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Mysteries solved

The year’s buzziest discoveries and hoaxes

With the world’s knowledge at people’s beck and call, you’d think monsters and mermaids wouldn’t have much sway in the public imagination. Time and again, though, searches reveal people ardently seek out the mysteries of our universe and don’t always draw the line between science and fiction. Below, 10 “discoveries” this year that weren’t quite what they seemed. (Kyle Green/Idaho Statesman/Getty)

10. True or False: Ancient mastodons will walk the earth!

39,000-year-old female Woolly mammoth, which was found frozen in Siberia, Russia is carried by workers upon its arrival at an exhibition hall in Yokohama

Maybe. In 2007, Siberian reindeer herder Yuri Khudi uncovered a baby woolly mammoth, buried for more than 40,000 years in a frozen riverbank. Named after the herder’s wife, Lyuba is one of a few mummified mammoths whose genetic material will be injected in egg cells of an Indian elephant. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

9. True or False: Area 51 is real!

Satellite Image of Area 51, Southern Nevada, United States

True! Eight years after archivist Jeffrey Richelson submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA, the agency finally declassified the existence of Area 51. No word on any aliens, but the files shed more light on the 1950s U-2 program and reaffirmed the CIA’s history of writing checks on the sly to Lockheed Martin to finance the hush-hush defense aircraft. (DigitalGlobe/Getty Images)

8. True or False: Bigfoot sighted!

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So what else is new? The hirsute biped’s as popular and elusive ever on TV, in life, and online: Hikers in Canada and Pennsylvania shared hazy images, the Sasquatch Genome Project declared its DNA had been sequenced, and a Oxford professor of human genetics explained Bigfoot could be a hybridization of a brown bear and an ancient polar bear. (Frank Swift/Flickr)

7. True or False: The Loch Ness Monster surfaced again!

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Sort of. People plumbed Yahoo Search for “sea monsters,” like “kraken” and “loch ness,” but what they caught was the oarfish. A deep-sea fish that can grow as long as 36 feet, two beached themselves within a week in California. Unnamed until 1772 and first filmed in 2001, the oarfish may be the sea serpent of ancient legends. (Catalina Island Marine Institute/AP)

6. True or False: Aliens visited Britain!

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Maybe. The U.K. government didn’t wait for a security contractor to spill its secrets: The National Archives released its “final tranche of UFO files,” 60 years’ and 4,300 pages’ worth of sightings, plus a YouTube video, a book, and an app. The official word is, an increase in UFO reports led the Ministry of Defense to kill the hotline in 2009. (The National Archives)

5. True or False: The most super of supermoons shone in June!

The moon rises over the temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion east of Athens

Sort of. Like a Tin Pan Alley tune, lunar fanatics waxed eloquent about how the June moon would be the closest and largest of full moons as well as the closest of supermoons at 221,823 miles. The next perigee full moon is really due August 2014, and the moon doesn’t sidle up really close until Dec. 6, 2052, whe it’ll be a mere 221,439 miles away. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

4. True or False: A killer asteroid nearly decimated the earth!

Closest Asteroid

False. It hasn’t been the best of times for doomsayers, what with Mayan calendar misinterpretations and the Rapture’s apocalyptic fizzle. The Asteroid DA14 had all the signs of a good smash-up on Feb. 15 and triggered searches for “asteroid DA14” and “nibiru.” NASA squelched the odds of a collision to zero. (NASA/Reuters)

3. True or False: Curiosity Rover found a flower on Mars!

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False. With the public space program curtailed, no wonder all wild speculations are pinned on what the Curiosity rover finds on the red planet. A pearlescent white speck had searchers going wild about a flower, which would mean water, which would mean life. No bud — as sad a letdown as the discovery that farts and burps didn’t exist either — but Curiosity did ferret out water. (NASA)

2. True or False: A meteor penetrated the Iron Curtain!

Russia Meteorite

True. OK, Russia doesn’t have an iron curtain anymore, and even if it did, it would have been no shield against the Chelyabinsk meteor. The near-Earth asteroid — heavier than the Eiffel Tower — hurtled into the atmosphere days after doomsayers were monitoring another asteroid. A shock wave damaged more than 7,000 buildings and sent 1,500 people for medical treatment. (Nadezhda Luchinina/AP)

1. True or False: Mermaids live in our watery depths!

Animal Planet

Hoax. Animal Planet pulled a good one — again — when the network aired a sequel to its 2012 hoax. Fake science musings on “Mermaids: New Evidence” drove a record 3.6 million viewers, Tweet tidal wave, Yahoo searches, and real scientists barmy. The 2012 stunt led the government to naysay the fish tale. Of course mermaids don’t exist: They got swept up in the Sharknado. (Animal Planet)

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