2012 was a year of record-breakers, from Olympic swimming stars to remarkably long-lived Iowans. Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space, South Korean musician Psy waged an aural war of attrition on YouTube, and scientists actually managed to land a successful rover on the Red Planet, among other accomplishments.
Here are some of 2012's most significant, or at least most amusing, firsts.
1. World's oldest person dies not once, but twice. (And really old people use Facebook.)
Humanity is living longer, and 2012 showed us direct evidence of that longevity trend, as the title of the World's Oldest Person was won and lost twice in a matter of months.
Italian American Dina Manfredini of Johnston, Iowa was briefly the world's oldest human in December, when she celebrated her 115th birthday.
However, Manfredini passed away on Dec. 17, and the crown was passed on Dec. 26 to 115-year-old Jiroemon Kimura of Japan — the oldest man ever.
There is, however, speculation that a Chinese woman named Luo Meizhen is a remarkable 127 years old, according to the Des Moines Register. But since she lacks a birth certificate, the claim is perhaps a bit hard to prove.
And then there was Maria "Mary" Colunia Segura-Metzgar, a 105-year-old New Mexico grandmother who successfully showed that she was the oldest living Facebook user.
Segura-Metzgar challenged the claim of Florence Detlor, pictured here, a relatively spry 101-year-old who was previously believed to be Facebook's oldest member. She even got to visit Facebook headquarters to meet founder Mark Zuckerberg. Did a private message war ensue? Perhaps a centenarian Facebook user group might be worth starting up after all.
2. Longest high-speed rail line in the world built in China.
Want to travel quickly from northern China to southern China? Now, there's a zippy option that doesn't involve purchasing a plane ticket: take the high speed rail line, the longest in the world.
The newly opened route allows travel from the national capital of Beijing to Guangzhou, at speeds upwards of 187 miles per hour — allowing commuters to make the 1,427-mile journey in a mere 8 hours, a trek that formerly took more than 22, says the BBC.
There are even fetching railway attendants, touch-screen video consoles, and comfortable reclining seats to ease the incredible journey. Well, at least in business class.
While the new line is the world's longest, it isn't the first recent railway achievement for China. The world's highest-altitude route — from Golmud, Qinghai all the way to Lhasa, Tibet — opened in 2006, taking passengers on a journey 16,640 feet above sea level. Oxygen is provided for the less-than-sturdy; check out the Lhasa Express official website if you're planning on making a trip.
3. Felix Baumgartner's 24-mile free-fall
Mankind has done a lot of poorly advised things before, but a 24-mile free-fall from the very bleeding edge of space — that might just break the sound barrier? Until this summer, that was uncharted territory.
Enter Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian dare-devil who appears to have been born without the usual danger receptors, and who was eager to see if he could actually survive the longest, sound-barrier-breaking free-fall ever attempted by a human being.
The Red Bull STRATOS project gained copious media coverage, and a correspondingly huge number of viewers for the live stream, eager to see if Baumgartner would actually survive the mission. (Spoiler: He made it.)
Baumgartner's free-fall topped speeds of 833 miles per hour, reported the BBC, making him the first human to break the sound barrier with his body. The 128,100-foot descent was also the lengthiest free-fall in human history. Not bad for a day's work.
And that's not all: Baumgartner's leap registered the most viewers for a live-streamed video in history. Radical. Indeed, Guinness recently confirmed that Baumgartner set five new records in a single day.
4. Gangnam Style: the most watched video in YouTube history
Love it or hate it, South Korean musician Psy's "Gangnam Style" dominated the planet in the latter half of 2012, as everyone from US football players to Ban Ki Moon to Cambodian rice farmers merrily embraced the, uh, "horsey" dance.
Uploaded only on July 15, the video went from an amusing South Korean cultural fillip to the most viewed video in YouTube history. As of this writing on Dec.r 30, there have been a whopping 1,083,808,130 "Gangnam Style" views — and a relatively piddling 501,251 "dislikes."
That makes "Gangnam Style" the first video in YouTube history to reach 1 billion views, and it didn't even involve a cat. Much to the horror of obsessed 14-year-old girls everywhere, it even beat out the page views accorded to Justin Bieber's "Baby."
Go on, watch "Gangnam Style" again. You know you want to. It calls to you.
5. The biggest retweet: surprise, it's the president!
Barack Obama ✔ @BarackObama
Barack Obama won the US presidency again on Nov. 6, and turned to his popular Twitter feed to announce "4 more years," accompanied by a photograph of the POTUS-elect embracing Michelle, his wife.
The rather simple (if pleasingly direct) missive, pictured above, swiftly became the most re-tweeted statement in the history of the micro-blogging website. Well, yeah. Guess that does qualify as big news.
6. Director James Cameron submarines down to the Mariana Trench, as one does
James Cameron was perhaps 2012's most sterling example of a man who really knows how to use his fabulous wealth: i.e., in the name of pure, sweet exploration.
In March, the "Titanic" and Avatar director merrily submersible-d a full seven miles down to the Mariana Trench, becoming the first solo explorer to alight in the Challenger Deep, a valley long considered to be all but unreachable.
Cameron was able to successfully collect footage and specimens of the little known Challenger Deep, information deep-sea researchers will doubtless find useful in the years to come.
And he even came back — which, considering the mind-blowing amount of pressure ocean water can exert on a human-made metal submarine, was never really a sure thing.
7. Curiosity Rover actually works; world crushes on NASA tech with an awesome haircut
The insanely expensive Curiosity Rover, the largest ever sent to Mars, briefly seized the attention of space-starved America as NASA staged a publicity comeback from the deep cuts of the past few years.
The widely-heralded "seven minutes of terror" the Rover was endured went off beautifully, as an expectant audience of 3.2 million watched live on Ustream (and on cable TV). Curiosity is now roaming about the sandy surface of the Red Planet, collecting useful data on the possibility of Martian life — and providing prolonged employment to NASA's worthy geniuses.
Curiosity, beside the sheer novelty of its success, has broken other international records. They include making the first interplanetary voice recording.
The Curiosity mission included one very special NASA engineer, the rakishly handsome Bobak Ferdowsi, whose star-and-planet themed mohawk caused nerdy hearts to flutter the world over. He's possibly the biggest space-centric heartthrob ever (sorry, Neil Armstrong). You can even print out and construct a small paper bust of Ferdowsi, to keep adorable watch over you as you work/sleep/wish you were a NASA engineer.
8. Michael Phelps wins the most Olympic medals ever
A lanky, semi-aquatic creature from Baltimore, American swimmer Michael Phelps repeated his remarkable Beijing Olympics appearance in London this year, swimming his way to a mind-blowing 18 gold medals, for a career total of 22 medals overal. And he even did it without a dashing mustache — proving that Mark Spitz's 1970s facial hair isn't actually a speed requirement.
Supposed challenger to the throne Ryan Lochte didn't manage to unseat the erst-while Subway spokesman, although he did manage to both befuddle and amuse the world with his awesome Olympic-themed dental grill and his aspirations forf a dazzling career in fashion design. What an Olympics!
A full listing of athletic records broken at London 2012 are listed here, courtesy of the Guardian — and yes, they're in more than just swimming. You may recall some unusually fast dude named Usain Bolt. Not to mention the fact that the 2012 Olympics were the first where there was a female athlete representing every country.
9. Women get ahead in politics — way ahead
2012 was a good year for women in politics, as the female of the species reached new political heights the world over. South Korea elected first female president Park Geun-Hye in December, while Malawi's Joyce Banda took the top-spot in April. Iconic Myanmar opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi enjoyed increasing political freedom — and an audience with US President Barack Obama in her home country.
Who was in charge of the powerful economies of Germany and Brazil this year? That'd be German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Dilma Rousseff. Who's in charge of the IMF? Meet French intellectual powerhouse Christine Lagarde, elected last year as the very first woman in the role.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criss-crossed the planet in 2012, while the US elections in November saw 20 new female senators elevated to Washington. Women also played a major role in the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Are things equal yet? No. But they're off to a pretty good start.
10. World records broken on ... Guinness World Records Day
Yes, there's an official holiday devoted to the breaking of world records.
Enter Guinness World Records day, an annual Nov. 15 event where the world comes together in the pursuit of pushing boundaries — even if they're silly. Guinness says over 420,000 people from around the world came together to have fun and attempt to smash some of the (odder) records currently on the books.
Some of this year's achievements included:
The most vehicle figure eights. The most women in a single Mini Cooper car (see above). The fastest time to run 100 meters on all fours (thanks, Kenichi Ito of Japan!). The most coconuts smashed in one minute — that'd be 16. The most targets hit by a blowgun in 60 seconds: 23, making Anthony Kelly the guy you'd least want to run into in the depths of the Amazon jungle. And that's just the beginning.