Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo

Some of the big moments in tech this past year ranged from space to spacey, and human biology to humanoid robots. Here's a collection of images that represent 2013's big stories, with innovation an overriding theme.

We've chosen the images for their impact. Robots have advanced and become more animalistic or human-like. Private companies have rocketed into space. And some of the images are arty expressions of our world through sculpture and light.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, for example, billed as the world's first commercial space plane, notched an important milestone by firing its rocket engine during flight on April 29. It was a test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

During the flight, the space-ready passenger space plane detached from its dual-hull mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, at an altitude of 47,000 feet while being piloted by Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury of builder Scaled Composites.

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Photo by: Virgin Galactic / Caption by:

A film at the atomic level

Filmmaking at the atomic level? IBM netted a Guinness World Record with a short movie made with a scanning tunneling microscope in what is surely the first movie explicitly starring atoms.

Called "A Boy and His Atom," this animated film features a small boy having a good old time as he bounces around, plays catch, and dances. The film, produced by IBM, was shot at the atomic level and features 130 atoms that were painstakingly placed, atom by atom, as the researchers shot 250 individual frames.
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Photo by: IBM / Caption by:

Amazon Prime Air

Need a delivery fast? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shocked "60 Minutes" host Charlie Rose in December when he unveiled Amazon Prime Air, which might someday get a package to you within 30 minutes via octocopter.
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Photo by: Amazon / Caption by:

The Google barge

This large, mysterious, structure, which is being built by Google, is a planned showroom for GoogleX projects. Located on a barge just off Treasure Island, between San Francisco and Oakland, CNET's Daniel Terdiman sifted through a long paper trail to link the barge to Google.

Docked in the middle of San Francisco Bay, the four-story structure is now sitting idle day after day. CNET broke the story of the mystery barge in October, and now, we know what it is.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

Twitter's IPO

The stories are legendary. Startups with no real business model and few prospects of building real companies went public in the late 1990s. Investors obliged, generating millions of dollars for corporate insiders, and before long, Silicon Valley had no shortage of firms bulging with cash and armed with little more than a pipe dream. They were the bubble years.

Fast-forward to the present. Twitter's IPO in November got off to a stunningly successful start for the company and investors alike. The Nasdaq, meanwhile, is now at a 13-year high, and multibillion-dollar valuations are being accorded to startups like Pinterest and Snapchat.

So, are we headed for another tech bubble?
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Photo by: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images / Caption by:

Saturn's six-sided storm

In space, weather is big and weird. This is NASA's Cassini mission's highest-resolution view of a six-sided storm clustered around Saturn's north pole.

Spanning 20,000 miles and whipping up winds of 200 miles per hour, this massive six-sided storm clustered around Saturn's north pole captured by NASA's Cassini mission is a sight to behold.
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Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute / Caption by:

Printable bionic ear

Earlier this year, using off-the-shelf 3D printing tools, silver nanoparticles, and cell culture, scientists at Princeton University in New Jersey created a 3D-printed cartilage ear with an antenna that extends hearing far beyond the normal human range.
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Photo by: Frank Wojciechowski / Caption by:

Larry Page's tech fantasia

Google CEO Larry Page spoke softly from the stage at the Moscone Center West at Google I/O in May, entertaining an audience while laying out a tech utopia.

"Imagine how self-driving cars will change our lives and the landscape," he said as he extolled the virtues of his company's own work on automated vehicles. There will be "more green space, fewer parking lots, greater mobility, fewer accidents, more freedom, [and] fewer hours wasted behind the wheel of the car," he said.

"Technology should do the hard work, so people can get on doing the things that make them happiest in life," Page said.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

Mirrors shine winter sun on dark Norwegian town

Three remote-controlled mountaintop mirrors now reflect light on the shady valley town of Rjukan, Norway, which has never been touched by sunlight during winter.
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Photo by: Krister Soerboe/AFP/Getty Images / Caption by:

Earth from 900 million miles

In 2013, the Cassini spacecraft returned incredible new photos of Earth, taken from nearly 900 million miles away.

In this rare image, taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on Cassini shows Saturn's rings with Earth visible as a tiny point of light in the background.

Photos like this are very rare, this is only the third time our planet has been photographed from the outer solar system. Cassini was able to take this image, NASA said, because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft's point of view and most of its light had been blocked. Just like our eyes, the camera's extremely sensitive sensors can easily be damaged by looking directly toward the sun.
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Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute / Caption by:

Reid Hoffman's call to action

At the FWD.us hackathon, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman paused deeply as he spoke to programmers during an event at LinkedIn headquarters to draw attention to the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

An apelike robot

With a sophisticated lower-limb system that incorporates a 43-point pressure-sensor array, the iStruct apelike robot might be the next explorer to traverse the surfaces of distant planets.

The multilegged robot, developed by Germany's Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and the University of Bremen, shows the advantages of actuated multi-point-contact feet, using a suite of sensors to monitor precise movements of the foot and ankle structures.

The result is an advanced balance and locomotion system inspired by physiology, which gives the machine unusually natural movement. The robot can walk forward, backward, sideways, and diagonally, with smooth transitions.
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Photo by: Daniel Kühn, DFKI GmbH / Caption by:

Woz on his Segway

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak showed up on his Segway scooter at Apple's annual World Wide Developer's Conference in San Francisco on June 10.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

DARPA's Atlas robot

DARPA this year unveiled its new Terminator-like Atlas robot, a frightening vision of the future. Atlas is designed to not only walk and carry things but can travel through rough terrain outdoors and climb using its hands and feet.

"Articulated, sensate hands will enable Atlas to use tools designed for human use," Boston Dynamics says. "Atlas includes 28 hydraulically actuated degrees of freedom, two hands, arms, legs, feet, and a torso."
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Photo by: DARPA/Boston Dynamics / Caption by:

A new form of matter

Researchers from MIT and Harvard have created a new form of matter and taught us all a lesson about the power of quantum friendship.

"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers," Harvard physics professor Mikhail Lukin said in a news release. "When these photons interact with each other, they're pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what's happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies."
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Photo by: Wicked Lasers / Caption by:

Robot bees!

In 2013, just about everything can be made into a robot. Harvard University researchers this year conducted the first controlled flight of so-called "RoboBees," which weigh less than a tenth of a gram.
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Photo by: Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon / Caption by:

Photobombing frog

In a photo that went viral, a Virginia frog was caught taking one giant leap for amphibian-kind.

This little Virginia frog became Internet-famous in September when it was caught flying through the air during the liftoff of a Minotaur 5 rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
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Photo by: Chris Perry/NASA / Caption by:

World's largest walking robot

At 30 feet tall and 51 feet long, Tradinno is a gargantuan mechatronic beast you don't want to mess with.

This awesome fire-breathing dragon is now officially the world's largest walking robot.
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Photo by: Guinness World Records / Caption by:

Yosemite's Rim Fire

By late August, millions of acres had gone up in smoke in the US, and as usual, California was one of the most active regions for wildfires. One of the largest fires of the year was near Yosemite National Park, where more than 2,000 firefighters were deployed to fight the fire, which grew to more than 255,000 acres. This image was taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on August 22.
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Photo by: NASA / Caption by:

Growing brains

Petri dishes have hosted all sorts of experiments, such as cultivating mold or breeding amoeba. But now, truly futuristic events are happening in these circular glass plates -- most notably, growing brains.

That's right, scientists are now raising brains in petri dishes.
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Photo by: Madeline A. Lancaster / Caption by:

Eyes on Google Glass

Google Glass is arguably the most buzzworthy gadget of the year, but there are also plenty of critics, naysayers, haters, and even realists, who are questioning the staying power behind the fancy spectacles.

The roughly 10,000 Glass owners who began testing the device earlier this year were then allowed to invite up to three people to buy the device. The early Glass users are primarily computer programmers and winners of an online contest conducted earlier this year.

The recipients of the invitations each paid $1,500 apiece for Glass, which works like a smartphone except that it's worn on the head like a pair of spectacles. The device includes a speaker, a hand-free camera and a thumbnail-sized display screen attached to the frame above the right eye.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

Robert Scoble in the shower

When real, everyday people get a hold of Google Glass, they might be fascinated. But if it's in the context of a naked Robert Scoble in the shower, you might just get really freaked out, like we did. This image is one memory from 2013 that is regrettably seared into our brains.

The heads-up display augmented reality is so awkward, many just laugh when first confronted with someone wearing Glass. It might just be strange enough to make nerds nerdy again.
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Photo by: Robert Scoble / Caption by:

Spotify House at SXSW 2013

2013 was certainly a coming-of-age year for online music. Apple, with the launch of iRadio this year, might seem late to the streaming-music world, but really the digital music revolution is just getting going.

The current king of Internet radio, Pandora, let us know how big it was when iRadio launched. Pandora, then, boasted 200 million registered users, 70 million of whom are regular listeners, and 5 billion stations created. Even Nokia -- that's right, Nokia -- trotted out a VP who suggested Apple was playing catch up, proclaiming, "We launched our streaming radio service in 2011."

And as Spotify guns for global growth, it topped $500 million in revenue, expanding around the world with a major push this year in the US.

Spotify also has cut deals with automakers Ford and Volvo, ensuring the music-streaming service is available with some new vehicles. The company also is seeking partnerships with Internet providers and wireless companies to find ways to bundle its service, which has played a key role in some of its success in European markets.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. On May 14,, one of the U.S. Navy's two X-47B aircraft did what no unmanned aircraft has ever done before -- made a catapult launch from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

After taking off from the Bush, the Navy said, the X-47B made several planned low approaches to the carrier (under the control of an operator aboard the ship) off the coast of Virginia and then flew across Chesapeake Bay to land at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after an approximately 65-minute flight.

But the X-47B wasn't done carving out notches in naval history. Two months later, on July 10, it made its first arrested landing, no easy feat, also on the Bush -- that is, like piloted planes that land on a carrier, it used a hook on the underside of its fuselage to catch a cable stretched across the flight deck.
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Photo by: US Navy / Caption by:

Edward Snowden and the NSA

Edward Snowden, who had been working at the National Security Agency for the past four years as a contractor employee, leaked documents to The Guardian newspaper earlier this year, revealing the agency's classified surveillance program called PRISM. There were more revelation to come, and just recently, it has been reported that the NSA even tracked hundreds of millions of cell phones worldwide.

According to reports in The Washington Post and The Guardian, the NSA has been tracking online information from Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. The program specifically grants "intelligence services direct access to the companies' servers" and that "from inside a company's data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes."

And the Guardian says it has only published 1 percent of the Snowden files so far.
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Photo by: Kenzo Tribouillard / Caption by:

Flexible displays

Early in the year, CNET got a close-up look at Samsung's coming Youm flexible display technology.

More recently, Samsung's Galaxy Round and LG's G Flex have been made available, raising a lot of questions about what a flexible display is and isn't, what the word really means, and just what kinds of benefits a bendable display would bring to a smartphone or any other gadget. Find out all you need to know about flexible screens, here.
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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

Chris Hadfield aboard the ISS

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, Expedition 34 flight engineer and David Bowie cover artist, watches a water bubble float freely between him and the camera, showing his image refracted, in the Unity node of the International Space Station, on January 21.
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Photo by: NASA / Caption by:
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