2008: The Year In Pictures

The year was notable for high-profile security breaches -- Obama, McCain, and Palin got hacked -- NASA's big news from Mars, and the comedic gifts of Bill Gates.

Cora Nucci

December 29, 2008

4 Min Read
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NASA Finds Martian Ice

Two Big Science stories gave us remarkable images this year. The first was the discovery in June of ice on the Martian surface and analysis of soil samples retrieved by the craft gave NASA scientists hope that life may have once existed on the planet.

NASA photos of ice on Mars.

(click for image gallery)

Cautioning against rumors and tinfoil hat speculation, NASA scientists rejoiced over the quality of data beamed back by the Phoenix Mars Lander.

The agency's Mars news was tempered by a setback to its space shuttle program. A revised budget announced in August is delaying the first next-generation Constellation space shuttle launch until 2014, a year later than planned. With Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor expected to retire in 2010, the shuttle program will go four years without a launch. That should give NASA's IT department time to put anti-virus software onto all its laptops.

Particularly Smashing: CERN's Large Hadron Collider

The other big story with great visuals came in the Fall when scientists powered up the world's largest particle accelerator, a massive underground device designed to conduct particle physics experiments. Scientists working in a 17-mile tunnel 300-feet beneath the French/Swiss border hope to use the LHC to test the Big Bang theory and other beliefs about how matter and mass formed. The massive project is expected to produce roughly 15 million GB of data annually for analysis by scientists around the globe.

Reassurances from scientists notwithstanding, the tin-foil hat brigade railed against the search for the so-called "God particle," fearing researchers would form black holes large enough to bring on doomsday.

But we'll have to wait and see if they were right.

Just as scientists began testing the LHC, hackers made a mockery of the European lab's network security. Days later, a liquid helium leak brought research to a halt until at least next spring when repairs are completed.

So how big is this the biggest science device on the planet? Big enough to have its own rap video.

Microsoft Goes For The Funny

The biggest software company on the planet made some cringe-worthy videos of its own in 2008.

To "reintroduce Microsoft to viewers in a consumer context" it brought in funnyman Jerry Seinfeld and paired him with company co-founder and video veteran Bill Gates in two ads.

The first ad featured Seinfeld and Bill Gates shopping for shoes. The second ad found the two men living with a "regular" family, prompting Dave Methvin to write, "we've finally found something that's much worse than Vista: Vista commercials."Gates fared much better in this star-studded farewll video shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, his last as a fulltime Microsoft employee:

In October Microsoft previewed its next operating system, Windows 7, seen in this image gallery. The OS is due late next year; a trial version was recently leaked to the Internet.

First Internet Presidency

President-elect Barack Obama made his way to the White House using a combination of television, the Internet, and social media tools such as Facebook to recruit volunteers and supporters, and cement relationships with them.

But the path to Washington was marred by sophisticated cyberattacks on computer systems used by the both the McCain and Obama campaigns over the summer. In September, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's Yahoo Mail account was hacked and selected information from the account was posted online by hackers.

Tweet Me To Your Leader
Obama's use of Facebook was no campaign quirk. The tool spread wildly in popularity despite widespread concerns about privacy. In 2008 Facebook fought spammers and a malicious worm, and a hacker who exposed a privacy hole in the social network -- and private photos of Paris Hilton.

If a recent Army intelligence paper is right, Twitter poses an even bigger security threat. In a number of scenarios the report contemplates how Twitter might be used by terrorists.

Whether social networking tools are a bona fide security threat remains to be seen. "Terrorists can use credit cards and can openers, so they can probably use Twitter too," said Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists. "But that doesn't make it a national security concern."

If 2008 taught us anything, it's that, social networking is pervasive, still spreading, and apparently unstoppable. Even the Phoenix Mars Lander used Twitter to tell 40,000 of its tweeps that it found ice on Mars.

To see a gallery of images from 2008, click here.

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