The science world took some fascinating twists and turns during 2004. According to the Times of India, these are the top ten breaking news science stories of the year.

LIVELY MARS : ET might just be out there. NASA’s two Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, landed on the Red Planet early in 2004 and have since found conclusive evidence of water that could possibly have harboured life. Saturn, too, had a visit this year with the joint US-European Cassini spacecraft reaching
orbit in July.

OVER THE MOON : The Ansari Project sparked off a competition to send manned aircraft into space. If test pilot Mike Melville took SpaceShip One to an altitude of 71.5 miles, Richard Branson talked about Virgin Galactic and some enthusiasts have even booked their passage to space. What next? A picnic on Pluto?

ENTER THE HOBBIT : Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny humans who stood about 3 feet tall and had a brain less than a third the size of modern humans, were discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores. Meanwhile, fossils of what could be a new species of humans and a South Carolina archaeological excavation might push back the arrival of humans in North America by as much as 50,000 years.

GLOBAL WARNING : A higher than average number of hurricanes pounded the East Coast, particularly Florida. The Kyoto protocol came into effect, inducing a global market in carbon credits and ringing alarm bells for global warming.

THE CLONE AGE : Two South Korean researchers cloned the human embryo, without genetically duplicating a human. Stem cell research, thereby, acquired a new meaning. More recently, ‘Little Nicky’, the first cloned cat, was sold in the US to a Texan lady named Julie for $50,000.

NO WIRES, ONLY HYBRID PLEASE : The popularity of hybrid cars hit boom time, driving hundreds of thousands of such vehicles onto the road. Wireless is more now. If two rovers examined Mars’ surface, the penetration of high-speed Internet – through Wi-Fi and municipal wireless networks – went into overdrive this year.

TECH IT OR LEAVE IT : Personal technology acquired a new dimension with mini devices offering high-quality audio and visual content. Portable audio, as in iPod, acquired more memory, longer battery life and new features. Digital music stores hit a successful note.

DEAR DIARY, IT’S SPAM & SCAM : This year, online scammers went phishing. The result was a sudden explosion in online financial fraud and identity theft. Simultaneously, ID thieves scaled new heights. Internet diarists played their part, even in the US presidential election; so much so, ‘blog’ became a much looked-up word in the dictionary. Among computer viruses, Netsky-P was the meanest of 2004, disrupting thousands of businesses and homes across the globe.

HARM FOR ANIMAL FARM : The animal and plant word is on red alert. A study reveals large fish have almost disappeared from the oceans; only 10 per cent of large individual species like tuna, swordfish, marlin remain. Then, of 5,700 known amphibian species, about 30 per cent face the risk of extinction. A survey in the UK found that butterflies, songbirds and native plant species are all fighting for survival.

THE GENE SCENE : Researchers have developed techniques to identify genes in ocean water and underground specimens. Thousands of new genes have been found. By sequencing these genes, researchers hope to identify new species and, perhaps, learn how organisms survive in harsh and forbidding locations on Earth.

More here.