e 3 moon rover mission]

In another milestone for China, three astronauts aboard Shenzhou 10 docked with a small space station prototype Tiangong 1 in June, paving the way for the country to achieve its goal of making a larger space station in the future, analysts say. [Video]

2. Private rockets and spaceships blast off

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The first Cygnus commercial cargo spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences Corp. is seen here attached to
the International Space Station's Harmony node, after arriving at the station on Sept. 29, 2013.

Both dragons and swans visited the International Space Station in 2013, courtesy of two private companies that have multimillion-dollar agreements with NASA to send cargo to the orbiting complex.

The Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. made its first demonstration flight in September with its Cygnus spacecraft and Antares rocket, marking a major leap forward for commercial spaceflight. Orbital Sciences has a US$1.9 billion contract for eight cargo delivery mission to the space station for NASA using its Antares rockets and Cygnus spacecraft.

The Antares booster launched its first test flight from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, in April, setting the stage for the September Cygnus debut. Orbital is now slated to launch its first official cargo mission to the station on no earlier than Jan. 7 after a a delay due to an unrelated space station cooling system malfunction.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket launches the SES-8 commercial communications satellite into orbit from
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 3, 2013. The mission is SpaceX's first commercial
satellite launch into a geostationary transfer orbit. This photo was released Nov. 28, 2013.

Meanwhile, the Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - known better as SpaceX - launched its own unmanned Dragon space capsule on a cargo mission to the space station March this year. It was the second of 12 cargo missions to the station for NASA under a US$1.6 billion deal.

SpaceX also test flew a new version of its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, made its first west coast launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, and made advances in reusable rocket technology using its Grasshopper prototype. The company's manned version of the Dragon spacecraft also passed key design reviews in 2013. SpaceX's next launch of a Falcon 9 is set for Jan. 3 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying the Thaicom 6 communications satellite.

3. India and NASA double-team Mars

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An artist's illustration of India's Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft, called Mangalyaan, launching
in November 2013.

India's space program went interplanetary in 2013, when the country launched its first mission to Mars. The US$73.5 million Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) thundered into space successfully in November on its 300-day journey. Engineers initially struggled with an engine problem in the days following the launch, but MOM is now winging its way over on a mission to search for elusive methane on Mars, and to test long-distance communications and space technology.

Meanwhile, NASA's newest robotic mission to Mars looked like it would be pushed back by the government shutdown, but the agency received a special exemption to launch MAVEN on time in mid-November. The US$650 million MAVEN mission to Mars - the name is short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution - will be a communications relay for the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers on the surface while also probing the origins of Mars' atmosphere from orbit. [Video]

4. Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo makes powered test flights

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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo completed its second powered flight on Sept. 5, 2013 over California's
Mojave Desert. This image was taken by MARS Scientific as part of the Mobile Aerospace Reconnaissance
System optical tracking system.

Space tourism took a huge leap closer to reality in 2013, when Virgin Galactic made two powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo. Launching from California's Mojave Air and Space Port, the private company's spacecraft zoomed faster than the speed of sound, high above the desert.

On the second flight, pilots also tested the feathered re-entry system that will bring SpaceShipTwo safely back to Earth after a trip into suborbital space. British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who owns the company, plans to be on the first spaceflight with his family before commercial flights begin in 2014.

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A camera mounted on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo shows shows the view behind the spacecraft as
it took its second powered test flight over the Mojave Air and Space Port on Sept. 5, 2013.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is a reusable spacecraft designed to launch paying customers on short flights into space and return them to Earth. The spacecraft is launched from the air by its huge carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo and can reach suborbital space, but is not built to launch into orbit. It can carry eight people - two pilots and six passengers - with tickets on sale for US$250,000 a seat. [See photos of SpaceShipTwo's 2nd rocket-powered test flight]

SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo are an evolution of the SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnight vehicles built by aerospace veteran Burt Rutan and his Mojave, California-based firm Scaled Composites to win the US$10 million X Prize for reusable private spaceflight. [Video]

5. Astronaut Chris Hadfield brings space down to Earth

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Chris Hadfield’s David Bowie music video tribute, screen captured from video.

Chris Hadfield became a space star, as he found time to hobnob with Star Trek stars and create a David Bowie music video tribute in between running an extremely productive science mission on Expedition 35 aboard the International Space Station. The Canadian astronaut commanded the expedition while posting daily tweets, videos and pictures about life in space, charming people all over the world.

Shortly after landing in May, Hadfield announced his retirement from the astronaut corps - but instead of relaxing, he stepped on the accelerator. He released a book and is now on a multi-country tour that, again, is attracting crowds and celebrities (most recently, in London, physicist Stephen Hawking). Then, in fall 2014, Hadfield will start teaching at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. [Video]

[Source: Edited. Some links and images added.]


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Pictures: Ten Biggest Energy Stories of 2013
National Geographic News, 30 December 2013.

The U.S. fracked its way to the top, Asia's smog woes mounted, Arctic exploration heated up. See what else defined the year in energy.

1. U.S. Fracks Its Way to Top in Oil, Gas

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Thanks to the fracking revolution, in 2013 the United States surged past both Saudi Arabia and Russia to regain its spot as the world's top energy producer. Above, water pools near an oil pump outside of Williston, North Dakota. (See related story, "U.S. Edges Saudi Arabia, Russia in Oil and Gas.")

Analysts believe U.S. production topped 12.1 million barrels per day, surpassing the Saudis by some 300,000 barrels per day. In western North Dakota's Bakken shale, and in Texas' Eagle Ford and Permian basins, drillers applying the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have been able to reverse what once was thought to be an inexorable decline in U.S. oil production. (See related, "The New Oil Landscape," and "North Dakota's Salty Fracked Wells Drink More Water to Keep Oil Flowing.")

Just in time for the 40th anniversary of the Arab oil embargo, which awakened the global drive for energy security, the United States finally might approach its goal of independence from foreign oil. (Take related Quiz: What You Don't Know About Oil Crisis History.) U.S. reliance on oil imports, which peaked at 60 percent of supply in 2005, is expected to fall to 25 percent by 2016. (See related, "IEA World Outlook: Six Key Trends Shaping the Energy Future.")

- Marianne Lavelle

2. Environmental Impact of Fracking Feeds Public Backlash

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The environmental impact of modern oil and gas drilling techniques is sparking battles across the United States as scientists document effects on health, air and water quality, and increased seismicity. Above, a homeowner in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania, holds up a glass of tap water containing high levels of methane.

In November, researchers found that U.S. methane emissions from oil and gas production and agriculture might exceed previous government estimates by 50 percent. (See related blog post: "Natural Gas Reality Check.") Studies also provided additional evidence that injecting wastewater into the ground for storage, and injecting carbon dioxide into wells to increase production, can trigger earthquakes. (See related stories: "Scientists Say Oil Industry Likely Caused Largest Oklahoma Earthquake" and "Earthquake Study Points to Possible Carbon Injection Risks.")

The effects of modern oil and gas extraction methods are felt far from oil and gas fields, from the heavy truck traffic in surrounding areas to the fracking sand boom in Wisconsin, where some locals worry that mining will scar the bluffs and ridges and harm air quality. (See related story: "Sand Rush: Fracking Boom Spurs Rush on Wisconsin Silica.") Environmental concerns have led more than 100 municipalities to impose fracking bans or temporary moratoriums, yet legal challenges continue over whether local governments have the authority to regulate drilling in their communities. (See related stories: "Battles Escalate Over Community Efforts to Ban Fracking" and "Health Questions Key to New York Fracking Decision, But Answers Scarce.")

- Joe Eaton

3. Asia's Boom Chokes Cities

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A traffic policeman signals to drivers in Harbin, China, where smog grew so thick in October that roads had to be closed. To meet the energy demands of its booming economy, China is burning fossil fuels at a prodigious rate. While the country has an aggressive plan for increasing the use of renewable power sources such as wind and solar, it is still the world's biggest producer and consumer of coal, and its appetite for oil is growing. (See related story: "IEA World Outlook: Six Key Trends Shaping the Energy Future.")

These trends not only have global implications for climate change because of the emitted greenhouse gases, they also have serious regional health and environmental impacts. China consistently has some of the worst air pollution in the world. (See related story: "Three Ways U.S.-China Conflict Is Helping on Climate Change.") Northern cities such as Beijing and Harbin are routinely choked with smog that is sometimes so bad that it shuts down roads, schools, and airports. (See related story: "Harbin Smog Crisis Highlights China's Coal Problem.")

Residents wear air filtration masks to protect themselves, but poor air quality continues to be a deadly problem: A recent study showed that air pollution has shortened life expectancy in northern China by 5.5 years. (See related story: "Coal-Burning Shortens Lives in China, New Study Shows.") Experts say the health benefits associated with curbing climate change would more than pay for the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that China in particular would benefit. (See related story: "Climate Change Action Could Save 500,000 Lives Annually, Study Says.")

- Ker Than

You can learn more about emissions worldwide with this interactive map: Four Ways to Look at Global Carbon Footprints.)

4. Climate Change: New Milestones, Stronger Words

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At the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Loa, above, scientists confirmed an unsettling climate milestone in May: Levels of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere reached levels not seen in perhaps 3 million years, when seas were at least 30 feet higher. (See related, "Climate Milestone: Earth's CO2 Level Passes 400 ppm.")

The greenhouse gas reading was just one of many indicators this year that the world's climate is changing markedly. Warning that time was running out on climate change, the International Energy Agency (IEA) urged four immediate policy actions. (See related story: "What's Behind the New Warning on Global Carbon Emissions?") Corinne Le Quere, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at East Anglia University, said that a rise in global temperature even within the IEA's target limit of 2°C would lead to "more heat waves, extreme rainfall events and rising sea levels." In the Arctic, one effect of warming was clear: A shrinking ice cap expanded the availability of northern passages, making 2013 a notable year for shipping in the region. (See related, "Arctic Shipping Soars, Led by Russia and Lured by Energy.")

The impact of extreme weather events became a focus at U.N. climate negotiations this year, which took place just as the Philippines was reeling from Super Typhoon Haiyan, perhaps the largest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall. "What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness," said the country's envoy at the talks, Naderev "Yeb" Saño. "We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw." (See related, "Q&A With Philippines Climate Envoy Who's Fasting After Super Typhoon Haiyan.")

In the United States, the world's number two emitter of greenhouse gases, President Obama elevated climate change on the domestic agenda by revealing a strategy that included new regulations on carbon emissions at power plants, an unprecedented and controversial effort. (See related, "Obama Unveils Climate Change Strategy: End of Line for U.S. Coal Power?" and "Five Reasons for Obama to Sell Climate Change as a Health Issue.")

- David LaGesse

5. Tesla Wows in Banner EV Year, But Challenges Persist

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It wasn't so long ago that Tesla Motors had the only highway-capable electric car selling on the U.S. market. Today, we're at the close of a banner year for electric vehicles, with more than a dozen plug-ins rolled out in the 2013 model year and a record number of sales.

Tesla, in particular, racked up a string of successes. The company's first made-from-scratch offering, the premium Model S sedan, received a rare near-perfect score from Consumer Reports, and Motor Trend named it Car of the Year - a first for an electric car. On the business side, Tesla reported its first-ever quarterly profit and saw its market value shoot high enough to surpass that of established automaker Fiat. (See related: "Tesla Motors' Success Gives Electric Car Market a Charge.") The upstart automaker even managed to repay its US$465 million government loan ahead of schedule.

Yet challenges persist for electric cars if they are to push aside the old internal combustion engine as the default choice for motorists. A New York Times account of a more than 200-mile journey in a top-end, six-figure Model S early this year provided a reminder of the limitations of electric cars (or at least the special needs of batteries) when used on a long road trip at highway speeds in bitter cold. (See related: "In Tesla Motors-NYT Spat, Cold Realities About Electric Cars.") The involvement of three Model S cars in fires, including two incidents in the United States, and a subsequent safety investigation by U.S. regulators, also caused high-profile headaches for Tesla, even though the Model S's five-star safety rating was reaffirmed at the end of the year. (See related story: "While U.S. Probes Tesla, What You Should Know About Car Fires.")

And despite record sales expected to top 21,000 cars for each of this year's three best-selling plug-ins (Nissan's Leaf, GM's Chevy Volt, and Tesla's Model S), battery-powered cars remain tiny players on American roads. More than 15 million new cars and trucks were sold in the United States in 2013.

- Josie Garthwaite

6. Arctic Exploration Heats Up

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As the Arctic's ice recedes, energy companies are spending billions to develop the region, which holds nearly one third of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its oil, according to U.S. estimates. Shell,* which had made high-profile forays into the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas the previous summer, was forced to suspend its drilling plans for 2013 after trouble with its rigs, including a dramatic rescue to secure the errant Kulluk rig in January. (See related stories: "Errant Shell Oil Rig Runs Aground Off Alaska" and "In Kulluk's Wake, Deeper Debate Roils on Arctic Drilling.")

Alaska moved this year to take advantage of the new Arctic interest. With oil production at just 25 percent of its 1988 peak, the state revised its oil and gas tax structure to attract new investment. The lowered cost for energy companies has led Alaska to increase its industry investment projections to US$10 billion over the next decade, but the state will take a hit in lost tax revenue, losing one third, or US$2 billion, of its 2013 income from current energy production. (See related: "To Stem Fall in Oil Output, Alaska Seeks to Slash Industry Taxes.")

Beyond energy production, other milestones emerged this year in the Arctic: The Northern Sea Route saw its first container ship transit - and also its first tanker accident - as shipping activity continued to increase exponentially. (See related story, "Arctic Shipping Soars, Led by Russia and Lured by Energy," and interactive map, The Changing Arctic.) The increasing traffic is lending new urgency to safety and clean-up technology efforts. With the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill still reverberating in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers and government authorities acknowledge that responding to a similar incident in the Arctic's icy waters will require better tools. (See related: "As Arctic Melts, a Race to Test Oil Spill Clean-up Technology.")

The Arctic's energy future may be "ice that burns," frozen methane hydrates below the seafloor and Arctic permafrost that potentially harbour more energy than is stored in all the world's known oil, coal, and other natural gas reserves. (See related pictures: "Unlocking Icy Methane Hydrates, a Vast Energy Store.")

(See more stories: The Arctic: The Science of Change.)

- Brian Handwerk

*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge initiative. National Geographic maintains autonomy over content.

7. Tainted Water Leaks at Fukushima

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Tanks of radioactive water tower over workers at the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March. Japan struggled to control leaks from the troubled plant, which was severely damaged after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused an electrical failure that led to meltdowns in three of its six reactors. In July, government regulators revealed that despite containment efforts, more than 70,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater had been flowing into the sea each day-nearly enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in a week's time. (See related story: "Fukushima's Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know.")

To make matters worse, in August, they also revealed that 72,000 gallons of highly radioactive water leaked from a holding tank, which merited a "serious incident" rating on an international mishap scale. (See related stories: "Latest Radioactive Leak at Fukushima: How Is It Different?" and "Fukushima Leak's 'Level 3' Rating: What It Means.") Amid criticism, the Japanese government and plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced plans for a radical, unprecedented solution-a massive underground ice wall to block further leakage. (See related story: "Can an Ice Wall Stop Radioactive Water Leaks From Fukushima?") But the status of that project is unclear, and new radioactive leaks continue to spring at the plant.

- Patrick J. Kiger

8. Renewables Soar, But Struggles Mount

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) this year predicted a bright future for renewable energies like solar, wind, and water, estimating that as costs fall, renewable power production will top that of gas and nuclear combined by 2016 and deliver almost 25 percent of the total world energy mix by 2018. (See related: Global Renewable Energy on Track to Soon Eclipse Natural Gas, Nuclear.)

Hydropower should provide more than two-thirds of the total renewable energy output by 2018, the IEA suggested.

The growth rate for solar energy will slow over the next five years, IEA said, but already the explosion of residential solar in the United States has created tensions between utilities and ratepayers. In California and other states, battles are raging over "net metering" policies that allow households with solar to pay significantly less for power, eating into utility revenues. (See related story: "As Solar Power Grows, Dispute Flares Over U.S. Utility Bills.")

Wind power also faced some political headwinds, particularly for offshore offshore projects, with dwindling tax incentives and well-heeled opposition to "industrialized" ocean views. (See related: "Cape Wind Deadline: Headwinds for Offshore Turbines.")

The variability of both solar and wind continues to be a hurdle for their integration into the grid, but innovative solutions - such as storing wind energy in volcanic rock and tweaking power plants to ramp up and down more quickly - are being developed and implemented. (See related: "Too Much Wind Energy? Save It Underground in Volcanic Rock Reservoirs" and "New 'Flexible' Power Plants Sway to Keep Up With Renewables.")

- Brian Handwerk

9. North America's Oil Transport Challenge

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Crude oil flowed down driveways and swamped grass lawns in Mayflower, Arkansas, after an oil pipeline ruptured at the end of March. The spill, which dumped at least 12,000 barrels of Canadian crude into a housing development, was a chilling reminder of the potential pitfalls in transporting North America's new bounty of crude. (See related: "Pictures: Arkansas Oil Spill Darkens Backyards, Driveways.")

Not so long ago, finding oil and gas in North America was the tough part. Now the challenge is getting it from well to refinery. The boom spurred by fracking and other technologies has spurred controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline project, the northern part of which has been awaiting approval by the Obama administration. (See related story: "Keystone XL Pipeline Path Marks New Battle Line in Oklahoma.") The pipeline would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast, transporting oil from new fields in Alberta and North Dakota. (See related map: "Keystone XL: Mapping the Flow of Tar Sands Oil.")

Critics complain that tar sands crude requires more energy to process and transport, generating more greenhouse gases than conventional crude. Some also worry the Canadian oil is more damaging if spilled. (See related story: "Oil Spill Spotlights Keystone XL Issue: Is Canadian Crude Worse?")

Many producers have turned to "pipelines on wheels" by booking mile-long trains that some speculate could permanently replace pipelines. (See related story: "Oil Train Revival: Booming North Dakota Relies on Rail to Deliver Its Crude.") But crude transport by rail has risks too, a fact that was devastatingly illustrated in the disaster that struck the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July. There, a train carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale derailed and rolled into the town centre, setting off explosions and killing dozens. (See related story: "Oil Train Tragedy in Canada Spotlights Rising Crude Transport by Rail.")

- David LaGesse

10. High Energy Costs Roil Europe, Threaten Climate Goals

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Steam billows from RWE's Frimmersdorf coal power plant near Grevenbroich, Germany. The U.S. may be enjoying lower or more stable prices for energy, but that's not the case in Europe. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that annual European spending for oil and natural gas - already exceeding US$500 billion - will continue to increase. (See related story: "IEA World Outlook: Six Key Trends Shaping the Future.") The price of natural gas in Europe is triple the price in the United States.

Though Europe has seen robust development of offshore wind energy, critics say it's too costly, and Germany this year said it would scale back targets for offshore wind in an effort to address high electricity prices. (See related story: "Headwinds for Offshore Turbines.") And Britain's largest energy suppliers sparked consumer outrage last fall after announcing big price hikes. (See related story: "No Freeze on Winter Energy Prices, Despite Natural Gas Boom.") Those increases were slightly rolled back after the government promised to ease "green" levies.

Meanwhile, thanks to cheap coal readily available from the United States and a dysfunctional carbon market, coal power is popular again, playing havoc with Europe's goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (See related stories: "As U.S. Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Coal Problems Abroad" and "Europe's Carbon Market Crisis: Why Does It Matter?")

- Tom Grose

See more at National Geographic's 2013: Year in Review.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited.]