A meadowlark dragonfly shows off its delicate wings at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Dragonflies are apparently experiencing a moment in the sun: According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, dragonfly festivals and dragonfly field guides are becoming increasingly popular. No surprise — with their jewel-like colors and gossamer wings, dragonflies give butterflies a run for their money in the beauty department. [See more surprisingly beautiful insects]
Can you guess the location of this gorgeous sunset scene?
This is Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, approximately 110,000 acres of bird-friendly wetlands in eastern North Carolina. Ducks, raptors and black bears call the refuge home, as does the reintroduced endangered red wolf. Streaking across the sunset sky in this image are hundreds of tundra swans. These white birds migrate from their breeding grounds along the Arctic Ocean down the U.S. Atlantic coast in the winter, sometimes reaching as far south as Florida.
Sing along now: "It's just another ISS sunrise…" Okay, maybe the modified lyrics don't quite scan. Nevertheless, this image from the International Space Station captures the beauty of sunrise from space. This view is over the South Pacific, but astronauts aboard the ISS get plenty of chances to see the sun come up: Because of the speed of the vessel's orbit, they see a sunrise and sunset about every 45 minutes, or about 16 every 24 hours. This particular shot was taken on May 5, 2013.
A line of deadly storms moves through Oklahoma in this image captured by NASA's MODIS satellite at 2:40 p.m. CDT on May 20, 2013. As this picture was taken, a deadly tornado, likely a F-4, was beginning its deadly journey through Moore, Okla., a suburb of Oklahoma City. Dozens were killed and entire neighborhoods devastated as the mile-wide funnel cloud touched down.
For an animal that can weigh more than two-dozen tons, humpback whales sure can catch some air.
As the above image shows, humpback whales often take flight in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park, at the edge of the North Pacific Ocean. The whales' enormous size makes for spectacular splashdowns. Male humpbacks grow to an average length of 46 feet (14 meters) and an average weight of 25 tons. Females are even bigger, at an average of 49 feet (14.9 m) long and 35 tons in weight.
Humpbacks are identified by their distinctive body shape and unusually long flippers, which are almost one-third of the whale's total body length. Humpback whales' dorsal fins are often a small triangular nubbin with a hump that is noticeable when a whale arches its back to dive. Humpback whales are often white or partially white. A white marking on the underside of the tail is like a marine mammal name tag in that each white marking is unique to each whale.
Humpback whales are an endangered species. Their worldwide population was estimated in 2007 at 30,000 to 40,000 whales. The North Pacific population found in Alaska is thought to be around 6,000 whales.
- Brett Israel, OurAmazingPlanet Contributor
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Ahanu the otter slips through the water at the Denver Zoo. The two-year-old male is a new zoo resident, brought from the Oakland Zoo in California to keep Denver's previous male otter, Otto, company. Otto's earlier companion Ariel died of old age last year, and given otters' highly social nature, Otto needed a new friend. For more otter adorableness, check out these pups getting a checkup
Astronaut Chris Cassidy is framed by Earth and space during an unplanned May 11, 2013 spacewalk to fix a coolant leak aboard the International Space Station. Along with Tom Marshburn, Cassidy spent five and a half hours outside the ISS fixing a pump control box. The ammonia leak wasn't a danger to the crew but would have decreased the amount of power available onboard. [Read More About the Surprise Spacewalk]
What's going on out there? At just a few hours old, this baby gentoo penguin peaks out from beneath its parent. The as-yet-nameless chick is the first gentoo born at Edinburgh Zoo this year. According to the zoo, a sibling joined this curious chick several hours later, and a third in the clutch was working its way out of the egg. [Happy Feet: A Gallery of Pudgy Penguins]
In one of the most amazing images you'll ever see, a photographer standing near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon captured lighting striking the famous landmark.
Carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is one of the most famous and flocked-to natural features in the world. The canyon is 277 miles (446 kilometers) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and over a mile (1,800 meters) deep. Some 2 billion years of history are seen in the canyon's walls.
Lightning is common at the Grand Canyon, especially during late spring and summer thunderstorms, which bring needed rain to the Colorado River. From 1997 to 2000, lightning struck somewhere in Grand Canyon National Park 104,294 times, averaging 26,073 strikes per year, according to the National Park Service. The canyon's rims, rocky outcrops and other open areas are particularly vulnerable to lightning strikes. [7 Amazing Grand Canyon Facts]
About 600 deaths have happened in the Grand Canyon since the 1870s.
- Brett Israel, OurAmazingPlanet Contributor
Most tadpoles survive on a diet of algae. But not Lepidobatrachus laevis, the tadpole of Budgett's frog. Not only are Budgett's frog tadpoles carnivorous, they're cannibals — as this image of a Budgett's frog tadpole slowly digesting in the gut of another Budgett's frog tadpole reveals.
North Carolina State developmental biologist Nanette Nascone-Yoder and her colleagues are using these carnivorous tadpoles to study how the digestive organs evolved and develop. In a study published in May 2013 in the journal Evolution and Development, Nascone-Yoder and her colleagues genetically engineered algae-eating tadpole guts to look more like that of the Budgett's tadpoles and vice versa.
"Understanding how and why the gut develops different shapes and lengths to adapt to different diets and environments during evolution gives us insight into what types of processes can be altered in the context of human birth defects, another scenario in which the gut also changes its shape and function," Nascone-Yoder said in a statement.
The sun is restless in this photograph captured May 3, 2013. The image captures a prominence eruption, a burst of solar material extending from the sun's surface. The sun is entering a period of solar maximum, when activity like this ramps up on an 11-year cycle. [See a video of the sun's daily life]
Any guesses as to what this bedazzled ball might be? Well, it was built in the 1970s, but it's not a disco ball — it's a satellite. This is LAGEOS I, the Laser Geodynamics Satellite, launched 37 years ago on May 4, 1976. The satellite measured two feet (0.6 meters) across and weighed 900 pounds (208 kilograms), according to NASA.
So why the disco look? The mirrored surface reflected laser beams shot into space from the ground, sending them back and allowing for accurate measurements of the Earth's surface. LAGEOS I was able to measure the movement of the ground surface from earthquakes and other Earth-shuddering events.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration executive director Joe Pica meets the locals during a dive off the Dominican Republic. Pica was retrieving an acoustic buoy when this humpback whale stopped by to say hi. Humpbacks are found all over the world's oceans — they migrate as many as 16,000 miles (25,000 kilometers) a year.
Two children marvel at a tank full of sea anemones at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Despite their quiet, plant-like beauty, sea anemones are invertebrate animals and carnivores. They eat mostly small shrimp and fish. [The Best Waterproof Cameras of 2013]
Icy Saunders Island in northwestern Greenland surrounded by sea ice in Wolstenholme Fjord. The thin, translucent ice in the foreground is known as "grease ice." This image comes from an IceBridge survey flight. The project is a NASA effort to gather ice measurements to improve models of Arctic land and sea ice.
Around and around goes Saturn's north polar storm — as fast as 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second). This striking red photograph of the 1,250-mile-wide (2,000 kilometer) storm is a false-color image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft taken in November 2012. No one knows how long Saturn's north polar storm has been spinning, according to NASA. Saturn periodically sports "Great White Spots" thousands of kilometers wide. These white-cloud storms are sometimes visible by telescope on Earth.
Somebody's not sharing his cake! One-year-old Tikal the jaguar keeps his twin sister Maderas away from their birthday party treat at the San Diego Zoo on April 26, 2013. Zookeepers made the young jaguars a "cake" made of ice and frozen blood, and Tikal was not inclined toward generosity. Mama knows best though: The cubs' mother Nindiri wasn't having any of her son's selfishness, and she joined in to enjoy the frozen treat, too.
Watch out for that splash zone. "Thunder Hole" at Acadia National Park can be an intense experience. This Maine landmark consists of a small inlet and natural underwater cavern. When the surf is high, water and air get forced through the cavern under high pressure, shooting up like watery fireworks. (The waves are just as loud as fireworks, too, explaining the name Thunder Hole.) Water can shoot out of Thunder Hole as high as 40 feet (12 m).
Wait up, Mom! Shomili, a four-month old greater one-horned rhinoceros runs behind her mother Sundari at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Shomili, or "Mili" as zookeepers call her, was released into the park's Asian Savanna habitat to join the rest of the zoo's herd on April 23, 2013. Mili is the 65th greater one-horned rhino born at the zoo, which is working to conserve this endangered species. Only about 3,400 of these rhinos survive in the wild.
Saturn shines like a watercolor in ultraviolet light, its rings standing out sharply against the blackness of space. This photo is part of a series of images taken in 2003 by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, when Saturn was maximally tilted toward Earth (which happens once every 29.5 years). Ultraviolet light is best for capturing concentrations of small aerosol particles; researchers also snapped photos in infrared and visible light to catch the full spectrum of Saturn's atmosphere.
Clouds and canyons converge at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona and Utah. This wilderness area boasts striking sandstone cliffs and narrow canyons beloved to hikers.
Promotional pic for the next sci-fi film hit? Alien creature swimming through space? In fact, this is an illustration of Earth's magnetosphere, the magnetic "bubble" that surrounds the planet. The magnetosphere plows through space like the bow of a ship, creating a wave known as bow shock, seen here as a complex blue pattern. In front of the bow shock, in lighter blue, is a turbulent region of foreshock.
NASA researchers exploring this foreshock region found that it's not all predictable: Sometimes, magnetic pulsations dubbed "short large amplitude magnetic structures" (SLAMS) roil through like rogue waves, according to NASA. The researchers reported their findings March 6, 2013, in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
This new Hubble image, which was captured and released on April 19, 2013, to celebrate the orbiting telescope’s 23rd year in orbit, reveals part of the sky in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter).
The Hubble observatory, which launched on April 24, 1990, captured the Horsehead Nebula (also known as Barnard 33) rising like a giant seahorse from the turbulent waves of gas and dust in this stunning infrared light image. "The result is a rather ethereal and fragile-looking structure, made of delicate folds of gas — very different to the nebula’s appearance in visible light," mission officials wrote in an image description Friday (April 19).
Here's a hump day guessing game for the visually inclined: What is this odd black-and-white object? Helpful hint: It acts something like your nose.
Are all the guesses in? This is an ultra-close look at a moth antenna. Male moths use their antennae to detect pheromones from females, which travel through the air in plumes (look out, your porch light may be surrounded). A new study published April 15, 2013 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that male moths aren't perfect at sniffing out the chemicals in these plumes, so they sometimes mate with strains of moths they wouldn't otherwise approach. The finding explains the number of hybrid moths in nature.
Bad news for everyone's favorite flying mammals: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed that bats at Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama have white-nose syndrome. The disease is a fungus that grows on hibernating bats, causing them to exhibit often-fatal behavior such as flying outside in cold weather. In eastern North America alone. 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats have died of white-nose syndrome.
Fern Cave is the winter home for multiple bat species, including the largest documented colony of gray bats, which are federally endangered. So far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had detected the syndrome in two groups of tri-colored bats in the cave.
In microgravity, flames behave differently than here on Earth. This beautiful blue bubble is part of a combustion experiment conducted aboard the International Space Station by astronaut Chris Cassidy. The goal was to learn how different fuels burn in space in order to develop better strategies for extinguishing fires in microgravity. Cassidy took this image on April 10, 2013.
Sea urchin larvae begin their transformation into adulthood by sprouting spikes. These microscopic larvae ply the tides for about a month before settling down on rocky shorelines. New research published April 8, 2013 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that high turbulence near rocky reefs gives larvae a clue to start searching for a grown-up home. The turbulence signals keeps larvae from wasting their time looking for rocks on sandy beaches.
Clouds encroach over the plains in this picture taken from an airplane just east of Denver on the afternoon of April 8, 2013. The storm system moved across the state, bringing spring snows and sending temperatures plummeting. In two hours Monday evening, the temperature in Denver dropped from a spring-like 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) down to 42 degrees F (5.5 degrees C). By 5:20 a.m. on Tuesday, Denver was shivering in mere 16 degree F (-8.8 degree C) temperatures.
A spidery series of cracks mars the sea ice off the coast of Alaska in this picture taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite. According to NASA Earth Observatory, a high-pressure system hovering over the region in late January brought warm temperatures and southwesterly winds, which in turn fueled ocean currents that fractured the ice. February storms later fueled the fracturing.
The moon sets over Chief Mountain on the eastern border of Glacier National Park, Mont. The mountain rises abruptly from the surrounding plains, earning it the name "Tower Mountain" from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was later renamed to honor the original Blackfoot monikor, "Great Chief."
Chief Mountain is a geological feature called a klippe. It was once part of a larger slab of tock thrust over this area of the Montana-Canada border by a fault. The rest of the slab gradually eroded away, leaving this 9,080-foot (2,768 m) tall holdout standing in isolation.
New York, New York … The city that never sleeps shines into space at night in this snapshot taken by a member of the Expedition 35 crew on the International Space Station. Manhattan runs from left to right in the center of the frame, with Central Park visible as a dark rectangle in the center of the island.
This shot may look like a far-off alien galaxy, but it's quite close to home. Using fluorescent dyes and a laser-scanning confocal microscope, researchers captured this image of an embryonic smooth muscle cell. Smooth muscle is the muscle not under voluntary control, such as the muscle lining the gut. Here, the structural underpinning, or cytoskeleton, of the cell glows in green.
A graceful solar prominence arced out from the sun and gradually broke apart on March 16, 2013, completing this dreamy sequence in about four hours. This was a short-live prominence — the longest can last up to a year before floating apart.
Colorado and the Southwest are known for beautiful views, but they look even more amazing from space. This astronaut snapshot from the International Space Station reveals the Colorado Plateau, made up of northern Arizona, southern Utah, northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. Here, the Colorado River crosses from east to west, meeting the San Juan River. (East is to the left in this photo, as the view is toward the south.)
Know your minerals? Here's a hint: This one is far from rare, but typically overlooked. It's also used in ceramics and paints.
Made your guesses? This is rutile, a mineral made of titanium dioxide. It's named after the Latin rutilus, which means red. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden announced March 25, 2013 that they have a new method that can track the origin of rutile from even the tiniest grains. But most people will likely be more interested in where rutile ends up: It's the mineral responsible for turning regular sapphires, rubies and other precious stones into "star" gems. Rutile impurities in a stone create lined patterns that look like shining stars when cut. Star gems are rarer (and pricier) than their unstarry counterparts.
Volvariella volvacea, the edible straw mushroom, is a major food source in Asia. Researchers writing in the journal PLOS ONE recently sequenced the genome of this mushroom in order to help improve cultivation techniques.
A graceful three-layered cloud structure develops over the Indian Ocean in this award-winning photo snapped in 2011. As part of a projected called DYNAMO, researchers are studying the dynamics of the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a travelling atmospheric pattern over the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The pattern creates anomalous phases of tropical rain and then unusual dryness in patterns lasting a month or two. Understanding this pattern helps scientists build better models for climate and weather. [Read More: Best Digital Cameras for Stunning Shots]
Awww, look at its little cheeks! Okay, the universe's baby photo isn't as cute as some, but it shows the seeds of today's stars and galaxies. This map of the universe, acquired by the European Space Agency's Planck space telescope, shows cosmic microwave background, the radiation left over from the Big Bang. In other words, this is a snapshot of the oldest light in the universe.
Temperature fluctuations in this cosmic microwave background reveal density differences that would eventually coalesce into galaxies and stars. The new look at the old universe also provides a more refined age estimate for the universe: 13.82 billion years. [See More: Best Telescopes for Beginners]
Baytown, Tex., home to the largest oil refinery in the United States, shows up in brilliant red in this image from NASA's Terra satellite. The instrument that snapped this image combines multiple wavelengths of light to represent water in blue, buildings and pavement in beige and gray and vegetation in red, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.
The refinery covers 5 square miles (13 square kilometers) near the mouth of the San Jacinto River (it stands out in beige here and continues on the south shore of the river).
An unexpected and unexplained stellar flash echoes 20,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn), looking like a peering red eye. This is V838 Mon, a star that abruptly expanded in January 2002, temporarily becoming the brightest star in the Milky Way galaxy. The stellar flash faded just as quickly as it appeared, a phenomenon never observed before. The Hubble image above shows light from the flash moving outward from the star, reflected in the interstellar dust surrounding V838 Mon.
A view of the icy Arctic at Svalbard, an archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Sixty percent of these remote islands are covered by glacial ice.
This dinosaur mama has quite the brood to prepare for. An artist's reconstruction of Ampelosaurus shows this titanosaurian sauropod laying a clutch of eggs. These dinosaurs, which hailed from the Late Cretaceaous in Europe, would have measured about 50 feet (15 m) long from nose to tail.
Dinosaur eggs are big news in Spain, where paleontologists have just announced the discovery of eggs from four species of dinosaur in Lleida. Previously, only one type of dinosaur egg had been documented — now there are five, researchers report in the March 2013 issue of the journal Cretaceous Research.
The interaction between the sun and Earth isn't limited to light. This artist's conception shows how electromagnetic solar winds influence the Earth's magnetosphere and upper atmosphere. University of Texas at Arlington physicist Yue Deng is currently studying these solar winds and how their energy is distributed in the atmosphere.
"Right now, estimation of the amount of energy entering the Earth's thermosphere is not very precise and can be underestimated by 100 percent. We know even less about how that energy is distributed," Deng said in a March 11, 2013 statement. "This information is critical because if you put the same amount of energy at 400 kilometers the impact can be 100 times larger than if you put it at 100 kilometers."
Good new for fish in the Florida Keys: A new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report finds that the declaration of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve has done wonders to combat overfishing in this sensitive ecosystem.
Black and red grouper and yellowtail have all rebounded since the formation of the reserve in 2001. Mutton snapper, once thought wiped out by overfishing, have started to return to the area to spawn. Even better, the reserve is a win-win for humans and fish. Commercial catches of reef fish in the area have actually increased with better management, and there were no financial losses among local commercial and recreational fishers. [Read More: Best Underwater Cameras for Reef Photography]
A black-tailed prairie dog gets the jump on a rival in a snowy mating-season fight. A new study published March 8 in the journal Science finds that female prairie dogs like to stay close to mom. Unlike many species that move away from their families to avoid competing with kin, prairie dogs are more likely to disperse when their families move away.
A major winter storm moves across the mid-Atlantic on March 6, 2013. Nicknamed "Saturn" by The Weather Channel and the "Snowquester" by inside-the-Beltway types, the storm dumped about a foot (30.48 cm) of snow in Front Royal, Va. and 17 inches (43 cm) in Blue Mountain, Va. The Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, on the other hand, was largely spared, with only a few inches accumulation.
Ever wonder what Antarctica looks like under all that ice? Here's your answer. This is a three-dimensional reconstruction of the southernmost continent's topography, made using radar surveys. The fjords seen under the two-mile-thick ice sheet started forming about 34 million years ago, according to a new study published in March 2013 in the journal Nature Geoscience. At that time, glaciers began rapidly carving up the landscape, said study leader Stuart Thomson, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona.
A Great Blue Heron wades in the wetlands. These majestic birds rely on watery environments for their food supply (fish and other aquatic animals), but humans are no less dependent. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wetlands and streams are a crucial source of water, with 117 million Americans relying on water supplies that, in turn, rely on the nation's hundreds of thousands of miles of streams. Wetlands also provide a buffer against storm-induced flooding. South Carolina's swamps alone can store the equivalent of 7,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water, according to the EPA. Just constructing a stormwater treatment facility for that amount of water would cost more than $200 million.
Almost too fiery to seem real, this image of the sun's surface was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in August 2012. Shortly afterward, this prominence on the sun's surface erupted, blasting solar particles toward Earth. According to NASA, this eruption may have been the cause of a temporary radiation belt that surrounded Earth last year. Read more about the mysterious radiation zone.
The movements of NASA Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope appear as a graceful webbing in this image. The lines represent 51 months of movement by the instrument's Large Area Telescope, which sweeps the sky from its orbit around Earth once every three hours.
The purpose of the LAT is to capture gamma ray light from our own galaxy, as well as from objects (such as supermassive black holes) billions of light-years away, according to NASA.
An unidentified dragonfly species shows off delicate wings in this photo taken in a maize field in Italy in 2010.
This strange specimen is an ordinary cell, transformed by scientists into a cancer-promoting monster. Using gene transfer, researcher from the University of Eastern Finland coaxed this cell into producing large quantities of a carbohydrate compound called hyaluronan. The spiky protuberances that make this cell look like a Koosh ball are actually hyaluronan factories.
Hyaluronan is part of the body's chemical toolbelt for healing, but it can also promote inflammation and cancer. New research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry finds that high sugar concentrations in the blood promote the production of hyaluronan, which may explain why diabetics have an elevated risk of breast cancer. Researchers hope that slowing hyaluronan production could slow the spread of cancerous cells.
Earth is the blue planet, but here Mercury earns the moniker. The innermost planet appears in beautiful blue in this map made from images taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft. The colors represent the geology of Mercury's surface, from chemical to mineralogical to physical differences in the rocks.
My, how many tentacles you have! This alien-looking creature is known as Nematostella vectensis, or the starlet sea anemone. Like other anemones, starlets start life as free-swimming larvae. They then settle into an appropriately mucky spot on the seafloor and metamorphose into their adult polyp form, seen here. Anemones lack brains, but the section of the larvae containing the sensory organs actually becomes the bulbous root end of the adult, while the other side sprouts delicate tentacles and transforms into a filter-feeding mouth.
Researchers have now found that the "head genes" of N. vectensis, though held in what eventually becomes the animal's "foot," correspond to the head genes found in the actual heads of higher animals. Humans and other brainy beasts share a common, brainless, ancestor with sea anemones that lived 600 million to 700 million years ago. The findings were released Feb. 20, 2013 in the journal PLOS Biology.
Forget fluffy bunnies or rearing horses. On Saturn, the clouds form in the shape of hexagons.
This hexagonal cloud formation, first discovered in the 1980s by the Voyager spacecraft, was photographed again in 2012 by the Cassini spacecraft. The formation sits at Saturn's north pole; it's visible here in the foreground with a portion of Saturn's rings looping around in the upper right-hand corner of the image. No one knows why clouds form in this geometrical pattern in this region of Saturn.
This may look like an alien's maw, but it's actually quite close to home. Right in your heart, in fact.
Any clue? Here's a hint: Heart strings aren't just a metaphor. These are the chordae tendineae, which are crucial for keeping the heart pumping. Known colloquially as the heart strings, the chordae tendineae are tiny tendons that run from muscles located inside the ventricles of the heart (papillary muscles) to the valves that prevent blood from flowing the wrong way through your circulatory system. When the ventricles contract, pressure in those chambers jumps, threatening to send blood shooting backwards into the other two chambers in the heart, the atria. The pressure slams the flap-like valves between the chambers shut, but would blow right through those valves if the chordae tendineae weren't there to act as anchors. Happy Valentine's Day!
A rarely seen view of the moon appears in eye-popping color in this NASA image. This gravity map shows variations across the moon's surface caused by both surface irregularities and a lumpy interior. The red sections indicate relatively high gravity, while blue and dark purple show spots where you'd find a little extra spring in your step.
This is a view of the dark side the moon, an angle never visible from Earth. Satellites orbiting the moon do get this view, however, and can measure gravity variations from orbit.
NASA's Curiosity Rover is sending postcards from Mars! This self-portrait comes courtesy the Mars Hand Lens Imager, which is attached to a robotic arm not visible in this photograph. Curiosity is hanging out on a flat rock outcrop called "John Klein" in this Feb. 3 shot. (The outcrop gets its name from a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who passed away in 2011.) The John Klein outcrop is the site of the rover's first rock-drilling activities.
A huge nor'easter dumped feet of snow over the Northeast over the weekend of Feb. 9, creating winter wonderlands from Massachusetts to New York. This picture of the storm (dubbed "Nemo" by The Weather Channel but not officially named by the National Weather Service) was taken by NOAA's GOES-13 satellite at 7:01 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Saturday.
A huddle of starfish adds a splash of color to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington State. The Sanctuary protects 2,408 square nautical miles off the coast, the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Living in this protected area are organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to sea otters to albatross to migrating gray whales. It's a high-nutrient environment, which is why intertidal species like these starfish thrive.
My, what a zig-zaggy mouth you have! The cock's comb oyster (Lopha cristagalli) is a common site in tropical waters in the Indo-West Pacific. This specimen was photographed in Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia, in 2006. Like other oysters, these creatures survive by cementing themselves to one spot and filtering edible debris out of the water.
Your cells need energy to function, and providing that energy is the job of mitochondria, seen here stained dark orange in fruit fly ovary cells. These small but serious structures convert energy from food into forms that the cell can use. Mitochondria also contain their own DNA, passed down from mother to child. Researchers are now learning that mismatches between mitochondrial DNA and the DNA found in a cell's nucleus can cause disease. Reporting Jan. 31 in PLOS Genetics, Brown University researchers found that when the two genomes clash, enzymes that require both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA for production work less efficiently, resulting in sluggish flies. The findings are a first step in understanding similar disease in humans, the researchers said.
Onlookers watch as the Kilauea volcano pours lava into the sea on the island of Hawaii at sunset on Jan. 26, 2013. Kilauea's most recent eruption cycle began in 1983 and has continued with few interruptions since, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Since Nov. 2012, lava flows have been reaching the ocean, putting on the steamy show seen here. Visitors are warned to stay back, however — those plumes of gas contain lethal levels of sulfur dioxide, and the edges of newly-formed lava cliffs can collapse into the sea without warning.
Feeling chilly? Check out this icy blast from the past. On Feb. 13, 2008, the National Weather Service in Marquette, Mich., snapped this shot of the ice-encrusted Grand Marais Observation Platform at Lake Superior. Winds sculpted the ice on the platform into swirly shapes, creating a scene that would delight any confectioner.
The star TW Hydrae is surrounded by its disk of gas and dust, as shown in this artist's depiction. Scientists have just found the mass of this disk, which is regarded as a prototypical example of planetary nurseries, is greater than was previously assumed. They reported the finding in the Jan. 31, 2013, issue of the journal Nature.
Using the Herschel Space Telescope, the scientists set a new lower limit for the disk's mass at 52 Jupiter masses. The finding suggests that even in a relatively old stellar system like TW Hydrae (estimated to be between 3 million and 10 million years old), there is still ample matter in the disk to form a planetary system larger than our own. TW Hydrae is just 176 light-years from Earth.
Biomineral crystals found in a sea urchin tooth. Geologic or synthetic mineral crystals usually have flat faces and sharp edges, whereas biomineral crystals can have strikingly uncommon forms that have evolved to enhance function. The image here was captured using environmental scanning electron microscopy and false-colored. Each color highlights a continuous singlecrystal of calcite (CaCO3) made by the sea urchin Arbacia punctulata, at the forming end of one of its teeth. Together, these biomineral crystals fill space, harden the tooth, and toughen it enough to grind rock.
The meandering, fluffy cloud trails captured by instruments aboard NASA's Aqua satellite on Jan. 15, 2013, blanketed the atmosphere above the eastern Pacific Ocean, southwest of Vancouver Island. Among the trails are thin man-made clouds created by ship exhaust, which sends particles into the atmosphere that can act as seeds for the accumulation of water vapor (and thus clouds).
Colorful gases and brilliant stars capture the beauty of space in this Hubble image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The star-forming region visible here is called LHA 120-N 11.
Strange sea coral? Alien invader? No, this is a new visualization of a pancreas of a mouse with type-1 diabetes. Blood vessels are seen in red, and insulin-producing islets of Langerhans are in blue. What shouldn't be there are all those green blobs — they're immune cells attacking the islets of Langerhans. These autoimmune attacks cause type-1 diabetes because the body cannot produce enough insulin to process sugars in the blood.
Researchers at Umea University in Sweden presented the new imaging method used to create this colorful picture of type-1 diabetes Monday (Jan. 21) in the Journal of Visualized Experiments.
How's the weather out there? This is a "weather map" of the brown dwarf 2MASSJ22282889-431026 (say that five times fast). Brown dwarfs are sometimes called failed stars. Like stars, they form from condensed gas, but they have less mass and can't fuse atoms and produce energy as stars do, according to NASA. That makes brown dwarfs a bit more like gas planets.
Using data from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, NASA scientists created this striped image of the brown dwarf, revealing stormy layers of gases in the atmosphere. The results were presented Jan. 8 at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.
Aaron Huertas To my knowledge the white house it sems like they've been linking some details out … Michael Halpern or Andy Rosenberg … - could point to research that as been done - research as to how exposure to lead in childhood linked to more violence later … we care about how science is effected … we want to leave historically something where the science has gotten polarized in a …
Clouds like whipped cream cover the northwest Pacific Ocean in this photo snapped from the International Space Station on Jan. 4, 2013. In a pattern typical of this area, the low clouds carry cool air over warmer ocean waters, according to NASA.
A load of round yellow eggs weighs down this Hemiphractus fasciatus , the casque headed tree frog. Mama frog will carry these eggs on her back until they hatch as mini-frogs — no tadpoles here! These frogs are threatened with extinction and are one of 11 species of high conservation concern being bred in captivity in Panama.
Can you guess what this image is?
As the 10 nanometer scale bar gives away, you're looking at the very small. These are the scales covering the abdomen of a firefly. As it turns out, the jagged shape of the scales actually enhances the fireflies' glow, researchers report Jan. 8, 2013 in the journal Optics Express. [Top 10 Things to See With Your First Microscope]
The scientists used the example of the fireflies (genus Photuris) to design a new overlayer for LED lights that likewise brightens up the bulbs' output, making them 1.5 times more efficient than the originals.
A long tine of valleys and ridges snakes northeast in this International Space Station view of the central Appalachian mountains. The linear topography here formed when Laurasia (a supercontinent made up of what is now North America and Europe) bumped into Gondwanaland (Africa, India, South America, Australia and Antarctica), ruffling up the land into a high mountain chain, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.
That was between 540 and 300 million years ago. Since then, time has taken its toll, eroding the Alp-high Appalachians into the rolling, forested mountains seen today. Human habitation is also visible in this photograph; Washington, D.C. appears as a diamond-shaped speck on the Potomac in the lower right-hand corner of the image.
In one of the world's largest and hottest sandy deserts, snow muffles that landscape. This is the Taklimakan Desert of western China, where a storm blew through Dec. 26 and left a layer of snow still visible from space on Jan. 2, 2013. NASA's Aqua satellite captured this bird's-eye view of the snowy desert.
Swirling in a translucent mass, a bloom of jellyfish-like salps pulsates through the waters off the coast of New Zealand. Some reports have suggested that blooms like this are on the increase, choking fishermen's nets and power plant intake pipes. But while these striking consequences do happen, a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science finds no strong evidence for a global jelly rise over the past 200 years. In fact, jellyfish numbers oscillate from high to low over decade-long periods but remain stable over time, researchers reported online Dec. 31. Some areas, such as Japan and the Mediterranean have seen regional increases in these gelatinous creatures, however. [Top 10 Underwater Cameras]
A brilliant star-forming region rings the center of NGC 1097, a barred spiral galaxy 45 million light-years from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope captured this bright and shining image, which shows the spiral arms of the galaxy as dim compared to its radiant center. At the center of NGC 1097 is an enormous black hole. As the black hole pulls matter in, the ring around it acts as a factory for stars, fed by the material sucked toward the center of the galaxy. For a sense of scale, the ring is 5,000 light-years across.
What do you see in this finely detailed image? A monster with teeth bared? A scrape of delicate lace? In reality, you're looking at a cross-section of a leaf of grass. This particular segment comes from a real tough cookie called Eriachne ciliata, which is found in Australia and can make its home in gravelly or stony soil. Researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island examined the anatomy of this and other grasses to better understand how some plants evolved to survive in tough climates. They reported their findings the week of Dec. 24 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It's a trap! In this awesome microscopic image, an amoeba reaches out a spindly pseudopod to trap a Legionella pneumophila bacterium. This isn't curtains for the little green bacterium, though; once ingested, L. pneumophila can live inside the amoeba (Hartmannella vermiformis, for those keeping track at home). In fact, getting engulfed by an amoeba can be the best thing to happen to one of these bacterium, given that the new host then protects it from environmental stresses. L. pneumophila is the agent that causes Legionnaires' disease, a respiratory illness that can sometimes be fatal.
At the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, it can be tempting to long for warm breezes and green leaves. But winter has its beauty too. This single snowflake was captured on film in 1902 by Wilson Bentley. Known as the "snowflake man," Bentley took over 5,000 stunning close-ups of snowflakes in his lifetime. The Vermont man was one of the first people to ever photograph these tiny ice crystals, and the methods he developed are still used today.
You may have heard that the Mayan calendar is ending tomorrow. That's kind of true — an important calendar cycle for the ancient Maya does come to a close on Dec. 21, based on Maya experts' best estimates of how our two calendars match up. However, any doomsday prophecies associated with the day are false, as the Maya never predicted the apocalypse. They did, however, have a complex calendar system that used beautiful hieroglyphs and numerals like those seen on this silkscreen. This art is based on calendar carvings found in Quirigua, Guatemala. Read more about how the real Maya calendar worked.
What do you see in this gaseous nebula? A shiny holiday ornament or a yelling face? Or perhaps something else?
The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of NGC 5189. Despite the "planetary nebula" moniker, this gas cloud comes not from a planet, but from a star. A planetary nebula is the final stage of life of medium-sized stars. As the star consumes the last of its fuel, it expels its outer envelope, which becomes heated, creating the glowing gas clouds seen here.
Two cuties get cuddly in this 1937 photograph taken on a National Geogrpahic Society-Smithsonian Institution expedition to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). This image is part of the collection of William Mann, director of the National Zoo, and Lucile, his wife and a writer and editor, but the Smithsonian knows little about this strangely cozy primate and tiger cub.
Actually, make that "Many stars are born." This is a stellar nursery in M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy, so dubbed because it is in the constellation of Triangulum 3 million light years away. Millions of years ago, a gas cloud began coalescing into new stars, many of which are visible in this Hubble Space Telescope image. The red mist is the remains of the original gas cloud.
NASA and NOAA recently released a series of images from the Suomi NPP satellite showing Earth at night, lit by city lights. So why is nearly uninhabited western Australia so bright?
It's not a lost civilization or a quirk in the data. As it turns out, wildfires were burning in western Australia in April and October 2012 when the satellite collected these images. The fires got incorporated into the composite picture created by NASA and NOAA, freezing the fires in time. Other uninhabited areas on the so-called "Black Marble" images show lights from ships, oil drilling and mining operations.
Seabirds soar above sea foam in a ship's wake in the Mediterranean.
Forty years ago, in December 1972, three men stood on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission. Since them, no one else has walked on the moon's surface. Here, astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the only geologist to ever visit the moon, stands next to the American flag with Earth visible in the sky above. The Apollo 17 mission returned 243.6 pounds (110.5 kilograms) of rock samples to Earth.
Gases billow from the snow-surrounded maw of Russia's Plosky Tolbachik volcano on the remote Kamchatka peninsula. NASA's Aqua/MODIS satellite captured this bird's-eye view on Dec. 7, 2012.
This visualization shows a coronal mass ejection approaching Venus. Coronal mass ejections are eruptions of solar winds and magnetic fields from the sun into space; they happen every few days to a couple times a day, depending on how active the sun is. Interactions of these "CMEs" with Earth's atmosphere can cause extra-strong auroras, or northern (and southern) lights. [See dazzling aurora images]
CMEs and other solar activity are currently in the news because some believers in the so-called Mayan Apocalypse think that sun activity is set to destroy or damage Earth on Dec. 21. In fact, according to NASA, the sun is showing no signs of unusual activity.
The city lights of the United States are seen in sharper relief than ever before in this 2012 image taken by the Suomi NPP satellite. This satellite's equipment is so sensitive, it can detect the light of a single ship at sea, according to a NASA spokesperson. Studying human-created light can help researchers do everything from modeling carbon dioxide emissions to monitoring fishing activity or recording loss of animal habitat.
See that teeny-tiny white dot up in the left-hand corner of this image? Insignificant space dust, right?
Not quite. That little speck is Tethys, one of Saturn's moons. The moon is 660 miles across (1,602 km), but with Saturn in the foreground, it doesn't show its size. The Cassini spacecraft took this image in August 2012 from about 18 degrees below the plane of Saturn's rings.
Look into my crystal ball … actually, this image is of the aurora, the northern or southern lights that dance in the sky at high attitudes when charged particles from the sun interact with our planet's magnetic field. For the first time, researchers have created "hyperspectral" images of auroras. These images allow researchers to look at individual wavelengths of light rather than the whole spectrum mashed together.
Three bands, or portions of the spectrum, were used to create the ghostly image above. Breaking down the northern lights in this way allows researchers to see subtle atmospheric changes. Already, the researchers report Nov. 29, 2012 in the journal Optics Express, the technique may have revealed a strange phenomenon called airglow, in which Earth's atmosphere emits its own light through electromagnetic or chemical reactions. If the finding holds, it will be the first known observatio of airglow associated with an aurora.
A massive crack in the ice may herald an enormous rift in the ice of the Pine Island Glacier in western Antarctica. Satellite images suggest that the glacier is poised to calve off an iceberg or icebergs that size of New York City. Sea ice has kept the unstable region locked in, but as this Oct. 26, 2012 Landsat 7 image reveals, the spring melt has cleared the sea in front of the glacier's calving face.
A stunning image snapped by NASA's Cassini probe orbiting Saturn reveals a raging storm swirling at the ringed planet's north pole. Located in a bizarre hexagonal cloud vortex first eyed by the Voyage spacecraft in the early 1980s, the six-sided phenomenon is likely the result of a path of a jet stream flowing through the planet's atmosphere.
"These phenomena mimic what Cassini found at Saturn's south pole a number of years ago," Cassini scientists wrote in an online update.
The image was snapped Nov. 27, 2012, and received on Earth the same day, though it has yet to be validated or calibrated, according to NASA.
Launched in 1997 and arriving on the planet in July 2004, Cassini is the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn. The probe has logged more than 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion kilometers), along the way making major discoveries about the Saturn system, including finding the presence of hydrocarbon lakes on its moon Titan and spewing water geysers on the moon Enceladus.
A solar eclipse visible this month from the southern hemisphere gets snapped from space in this picture from the JAXA/NASA Hinode mission. The Nov. 13, 2012 total eclipse, in which the moon passed between the sun and the Earth, was visible from northern Australia as well as a swath of the Pacific Ocean.
Colorful bacterial mats create the rainbow rings that circle Grand Prismatic Spring, a Yellowstone National Park landmark and the largest hot spring in the United States. This aerial view shows the full extent of the spring, which is about 300 feet (90 meters) wide at its widest point. The water gets about 160 feet (50 m) deep, but you don't want to take a dip, regardless — at its center, the pool reaches temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius).
Looking nearly unreal with its green-and-purple color scheme, this anemone decorates the ocean floor near Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia. Despite the vegetal look, anemones are actually animals that prey on small fish and crustaceans.
Only a lucky few saw this total solar eclipse on Nov. 13, 2012. The eclipse was only visible in a narrow band of the southern hemisphere, mainly over the ocean. In northern Australia, though, a narrow tip of land got a good view. One photographer there snapped this shot, showing the sun's corona, or atmosphere, silhouetted around the edges of the star.
Headlights spotlight a new arrival from orbit far out in rural Kazakhstan. No, this isn't a government UFO cover-up; it's the return of Expedition 33 from the International Space Station.
Carrying Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoside, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and American astronaut Sunita Williams, the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft landed in remote Kazakhstan on Nov. 19.
Dust, smoke and other particles swirl in the air in this global look at aerosols, or fine particles in the atmosphere. Dust is seen in red, while ocean cyclones pick up sea salt (blue). Smoke from fires is seen in green. White tendrils represent sulfate particles, which come from both volcanoes and human fossil fuel emissions.
This image comes courtesy of NASA's Discover supercomputer at the Center for Climate Simulation at Goddard Space Flight Center. [The 10 Best Digital Cameras]
Sunlight reflects off a cloud-shrouded ocean in this photograph snapped by Apollo 11 astronauts on July 16, 1969. Four days later, crew members Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would take the first steps on the moon.
The star cluster Cygnus OB2 contains more than a thousand young stars, according to observations by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra has observed more than 1,700 sources of X-ray emissions in this star cluster, with about 1,450 of those thought to be baby stars. Here, the x-ray emissions are visible in blue. Red in the image comes from infrared data collected by NASA's Spitzer Telescope, and the orange clouds are optical data from the Isaac Newton Telescope. [The 10 Best 3D Cameras]
What are you doing at my rock outcrop? Geology fieldwork sometimes brings scientists face-to-face with local fauna, like this curious red fox living in a lava field on Iturup Island. This volcanic island is part of the disrupted territory between Russia and Japan, with both nations claiming it as their own
Snow, ice and clouds blend together in this dreamy image of Antarctic mountains taken by a NASA ice survey team. NASA's Operation IceBridge aims to study our planet's polar ice. This photo comes from an IceBridge DC-8 flyover of the Getz Ice Shelf on Oct. 27, 2012.
Talk about a sea monster. This 1889 illustration of a vampire squid paints these mysterious creatures in a creepy light — fitting, given that the scientific name for vampire squid, Vampyrotheuthis infernalis translates roughly to "vampire squid from hell."
In fact, vampire squid are the only known cephalopods that don't hunt for their prey (so much for their namesake). Instead, they're the sea's garbage disposals, eating marine detritus that floats down to the depths like snow.
Clew Bay, Ireland, is said to have an island for every day of the year. In fact, these islands are drumlins, elongated ridges formed by retreating glaciers. The "drowned drumlins" in Clew Bay are being eroded on their seaward side.
If you prefer your creatures of the night to be cute rather than cuddly, have we got the critter for you. This is an aye-aye, a species of nocturnal lemur originally found only in Madagascar. The aye-aye is a harmless omnivore with one long, spindly finger it uses to fish grubs out of rotten logs. Like 91 percent of lemur species, aye-ayes are threatened with extinction, but it's not just habitat loss and deforestation that may do this fuzzy creature in. Madagascar superstition holds that aye-ayes are harbingers of death, so the animals are often killed on sight.
This particular aye-aye is a resident of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, N.C., a research and conservation facility that houses 250 lemurs and their close relatives. In honor of Halloween and the wrongly maligned aye-aye, the Lemur Center has a special deal for the month of October: Pledge a donation and receive not only a packet of information about a lemur of your choice, but also this cute photo.
The sun sets over the Indian Ocean in brilliant color in this 2010 photograph taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station. The troposphere, the section of the atmosphere extending from Earth's surface to between 3 and 12 miles up (6 to 20 kilometers), is lit in bright orange and streaked with clouds. Above the troposphere, the stratosphere appears in pinkish white, and then the atmosphere fades through blue before hitting the blackness of space. At the ISS orbit speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour (28,000 kph), sunsets last mere seconds — but astronauts get to see 16 a day.
It's getting breezy on the East Coast as Hurricane Sandy approaches the mid-Atlantic states. The ghostly lines on this map represent wind speeds, with whiter, thicker lines representing faster winds. As of about 11 a.m. EDT on Oct. 29, 2012, winds were blowing at speeds between 15 and 30 miles per hour (24 and 48 kilometers per hour). Forecasts call for Sandy to blow in to New York City with winds ranging from 40 to 55 mph (64 to 80 kph) with gusts up to 70 or 80 mph (112 to 129 kph).
The track of a rare enormous storm on Saturn is visible along the upper portion of the planet in this image from NASA's Cassini mission. The storm occurred in 2010 and 2011 and broke records in disturbing the high atmosphere of Saturn's northern hemisphere. Even after the weather calmed, measurements by infrared sensors showed that the stratosphere had still not settled.
Rendered with a filter to make loops of solar material stand out, this image of the sun blurs the line between art and science. Coronal loops, eruptions of solar material that arc along the sun's magnetic fields, can be tough to study against the background of our active sun. Using a gradient filter, researchers can make these loops pop — and create a memorable image of the surface of our nearest star.
Go ahead, wish upon a shooting star — you have plenty to choose from. This is a composite image of meteors from 2009 to 2011, including the Orionid, Perseid and Geminid showers. This past weekend (Oct 21 and 22) the 2012 Orionids wowed stargazers.
I can fly! I can fly … Well, maybe not. Emperor penguins may be flightless, but as this 2011 shot reveals, they're perfectly adapted to their semi-aquatic lifestyle. These penguins can dive more than 1600 feet (500 meters) down for up to 12 minutes. After a completed hunting spree, the birds launch themselves back onto the ice like feathery torpedoes.
A stunning display of the northern lights brightens the sky in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada on Oct. 1, 2012. This light show is the result of a coronal mass ejection, or a burst of solar particles and wind, three days before. When these solar particles interact with Earth's upper atmosphere, they cause colorful, shimmering aurora like this green-and-purple specimen.
This amazingly detailed image from the surface of Mars comes from NASA's newest rover, Curiosity. Using an instrument called the Mars Hand Lens Imager, Curiosity snapped eight photographs of this 6.5 inch by 5 inch (16 by 12 centimeter) rock from about 10.5 inches (27 cm) away.
The rock, dubbed "Bathurst Inlet," is so fine-grained that the Imager cannot see individual grains. A few grains of sand and dust rest on top of the rock, but it is much cleaner than the dusty substrate around it.
In 1604, light from the Kepler supernova reached Earth, eclipsing the brightness of Jupiter and catching the eye of astronomers like the supernova's namesake Johannes Kepler. Now, high-tech instruments allow NASA to get a close look at the leftovers of this stellar explosion, seen here. They've found that the supernova may be farther from Earth than previously suspected, pegging the distance at between 16,000 and 20,000 light years instead of 13,000. A large amount of iron in the remnant suggests that the Kepler supernova was more energetic than other explosions of its class. Researchers reported the results Sept. 1 in The Astrophysical Journal.
Vegetation collides with desert in Oregon in this satellite image that shows the stark climate divide caused by the Cascade Range's rain shadow.
A rain shadow is a phenomenon caused by moist air blowing in from the Pacific Ocean to the west. The air sweeps up the Cascades, losing pressure as it gains elevation. As a result, it cools and is unable to hold as much water. The moisture falls on the mountains as rain or snow, contributing to the lush greenery of the mountain range.
On the other side of the mountains, though, the air drops again, pressurizes, and warms up. As a result, little rain falls on the eastern side of the mountains, resulting in the desert landscape seen here in enhanced color.
In this image captured by the Landsat 5 satellite in 2011, you can also see Mount Hood's glacial summit as a spot of bright blue.
Clouds rest like snow over the Amazon in Brazil in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite. (Red dots are dropped pixels.) The Amazon Rainforest covers 1.7 billion acres (7 million square kilometers), 60 percent of which is within Brazil. For more amazing Amazon images, visit our rainforest biodiversity gallery.
Don't try this at home: An unidentified child cuddles a tiger cub during the 1937 National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. The purpose of the expedition was to collect zoo animals for the National Zoological Park.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour salutes Houston, Texas on its way from Florida to Los Angeles, where it will be put on display at the California Science Center. Endeavour is the last shuttle to make its way to its final museum resting place. The shuttle Discovery will be on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex in Chantill, Va., while Enterprise is only display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. The final shuttle, Atlantis, will remain at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
These odd appendages may look alien, but they're definitely terrestrial. In fact, they're practically mundane. These are trichomes, hair-like projections found on plants — in this case, a tomato plant. Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered a gene that allows these trichomes to make acyl sugars, compounds that protect the plants against pests, in cultivated tomatoes. As it turns out, cultivated tomatoes aren't as prolific as wild ones at making acyl sugars, meaning they're more vulnerable to insects and other critters that like to chow down on their leaves. The findings could help researchers engineer heartier tomatoes, the scientists reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Glittering against the darkness of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait City shines in this astronaut photograph taken from the International Space Station. Far to the lower right of the picture, a cluster of blue-white lights mark the suburb of Al Ahmadi. The Seventh Ring Road snakes through the desert below the city; just below the center of the photograph, also set slightly outside the built-up area, the brightly-lit international airport shines a fiery orange.
Perched on a Chilean mountaintop, the new phone-booth-sized Dark Energy Camera is taking its first look at the universe. The powerful camera can capture light that originated as far as 8 billion light-years away, making it the most powerful instrument of its kind.
Among the first of the snapshots taken by the camera on Sept. 12, 2012, was this panorama of a sparkling star cluster 17,000 light-years away from Earth. Astronomers plan to use the camera (which resides at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile) to survey the sky for dark energy, galaxy clusters and supernovae. Starting in December and over the next five years, the camera will capture one-eighth of the sky on film. Astronomers expect to see 4,000 supernovae, 100,000 galaxy clusters, and 300 million individual galaxies.
A lone windmill stands against a supercell storm in Leedey, Okla. This 2002 photograph captures the power of the weather in "Tornado Alley," the swath of the Great Plains from Texas to the Dakotas that experiences a high number of significant tornadoes. Supercell storms like this one, which feature well-defined rotation, are the most likely type of thunderstorm to produce tornadoes, though meteorologists don't fully understand why some storms spawn twisters and others do not.
Unidentified flying object or weather event? It's the latter, of course — this flat-as-a-pancake cloud over Africa is what's called a cumulonimbus cloud, which means "column rain" in Latin. These clouds can form on their own or along cold fronts, bringing with them heavy rain, wind, lightning and even tornadoes.
With her crew member reflected in her visor and her hand reaching out as if to grasp the sun, astronaut Sunita Williams conducts a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. The spacewalk, which took place on Sept. 5, is the third "EVA" (extravehicular activity) for the crew of Expedition 32. In a six-and-a-half hour session, Williams and astronaut Aki Hoshide of Japan completed the installation of a power unit (which required some MacGyver-like skill) and installed a camera on Canadarm2, the space station's robotic arm. It was Williams' sixth career spacewalk.
Jewel-like shallow waters hug the shores of Cuba in this image taken from the Envisat satellite in 2011. In order to get a cloudless view of the Caribbean island, researchers stitched together three snapshots. The Florida Keys are visible as a bright band northwest of Cuba, while the southeast tip of the island is darkened by the Sierra Maestra mountain range.
The Concordia research station in Antarctica appears dwarfed by the southern lights in this photograph taken on July 18, 2012. Caused by the collision of particles in the upper atmosphere, the aurora is typically visible only at very high latitudes, though it creeps toward the equator during times of high solar activity. Concordia is a French-Italian research station, where scientists study glaciology, the atmosphere and human biology. At a latitude of -75 degrees south, Concordia is under complete darkness all winter, making the lights of aurora australis a welcome sight.
Divers free a Hawaiian Monk Seal entangled in a lost fishing net in this 1997 photograph from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Fortunately for this unlucky seal, the divers were successful. Marine litter remains a problem in the area more than a decade later, however. In July 2012, NOAA divers plucked 50 metric tons of marine debris out of the Pacific near the islands during a single clean-up mission.
Here's a marine mystery for you: What is this glowing creature emerging from the depths? If you recognized it as the underside of a jellyfish, congrats! This photograph was captured near the wreckage of the Shinkoku Maru, a World War II-era Japanese oil tanker sunk by a torpedo attack in 1944. The shipwreck now rests in the Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia.
Hurricane Isaac approaches the Gulf Coast as the city lights of the Southeast shine in this satellite image taken just after midnight on Aug. 28. The storm made landfall twice in Louisiana overnight. As of 9 a.m. local time this morning (Aug.29), winds were blowing 75 miles per hour and the storm's center was 40 miles (64 km) southwest of New Orleans.
The Suomi NPP satellite, which orbits Earth 14 times a day, captured this image with its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).
Arctic sea ice caps the North Pole in this Aqua satellite image captured Sept. 3, 2010. Ice like this is in short supply lately, having just reached record low levels as of Sunday, Aug. 26. On that date, the sea ice extent shrank to 1.58 million square miles (4.10 million square kilometers), shattering the previous record of 1.61 million square miles (4.17 million square km), set in 2007.
This dramatic ice loss is caused by long-term warming mixed with a windy storm that brought heat to the central Arctic Ocean and melted the already weak ice.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon, works near the lunar module Eagle in this rare shot taken by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Armstrong died Saturday (Aug. 25) at the age of 82.
Twenty years ago today (Aug. 24, 2012), Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Florida coast as a Category 5 storm, destroying even the weather instruments meant to measure its strength. This image shows Andrew's progression from Aug. 23, 1992 (right) to Aug. 24 (middle) to Aug. 25 (left).
Andrew's winds were clocked at 177 miles per hour (285 km) at least — instruments failed before recording maximum winds. The storm caused $26.5 billion in damage, second only to Hurricane Katrina in inflation-adjusted cost.
Hot, massive stars burn blue in this image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. This glittering scene comes from the heart of the 30 Doradus Nebula 170,000 light-years from Earth. Originally, astronomers believed that there was one star cluster in the nebula, but recent data from Hubble reveals that there are actually two. One of the clusters is about a million years older than the other, and they appear to be merging.
A new, low-cost device for dismantling pipe bombs can keep explosions like this one from happening.
SAPBER, the Semi-Autonomous Pipe Bomb End-cap Remover, is the Department of Homeland Security's newest weapon against the thousands of pipe bombs made in the United States each year. Pipe bombs can be made of anything from PVC plastic to copper to steel, making disarming them without blowing up crucial evidence very tricky. The remote-controlled SAPBER allows bomb technicians to pick up and disassemble dangerous pipe bombs from a distance.
"From ten paces away, you might mistake the contraption for a pressure washer," Christine Lee, Homeland Security's Science and Technology director, said in a statement. "But step closer and you'll find an ingenious device bristling with four video cameras, radios, a telescoping mast, cutting wheels, a twisting wrist, an electric motor, and a chain-driven gear, all powered by a pair of 12-volt batteries."
The 10-meter South Pole Telescope is the largest ever installed at the South Pole. This scientific instrument, seen here bathed in red light, just discovered a new — and record-breaking — galaxy cluster.
The Phoenix cluster, as it has been dubbed, is about 5.7 billion light years from Earth. In its center, stars are forming at a blistering pace, the highest ever seen in the middle of a galaxy cluster. That means Phoenix, and its associated black hole, are growing rapidly, though scientists say the expansion will be short-lived.
"This growth spurt can't last longer than about a hundred million years, otherwise the galaxy and black hole would become much bigger than their counterparts in the nearby universe," said Bradford Benson, an experimental cosmologist at the University of Chicago, who along with other researchers reported the galaxy cluster's discovery Aug. 16 in the journal Nature.
Bizarre and mysterious textures mark the planetary nebula IC 418, also known as the spirograph nebula. This nebula (which has nothing to do with planets at all and is in fact one of the last gasps of a dying star) is about 2,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Lepus.
The first mineral map of Australia gives the continent a shot of color using satellite data. This map shows surface rock and soil minerals across all of Oz, providing a new way for geoscientists to hunt for mineral deposits.
It's clear skies for Cuba but not for Hispaniola or the Turks and Caicos Islands in this image taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station in July 2012. A fine film of dust is visible over the islands; this dust, it turns out, has blown all the way from the Sahara Desert in Africa, a journey of at least 4,970 miles (8,000 km). Windswept Sahara dust has been linked to human allergies, algae blooms, and coral diseases, and it may even help fertilize the Amazonian rainforests.
These strangely symmetrical chunks of ice are tabular icebergs, or icebergs characterized by steep, cliff-like sides and flat tops. These ice plateaus typically form by breaking off from an ice shelf, making them an important mechanism of ice loss for researchers studying climate change.
In a new study published Friday, Aug. 9 in the journal Science, researchers constructed highly accurate records of the changes in ice volume and deep-ocean temperatures over an astounding 1.5 million years. They were then able to connect these records to the changes in Earth's orbit relative the sun over this long time span. What they found was a pattern of dramatic ice volume change and surprising changes in how the Earth responded to orbital shifts.
For example, between 1.25 million and 600,000 years ago the planet went through what scientists call the "Mid-Pleistocene Transition." Before that transition, the planet cycled through extremely cold glacial periods and warmer interglacial periods every 41,000 years or so. After the transition, the cycle period between glacial and interglacial expanded to 100,000 years. The new study finds that this transition happened quite suddenly around 900,000 years in the past.
The visage of a tiny velvet ant peers up in this scanning electron microscope image magnified 23 times. This tiny creature, genus Dasymutilla is not actually an ant at all, but a wasp. She (this is a female) boasts a nasty sting, especially if you're another wasp or bee. In order to reproduce, velvet ants lay their eggs inside the larvae of wasps and bees. When the eggs hatch, they feed on the still-living but paralyzed larvae that house them.
Rings of flame burn through eastern Siberia in this satellite image taken on August 3. Scientists have long been able to snap photos of smoke from wildfires from Earth's orbit, but this image comes from a new, extra-sensitive instrument on the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting satellite called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. This instrument can detect very low levels of light, making it possible to capture pictures of forest fires burning at night.
NASA's newest Mars rover is already hard at work on an alien planet after a successful landing in the early morning of Aug. 6 Eastern Daylight Time. This is the first image taken by the car-sized rover Curiosity. The rover snapped this shot of its own shadow with one of its front left Hazard-Avoidance cameras.
This image is at one-quarter of full resolution. Curiosity is set to start sending back high-resolution and color images later this week.
A Martian flying saucer? No, this one is all ours. This is an artist's conception of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft nearing Mars, the new rover Curiosity inside. This historic landing is set for Sunday, Aug. 5.
On that day, years of preparation will culminate in what scientists call "7 minutes of terror" on Sunday. That's the amount of time it takes the rover-carrying spacecraft to get from the top of Mars' atmosphere to its surface. But because it takes 14 minutes for the signal from the spacecraft to reach Earth, by the time NASA scientists hear that the spacecraft has hit the atmosphere, it's actually been on the surface for 7 minutes. Until those 7 minutes pass, no one will know whether the rover made it down safely.
The Curiosity rover's mission is to study Mars' climate and geology, as well as to gather information for a potential manned mission to Earth's neighboring planet.
The lights of cities, towns and villages make the shapes of Great Britain and France apparent from space even at night. This image from March 27, 2012, was taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite. London, the host city of the 2012 summer Olympics, is visible as a sprawling mass of lights on the southern end of England, and Paris can be seen across the English Channel in France.
Images like this one are useful for more than just their sparkly beauty, said Chris Elvidge, the leader of the Earth Observation Group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Geophysical Data Center.
"Nighttime lights are the least ambiguous remote sensing observation indicating the presence and magnitude of human activities and the density of development," Elvidge said in a statement. "We can actually look at cities and tell you how much energy is emanating from them."
A new photograph of the galaxy NGC 1187 highlights a spiral shape much like that of our own home galaxy, only 60 million light-years away. Old stars, gas and dust glow yellow at the galaxy's center, while new stars are born in the blue regions of the galaxy's arms.
Stars die here, too. Astronomers have spotted two supernovas, or explosions caused by the death of a star or white dwarf, in NGC 1187. The second, dubbed SN 2007Y for the year it was first spotted, can be seen as a bright spot near the bottom of this image.
Any guesses as to what this unusual tendril might be? Squid arm? Elephant trunk? Scroll down for the answer …
You're looking at the rear end of a tiny worm called Caenorhabditis elegans, one of the most common lab animals in science. These little soil-living nematodes are only about 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) long. They're handy for scientists because they're easy to analyze genetically and simple to keep alive in the laboratory. C. elegans can even survive being frozen and thawed, making long-term storage easy.
This image comes courtesy a recent study published July 27 in the journal Science. Researchers mapped the neural connections in the nervous system of the C. elegans posterior, revealing the sexual circuits that play an important role in mating. The nerves of a worm's rear end may seem like an odd topic of study, but scientists believe that tracing these simple circuits will help them understand how the more complex neural circuits of humans and other mammals work.
This brilliant spot of stellar dust and gas sits on the eastern hip of Orion The Hunter, a constellation visible in most of the world from November to February each year. This dusty spot in Orion is known as the Flame Nebula, a birthplace for new stars. A star 20 times the mass of the sun lights up the Flame Nebula from the inside, though the gas and dust surrounding it dim its light to our eyes by a factor of 4 billion.
The story behind this sparkly blue glacial lagoon called the Jokulsarlon in Iceland is one of ice and climate. When the first settlers arrived in Iceland, the edge of an outlet glacier called Breidamerkurjokull and part of the great Vatnajokull glacier, was located about 12 miles (20 kilometers) farther north than it is today, according to János Kovács, who took the photo on June 10, 2012. During the Little Ice Age, between 1600 and 1900 when the climate cooled, the glacier advanced to about 0.6 miles (1 km) from the coast at the Jokulsa River. Then a warm stint between 1920 and 1965 caused the outlet glacier to retreat in a snap, opening up a lagoon up to 623 feet (190 meters) deep. The lagoon grew from about 3 square miles (8 square kilometers) in 1975 to nearly 5.8 square miles (15 km2) in 1998. Large blocks of ice breaking off the edge of the glacier have kept the lagoon stocked with icebergs, according to Kovács.
Sunglint turns the Great Lakes into golden mirrors in this image taken from the International Space Station while it was orbiting southeast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Lake Huron, to the right, and Lake Ontario, toward the front of the image, appear mirror-like because of sunlight reflecting off of their surfaces. Lake Erie is on the left side of the photo, and the row of snake-like lines just left of Lake Ontario are New York's Finger Lakes. Earth's atmosphere is visible as a bright blue line separating the planet from the blackness of space.
Colored in brilliant blue, the Mississippi River meanders along the border of Arkansas and Mississippi, surrounded by blocky fields, towns and pastures. This image was one of the five to win a public contest for the top images from NASA's Landsat satellites. Read about the other winners at OurAmazingPlanet.com.
A cloud forms as this F/A-18 Hornet aircraft speeds up to supersonic speed. Aircraft flying this fast push air up to the very limits of its speed, forming what's called a bow shock in front of them. Similar bow shocks are also found in a variety of forms in space, and recent research from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center suggests they may contribute to heating of the material around them. The findings were published in March in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
From the International Space Station, the aurora seems to set the Earth alight with green fire. This photo, snapped by the Expedition 32 crew aboard the ISS on July 15, 2012, offers a stunning view of the aurora australis, or southern lights. (That's Canadarm2, a robot arm extending off the station, in the foreground.) The southern lights, and their cousin the northern lights, occur when particles from the sun hit atmospheric gases, exciting the gas molecules and creating the gorgeous, twisting colors that can be seen at high and low latitudes.
Transient beauty in Death Valley National Park. A nighttime snowfall left frozen art on bare vegetation in early December, 2011. "This one is about right place right time," photographer Patrick Klenk wrote.
The Seussian colors of this image aren't the result of some egg experiment gone wrong. NASA's STEREO-Ahead spacecraft captured this photo of an eruption on the sun on July 2, 2012. The solar flare, seen here in green, occurred on the side of the sun that faces Earth, but was directed toward the south, preventing any electromagnetic disturbances from the event.
Icebergs dot the water like a sprinkling of glitter in Baffin Bay, Greenland. These bergs likely broke off from two nearby glaciers, Nunatakavsaup Sermia and Igdlugdlip Sermia, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.
This image was taken in 2005 by an instrument on NASA's Terra satellite. Greenland's small icebergs can be tough to detect, making them hazardous for ships. The iceberg that sunk the Titanic would have originated here in Baffin Bay.
Icebergs dot the water like a sprinkling of glitter in Baffin Bay, Greenland. These bergs likely broke off from two nearby glaciers, Nunatakavsaup Sermia and Igdlugdlip Sermia, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.
This image was taken in 2005 by an instrument on NASA's Terra satellite. Greenland's small icebergs can be tough to detect, making them hazardous for ships. The iceberg that sunk the Titanic would have originated here in Baffin Bay.
A Petri dish experiment gone bad? A growth on lunch you left out last month?
It's much more appealing, though it is gassy. … This true color image captured by NASA'S Cassini spacecraft before a distant flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on June 27, 2012, shows a south polar vortex, or mass of swirling gas, in the moon's atmosphere. The vortex seems to complete one full rotation in nine hours, while Titan takes about 16 days to spin once around its axis.
The vortex, which is swirling at a high altitude could be a response of Titan's stratosphere to seasonal cooling as the southern winter nears, according to NASA scientists. "Polar vortexes have also been observed on Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, Earth and Venus, scientists say. [Read the full story]
Dubbed Manhattanhenge for the way it turns New York City into a Stonehenge-like sundial, the event garners plenty of viewers. On Thursday and Friday, July 12-13, 2012, the sunset will perfectly align with Manhattan's street grid. As the sun sets, it will illuminate the north and south sides of every cross street. This photo was taken at about 4 p.m. on July 12.
Glowing sky phenomena can make for beautiful photos. This one, captured by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station on April 30, 2012, reveals a red sprite and lightning flash. The photo was taken while the ISS traveled southeast from central Myanmar (Burma) to just north of Malaysia.
Red sprites are difficult to observe because they last for just a few milliseconds and occur above thunderstorms, so they are usually blocked from view on the ground by the very clouds that produce them. They send pulses of electrical energy up toward the edge of space (the electrically charged layer known as the ionosphere) instead of down to Earth’s surface. They are rich with radio noise, and can sometimes occur in clusters.
For decades, pilots reported seeing ephemeral flashes above storms, but it was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to verify the existence of these electrical discharges. A sprite was first photographed by accident from an airplane in 1989, and observers on the space shuttle captured several more images with low-light cameras in 1990 and in subsequent missions. Viewers on the ground can occasionally photograph sprites by looking out on a thunderstorm in the distance (often looking out from high mountainsides over storms in lower plains.)
Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) plays a key role in the food webs of the South Ocean. In fact, throughout their evolutionary history, these tiny crustaceans have developed many biological rhythms that are closely connected to large seasonal changes in their environment.
But how will marine organisms like the krill react to environmental changes at the poles, such as receding sea ice and ocean warming, given that their vital processes, such as reproduction cycles and seasonable food availability, have been synchronized with the environment over millions of years? To answer this question, researchers in the virtual Helmholtz Institute PolarTime are taking a very close look at Antarctic krill, which serves as a model organism for a polar plankton species that has adapted to the extreme conditions. The Helmholtz institute is part of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.
Camelopardalis, or U Cam for short, is a star nearing the end of its life. As stars run low on fuel, they become unstable. Every few thousand years, U Cam coughs out a nearly spherical shell of gas as a layer of helium around its core begins to fuse. The gas ejected in the star's latest eruption is clearly visible in this picture as a faint bubble of gas surrounding the star. U Cam is an example of a carbon star, a rare type of star with an atmosphere that contains more carbon than oxygen. Due to its low surface gravity, typically as much as half of the total mass of a carbon star may be lost by way of powerful stellar winds. Located in the constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe), near the North Celestial Pole, U Cam itself is much smaller than it appears in this Hubble image. In fact, the star would easily fit within a single pixel at the center of the image. Its brightness, however, is enough to saturate the camera's receptors, making the star look much larger than it is.
The shell of gas, which is both much larger and much fainter than its parent star, is visible in intricate detail in Hubble's portrait. This phenomenon is often quite irregular and unstable, but the shell of gas expelled from U Cam is almost perfectly spherical.
Alien or sea creature? This delicate blue organism is a nudibranch, a type of marine mollusk. Nudibranches are often confused for sea slugs, but the two groups are separate.
The blue nudibranch seen here is just an inch (2.5 cm) long. It was found clinging to sargassum seaweed during a NOAA Life on the Edge mission in 2003. Scientists explored the continental slope and shelf edge off the coast of the southern U.S., from North Carolina to Florida. The team observed everything from sea urchins to flying fish on the 11 day mission.
Even when Earth is swathed in clouds, astronauts aboard the International Space Station get amazing views. Here, atmospheric forces create vortexes, punching holes in the cloud cover near the Aleutian Islands. The islands force the wind into eddies, creating these odd cloud formations photographed by an Expedition 15 crewmember. See more strange clouds in our gallery.
A stream of hot gas flows across space in this Hubble Space Telescope image of a newborn star. This gas geyser is known as Herbig-Haro 110. The patterns of the gas ejection can tell researchers the history of the star's birth. Times when more matter fell into the star are recorded as bright blobs in the half light-year stream.
A gathering storm rolls across northwestern Indiana, on its way toward the East Coast. Yes, this shelf cloud is the vanguard of the derecho, or straight-line storm, that blew through the mid-Atlantic over the weekend, downing trees, leaving millions without power and killing at least 22 people. This image was taken on June 29, 2012 in LaPorte, Indiana as the storm traveled eastward at roughly 60 miles (96 km) per hour .
Meteorologists explain that the storm occurred at the boundary of stable, dry air to the north and unstable, moist air to the south. Record-high temperatures fueled the windstorm as heated air rose and then fell in vicious downdrafts. The June 29 derecho blew wind gusts at more than 90 miles (145 km) per hour, rivaling the power of an EF-1 tornado.
Smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire outside of Colorado Springs, Colo. streams over the U.S. Air Force Academy campus as cadets head to a briefing on evacuation procedures on June 27, 2012. That night, the Academy evacuated more than 600 families and 1,100 dorm residents from the fire. As of Friday (June 29), the fire had burned 16,750 acres and 346 homes, killing at least one person.
Earth isn't the only planet with weather. Here, a strong jet stream moves across Saturn's northern hemisphere. About a third of the way down the upper right of this image, clouds associated with the jet stream appear as a thin orange band that suddenly doglegs south. This jet stream, photographed by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, has been visible since NASA's voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, took its first look at Saturn. In those days, the jet stream wiggled like a ribbon. Today, the air currents have changed and the stream no longer undulates.
The Earth is never quiet, as illustrated in this four-decade-long record of shimmies and shakes recorded by the Albuquerque Seismic Laboratory (ASL) in New Mexico. The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) created this plot in honor of the lab's 50th anniversary. Seismometers buried in boreholes and vaults record both regional tremors and vibrations from large quakes that reverberate globally. For example, in 1976 ASL's seismometers detected shaking from a magnitude-7.5 quake in Tangshan, China that killed at least 240,000 people. Another highlighted quake is the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California, the largest to shake the San Francisco Bay Area since the region's famous 1906 temblor.
Amidst clouds of dust and gas, new stars are born in the constellation of Scorpius. This glittering image is the best ever taken of the War and Peace Nebula, a star-forming region found in Scorpius. Created by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, this photograph shows bright blue-white baby stars amidst gas clouds. A stream of dust through the nebula darkens the center of the image.
The War and Peace Nebula got its name because scientists on the Midcourse Space Experiment thought that one half of the nebula looked like a dove, while the other half looked like a skull. That effect isn't visible in this newest image.
Today, June 20, is the summer solstice. It's the longest day in the northern hemisphere, with the sun above the horizon for just a touch longer than June 19 or June 21. But in Antarctica, Earth's tilt means that June 20 is the shortest day of the year — Midwinter's Day.
The sun has not risen above the Antarctic horizon since mid-May, so researchers and staff overwintering on the icy continent have been living in permanent darkness. The winterers will be celebrating by exchanging gifts among research stations (such as Rothera Research Station, above), according to the British Antarctic Survey. And there's just a month until the sun rises again.
In 1972, the crew of Apollo 17 took possibly the most famous picture of the Earth from space, which was dubbed "The Blue Marble." Since then, NASA has released many gorgeous images of our planet stitched together from satellite views. Usually, however, these Blue Marble images focus on the western or eastern hemisphere.
Not so this image, hereby dubbed "The White Marble." Using images from the Suomi NPP satellite, NASA put together this image of Earth from the top down. The icy Arctic appears amidst swirls of clouds, with Europe, Asia and northern Africa visible toward Earth's midsection.
An immune cell tangles with a protozoan parasite in a life-or-death struggle. The ribbon-like parasite is Trypanosoma brucei, a microscopic menace that causes African sleeping sickness. The parasite is transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly. New research, published June 14, 2012 online by the journal Science, finds that once in the body, this parasite is well-adapted to give the immune system the slip. By releasing certain messenger chemicals, the parasite can shut down the anti-trypanosome proteins in immune cells.
The findings are important, given that at least 7,000 people per year in sub-Saharan Africa contract sleeping sickness, according to the World Health Organization. As the parasite infiltrates the brain, symptoms include disturbed sleep, confusion and poor coordination. If caught early, African sleeping sickness is treatable; left untreated, it is almost always fatal.
Set against a sherbet sky, these rock formations off the coast of Spain show a prehistoric kind of beauty. Photographer Jose Julian Esteban won a prize for this shot at the 2011 European Geosciences Union photo contest. The rocks are folded cretaceous calcarenite near Bilbao, Spain.
What do you seen in this soap bubble? Researchers at the University of Bordeaux saw something surprisingly similar to a hurricane, an observation that launched a new mathematical model that can help project where cyclones will go.
By measuring vortexes as they moved across heated soap bubbles, the researchers were able to develop a model to predict where they'd end up. The same principles hold for hurricanes and tropical storms, the scientists told LiveScience's sister site OurAmazingPlanet. Nevertheless, the model is best at predicting early storm tracks, not the late-in-the-game swerves made by many big storms.
A single meteor streaks toward Earth in this image from the night of April 21, 2012. Astronaut Don Pettit snapped this photograph from his perch in the International Space Station (ISS) during the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower. Behind the meteor, city lights outline the shape of Florida and the eastern Gulf Coast. Cuba and the Florida Keys are to the right.
The setting sun sets an ice-caked sea alight with color in this image from NASA's ICESCAPE mission. This research mission aims to learn how climate change is changing the ocean chemistry and its ecosystems in the far north. Researchers took this photo in the last days of the 2011 mission, heading south in the Chukchi Sea.
A thick plume of smoke blows east from the High Park wildfire just west of Fort Collins, Colo. NASA's Aqua satellite snapped this shot of the fire at 2:30 p.m. MDT on Sunday (June 10), when the fire had consumed about 20,000 acres. By Monday afternoon, nearly 37,000 acres had gone up in smoke, and at least 100 structures had been destroyed. Firefighters had yet to get a handle on the blaze, which was likely sparked by a lightning strike.
It's ring around the high-pressure center in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on June 5, 2012. High pressure near the surface caused this hole in the clouds off the coast of Tasmania, bringing sunny skies to an area 620 miles (1,000 km) across.
Bet Lady Liberty never thought she'd see something like this. The Space Shuttle Enterprise was towed past the Statue of Liberty Wednesday (June 6, 2012) through the Hudson River on its way to to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, where it will go on permanent public display.
Venus (upper left) approaches the sun on Tuesday, June 5. The 2012 transit was the last for 105 years. To see more of this rare event, visit LiveScience's transit of Venus gallery.
On Tuesday, June 5, skywatchers in North America will get a chance to view the transit of Venus across the sun, an event that won't happen again until 2117. On June 3, 1769, Captain James Cook got a similar view. On his first voyage around the world, Cook and his shipboard astronomer Charles Green had the responsibility of measuring Venus' transit as part of an effort to determine the size of the solar system. As Venus passed over the face of the sun, Cook and Green made these sketches. For more recent views of the transit, see our gallery of gorgeous Venus images.
Where do fleas get their incredible jumping abilities? Look no further than these massive hind legs. Although fleas only get about 1/8 of an inch (3 millimeters) long, they have a horizontal jump range of up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) — that's more than 1,000 times their body length. Flea bites are to be avoided; it's these jumping insects that are responsible for transmitting the Black Death, or plague, from rats to humans in the 1300s.
This is the sun as you've never seen it before. NASA researchers applied extra processing to a sun snapshot taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to create this trippy image. Loops of plasma are held in place by the sun's strong magnetic fields, concentrated in active regions that are visible to the naked eye as sunspots. This is a look at the sun on Sept. 25, 2011.
This is the sun as you've never seen it before. NASA researchers applied extra processing to a sun snapshot taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to create this trippy image. Loops of plasma are held in place by the sun's strong magnetic fields, concentrated in active regions that are visible to the naked eye as sunspots. This is a look at the sun on Sept. 25, 2011.
Chunks of glacial ice stand out in brilliant blue at Jokulsarlon, a glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland. The stunning scenery at Jokulsarlon has made it not only a popular tourist attraction, but a top spot for shooting movies. Two James Bond flicks ("A View to a Kill" and "Die Another Day") featured this icy lake, as did "Tomb Raider" and "Batman Begins."
Jokulsarlon is fed by the Breidamerkurjokull glacier, and the lagoon has been growing as the glacier retreats. In the 1970s, Jokulsarlon covered about 3 square miles (8 square kilometers). By 1998, it doubled in size to nearly 6 square miles (15 square km).
If this fellow is in your well water, don't quench your thirst. This is a scanning electron microscope image of Giardia muris, a protozoan parasite that causes nasty diarrhea when it infects the intestines of its hosts.
Giardia has two phases in its life cycle: the cyst, a dormant phase, and the active trophozoite phase, seen here. People can contract the parasite by drinking water contaminated with cysts; from there, the parasite becomes active, with very unpleasant digestive results. Anti-parasite medication can help fight off these fierce freeloaders, which attach to the intestine lining (seen here in blue). The worm-like flagella seen in this image allow the trophozoites to swim freely in the host's gut.
The Columbia Glacier descends from an ice field 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) above sea level, down the flanks of the Chugach Mountains, and into a narrow inlet that leads into Prince William Sound in southeastern Alaska. It is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world.
This false-color image, captured by the Thematic Mapper (TM) instrument on Landsat 5, shows the glacier and the surrounding landscape on May 30, 2011. Snow and ice appears bright cyan, vegetation is green, clouds are white or light orange, and the open ocean is dark blue. Exposed bedrock is brown, while rocky debris on the glacier’s surface is gray.
It's hard not to personify NASA's Mars rovers. Here, the rover Opportunity seems to peer out bravely into the great unknown Martian landscape.
Opportunity used its panoramic camera to capture this view of Endeavour Crater on March 9, 2012 during the late afternoon (Mars time, of course). The rover has been exploring the western rim of Endeavour Crater since August 2011. The crater spans 14 miles (22 km) in diameter, about the size of Seattle.
May 5, 2012 was a busy night for stargazers in Hunstville, Ala. This composite image shows the skies that night. The arcs are star trails, while the willy-nilly streaks are meteor trails. The strange bright parallel lines in the upper left of the photo are no UFO — they're the lights of a passing airplane.
The setting sun is partially eclipsed by the moon on May 20 in this photograph taken 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Tulsa, Okla. The May 20 solar eclipse was visible from parts of Asia, the Pacific and the western United States.
Space madness? Fortunately not — this is a composite photograph made from a series of images taken by a camera mounted on the International Space Station. By stacking long exposures, Expedition 31 Flight Engineer Don Petit turned the Earth into a brilliant blur and captured the circular movement of the stars.
Earth takes on beautiful colors in this image created by a Russian weather satellite. The satellite, Elektro-L No.1, scans both visible and infrared wavelengths of light. Combining these images yields the colorful view of Earth seen above. Read more about the image on LiveScience's sister site, OurAmazingPlanet.
Fancy a handshake with a hornet? This spiky appendage is the foot of an unidentified hornet found in Decatur, Ga. Magnified 87 times, this image is of the insect's "pretarsus," or the tip of one of its six legs. The sucker-like pad in the middle of the hornet's claw is the arolium, and the hair-like projections all over the leg are called setae. This image was taken with a scanning electron microscope in 2007.
If all the world's water were to form a single drop, this is how big it would be: A sphere stretching from Salt Lake City, Utah to Topeka, Kansas. Though this mega-droplet looks small compared to Earth's bulk, the two dimensionality of this image is somewhat deceiving. In fact, the water sphere would have a diameter of about 860 miles (1,385 kilometers) and a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (1,386,000,000 cubic km).
That's a lot of water, but you wouldn't want to drink this droplet. More than 96 percent of Earth's water is saline. About 68 percent of the world's fresh water is frozen in ice sheets and glaciers, with another 30 percent stored underground. Rivers make up just 1/10,000th of a percent of the globe's total water.
The alienlike beauty of this image, taken by a camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), may seem to portend some Martian artists. Alas, the ridges and ripples are evidence of Martian sand dunes. The brighter features represent two classes of so-called aeolian bedforms within Proctor Crater. The ripples, research has shown, are composed of fine sand or fine sand coated with coarser sand and granules. And the larger, darker bedforms are dunes composed of sand, possibly derived from basaltic, or volcanic, rock (and hence the darker color). Ripples tend to move slower than dunes. Because of this, over time, ripples get covered with dust, possibly explaining the bright tone visible here. The image was taken by the MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on Feb. 9, 2009.
The Supermoon appears to be sinking into the atmosphere. The image was taken by André Kuipers from aboard the ISS on May 5, 2012.
A trio of parachutes unfurl against a perfectly blue sky, floating Boeing's Crew Space Transportation crew capsule to the ground after a test flight. Boeing is one of the private contractors working to build next-generation spacecraft for NASA. The Crew Space Transportation spacecraft is designed to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
For the test shown in this photo, a helicopter lifted the capsule to 10,000 feet above the Delmar Dry Lake Bed near Alamo, Nev. Six air bags to cushion the fall can be seen protecting the capsule.
Earth saw its biggest full moon of the year this Saturday (May 5); and plenty of people across the globe were out to catch a glimpse of the brilliant satellite. Dubbed a supermoon by some, the phenomenon occurs when the moon is closest to Earth on its noncircular orbit. This close approach, called perigee, puts the moon at 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) away. The setup many saw over the weekend put the moon at some 14 percent larger than normal and 16 percent brighter than an average full moon.
Shown here, Dave Morrow created this composite image with six time-lapse exposures of the full moon rising over Seattle, Wash., in addition to exposures of the skyline blended together using Adobe Bridge. "I was sitting in the living room last night processing pics from the weekend, when I noticed a huge moon rising over Seattle. Grabbed my camera and ran up to Kerry Park to get this picture," Morrow wrote on his flickr page.
Ready for fishy kisses? On second thought, it's best to steer clear of this south Atlantic scorpion fish. This fellow is part of the Scorpaenidae family, a group that includes the world's most venomous species. (The lionfish, with its venomous fin rays, is another family member.) This image was taken in 2002 during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition to explore the eastern coast of the U.S. from Florida to North Carolina.
In a fjord on the eastern edge of Greenland, a glacier meets the sea, spitting out icebergs that mix with floating ice on the water's surface. These chilly conglomerations are called "ice mélanges," and understanding them is important because they may slow the glacier's slide into the sea.
This photograph was taken during an IceBridge flight, part of a six-year scientific mission to understand the complexities of the Greenland ice sheet. Some Arctic glaciers are melting at an alarming pace, while others are relatively stable and still others are growing thicker. Figuring out why is key to understanding how much sea levels will rise in a warming world.
Gliding watchfully over coral and reef fish, a black tip reef shark patrols the waters off the Rose Atoll of American Samoa. A recent study found that reef sharks like this one are vanishing rapidly near populated islands, with up to 90 percent of sharks in these areas missing compared to isolated reefs. The cause could be illegal shark fishing or simply human activity in these reefs that leaves less food for the sharks. For more on these threatened apex predators, visit our gallery of wild sharks.
Wave clouds form in the wake of Île aux Cochons, or Pig Island, in the southern Indian Ocean. These unusual clouds form when winds run into the high summit of the island, pushing hot, moist air upward until the air cools and the moisture condenses into clouds. As the air mass descends past the summit, it hits alternating layers of moist and dry air, creating the wave-like cloud pattern seen in this astronaut photograph.
With its 2,543 foot (775 meter) volcanic summit, Île aux Cochonsis a lonely place. Despite the name, it's not pigs that make their home here, but seabirds: The island is home to the world's largest King Penguin colony.
Named for its resemblance to a wide-brimmed hat, the Sombrero galaxy is actually two galaxies in one, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed. This image shows a large elliptical galaxy in blue-green, with a thin disk galaxy (red) embedded within. Previously, researchers believed the Sombrero was a simple flat disk galaxy.
Named for their mother-of-pearl iridescence, nacreous clouds blanket the sky above Husavik, Iceland in December 2011. These clouds, also known as polar stratospheric clouds, occur high in the atmosphere, 49,000 to 82,000 feet (15,000 to 25,000 meters) up. Thanks to their high altitude, the clouds reflect light from the setting or rising sun before it breaches the horizon, causing their ethereal glow.
A minivan-sized meteoroid dives through the atmosphere, leaving a trail of fire visible across Nevada and California. The space rock rattled windows over California's Central Valley at about 8 a.m. PT on Sunday, April 22 when it exploded in the upper atmosphere, releasing energy equivalent to a 5-kiloton burst. NASA experts estimate that the object weighed about 154,300 pounds (70 metric tons).
"An event of this size might happen about once a year," said Don Yeomans, a researcher with NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "But most of them occur over the ocean or an uninhabited area, so getting to see one is something special."
The Hubble Space Telescope doesn't get gifts on its birthday — it gives them. To commemorate its 22nd anniversary in orbit, the telescope helped make possible this vibrant image of the Tarantula Nebula, a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
This image is a composite, with x-ray energy seen by the Chandra X-ray Observatory visible in blue, light seen by Hubble in green and infrared emissions captured by the Spitzer observatory in red. The x-rays are caused by sonic-boom-like shock waves associated with stellar activities, the light is emitted by stars of different ages, and the infrared emissions represent relatively cool gas and dust.
An underwater shot of a school of fish swimming in a grove of red mangroves seems to capture the fish in midflight. This photograph, taken in the Bahamas by Matt Potenski of New Jersey, took second place in the annual underwater photography contest held by the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. For more gorgeous shots of sea creatures, see the gallery of winners.
Saturn is ready for her close-up. This image, taken by the Hubble Space telescope in 2004, offers a stunning view of the planet's rings. Saturn boasts 9 continuous main rings as well as three fragmentary arcs; they're made mostly of ice with some dust and rock mixed in. In this image, the main body of the planet casts a dark shadow on the rings.
Do you recognize this sprawling metropolis? Here's a hint: World's most populous city.
Made your guesses? If you said Shanghai, congratulations! The city is on the lefthand side of the image, sitting along the Yangtze River and the eastern coast of China. As of 2010, 23 million people lived in Shanghai, including unregistered residents. The once-separate town of Suzhou can be seen on the right, increasingly linked to Shanghai by roads and residences.
Perched on top of a specially modified Boeing 747, the retired Space Shuttle discovery takes off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7 a.m. EDT this morning (April 17).
Discovery took its victory lap along the East Coast on its way to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The shuttle carrier aircraft ferried the 165,00 pound (74,843 kilogram) craft over the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for a final fly-by.
Brrr… It's cold out there! Baby emperor penguins snuggle up with their parents on the chilly Antarctic ice. Recent research headed by Michelle LaRue of Minnesota University turned up good news for these beautiful birds: Using high-resolution satellite imagery, the scientists counted the entire population of emperor penguins in the Antarctic and found twice as many as expected.
Still, LaRue said in a statement, the loss of sea ice in the Antarctic is troubling for emperor penguins, which rely on the ice for their breeding grounds. Knowing the baseline number of birds will help researchers monitor populations over time, better clarifying how environmental change affects these birds.
Emperor penguins are the only species that breeds exclusively on Antarctic sea ice. After the chicks hatch, mom and pop penguin alternate cuddling with baby while the other goes to fish. After about 50 days of this, all the baby penguins huddle together for warmth while their parents strike out to sea, returning occasionally to bring food. These baby penguin huddles, called crèches, can hold thousands of little penguins.
Feel free to believe your eyes: According to the National Weather Service of Amarillo, Texas, this picture is the real thing. Between 3 and 4 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 a storm dumped massive amounts of pea-sized ice balls about 25 miles north of Amarillo. Wind and subsequent rains carved the hail into drifts four feet high, as seen here with a member of the Potter County Fire Department.
The Space Shuttle Discovery hitches a ride on 905, NASA's shuttle-carrying 747 in this 1983 photograph. This voyage from California to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida launched Discovery's career. The shuttle would fly its first orbital mission in 1984.
Lucky East-Coasters may be able to see Discovery fly again next week (Aug. 17) as the shuttle is transported via 747 to The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. Weather permitting, the 747's route will carry the shuttle over the National Mall, Reagan National Airport and the National Harbor.
Colored dots in the Pacific represent the locations of hundreds of buoys deployed to give researchers a sense of what goes on in our vast oceans. These buoys measure everything from chemical levels to ocean temperatures. Different colored dots represent different networks of buoys designed for different purposes. Red dots are part of DART, the Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis project. Buoys like these are designed as part of tsunami early warning systems, systems that have expanded widely since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people. As the wave propagates through the ocean, the buoys send data back to shore to help predict where and how bad the tsunami is likely to be.
Most DART buoys are deployed along the "Ring of Fire," the seismically active plate boundaries that run up the west coast of North and South America and down the east side of Asia. Wednesday (April 11), the buoys were tested as an 8.6-magnitude earthquake shook Indonesia and triggered a tsunami warning.
In brilliant blues and greens, this image reveals a tangle of spinal nerve cells, with neurons in green and supportive glial cells all around. Cell nuclei are shown in blue. The red marks the expression of a gene called COX-2, which is stimulated by inflammation.
Vanderbilt University researcher Lawrence Marnett and his colleagues have discovered that COX-2 metabolizes endocannabinoids, which are naturally-occurring painkillers in the body that activate the same brain receptors as marijuana. Intriguingly, certain forms of ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) block this metabolism, the researchers find. That means the pain-killing endocannabinoids stick around longer, partially explaining why popping an Advil can kill a headache.
Brrr… Circular eddies off the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia draw ice floes into deceptively delicate spiral patterns. In fact, the ice chunks that make up these swirls are meters across, making this area of the sea very dangerous to navigate.
With colors that would make Faberge green with envy, the Cartwheel galaxy stands out against a backdrop of other brightly-colored galactic bodies. The Easter egg appearance of this galaxy is due to false colors representing various wavelengths of light — ultraviolet in blue, B-band visible light in green, infrared in red and x-ray radiation in purple.
The 'rings' of this galaxy are the aftermath of a collision between the Cartwheel galaxy and another galaxy about 100 million years ago. The first ripple is the blue outer ring, while the yellow-orange "yolk" of the Easter egg is a combination of visible and infrared light from the second ripple. The neon blob and green spiral in the background are two other galaxies, one of which may have been the one that collided with Cartwheel
The strange green swirls seen off the Princess Astrid Coast of East Antarctica triggered something of a scientific mystery. First photographed in late February by NASA's Terra satellite, the swirls stymied scientists trying to identify them.
The obvious identification for any ocean-based greenery is a phytoplankton, or algae bloom. But Stanford marine biologist Kevin Arrigo told NASA Earth Observatory that he wasn't so sure. Instead, he said, the pattern looked like algae clinging to ice, not floating in the sea. Other scientists said that marine algae blooms in the area were perfectly plausible.
The satellite image wasn't offering further clues, so scientists at the Australian Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center decided to take a look the old-fashioned way. They redirected the ship Aurora Australis from its mission in order to get samples of the mysterious greenery — a small side trip for the vessel. The crew took samples that have yet to be analyzed, but their eyewitness accounts reveal that the sea in the region was covered in algae-encrusted pancake ice, itself floating in greenish-brown water.
Extending its arms 8 inches (20 cm) across, a pink crab perches on a bed of soft coral 2,310 feet (740 meters) deep in the Sangihe Talaud region off of Indonesia. The Little Hercules ROV captured this image of the colorful critter during a 2010 ocean expedition. Crabs like these are only found living on soft coral.
This March, the Expedition 30 crew aboard the International Space Station got treated to quite the light show from Earth. Two hundred and forty miles (386 kilometers) below the orbiting station are the lights of Ireland and the Northern Kingdom, with sunrise encroaching over the edge of the planet in the background. Along the rest of the horizon, a green and purple aurora shimmers. The aurora is caused by charged particles from space colliding with atoms in the high atmosphere.
An iceberg moves slowly through a fjord in Tassilaq, East Greenland, its underwater bulk visible in brilliant blue. This photograph was taken from a helicopter in September, 2011.
During a conference on the dynamic phenomena called the northern lights, Herbert Gunell of the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy caught this shot of the aurora in Fairbanks, Alaska. The aurora borealis, or northern lights, occurs when charged particles in the solar wind enter Earth's magnetic field. "The high-speed particles then crash into Earth's upper atmosphere over the polar regions, causing the atmosphere to emit a ghostly, multicolored glow," according to NASA.
Ocean or Van Gogh painting? This NASA image titled "Perpetual Ocean" shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through Decmeber 2007. To see these currents in motion, watch the video.
These strange circular clouds are no natural phenomenon. They were created by NASA in order to study the circulation in the atmosphere over North America.
On March 27, NASA successfully launched five suborbital rockets in order to study the upper level jet stream. Each rocket, launched one after another 80 seconds apart, released a chemical tracer to create these milky clouds at the very edge of space, 65 miles (105 km) up.
Tracking the movements of the clouds will help researchers understand air movements at this level of the atmosphere. Meanwhile, these enormous cloud rings were visible as far south as Wilmington, N.C. and as far north as Buffalo, N.Y.
Welcome to my ice crevasse. Two divers meet an unexpected surprise in the frigid waters of Palmer Land on the Antarctica Peninsula during a 1962-1963 expedition. Their encounter was with a Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), a deep diver that favors a coastal ice habitat. These bruisers can tip the scales at up to 1,360 pounds (600 kilograms) and they live farther south than any other mammal on Earth.
This vintage photograph was taken in 1962 during an Antarctic survey led by biologist Waldo Schmitt, an honorary research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. A crustacean expert, Schmitt travelled the world on multiple research expeditions. The one to Antarctica would be his last. He died in 1977 at the age of 90.
A dazzling display of stars sparkles near the center of the Milky Way — too dim for human eyes, but not for the Hubble Space Telescope. This image is of Messier 9, a globular star cluster of over 250,000 stars close to the center of our galaxy. These sphere-shaped groups of stars are thought to contain some of the oldest stars in the galaxy, according to NASA. These pinpoints of light in Messier 9 are twice as old as our sun.
A newly discovered wasp found in Indonesia has enormous sickle-shaped jaws to rival its fearsome sting.
The new species has been dubbed Megalara garuda after the Garuda, a part-human, part-bird legend that is the national symbol for Indonesia. Little is known about the wasps' behavior, but based on other wasp species, males may use their giant jaws to hold females during mating.
The wasp was simultaneously discovered by researchers Lynn Kimsey of the University of California, Davis and Michael Ohl of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, who report their discovery in the journal ZooKeys this week. A specimen of the wasp collected in the 1930s was lurking in the insect collections of the museum, unexamined. At the same time, researchers searching the Indonesia island of Sulawesi found a modern specimen of the same wasp.
Here's a storm you don't want to be caught in. On March 13, 2012, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of an intense solar flare bursting from the sun's surface. The flare peaked at 1:41 p.m. EDT, part of a week of high activity from this region of the sun.
There are three classifications of solar flares, based on x-ray brightness. X-class is the most intense, followed by M- and C-class flares. This flare, shown in a teal-colorized wavelength, is an M-class flare.
Sediment-rich water spills from the mouth of the Fraser River into the Strait of Georgia by the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. The Fraser starts its journey as a fast-moving stream in the Rocky Mountains, picking up sediment on its journey toward the coast. By the time the river hits Vancouver, it slows and spreads, eventually emptying into the sea through braided channels, visible in this photograph taken by the Landsat 5 satellite.
The Fraser carries approximately 20 million metric tons of sediment toward the Pacific each year, with some of that plume visible in bright blue here.
Water and land seem swapped in this satellite photo taken over the South Pacific. The steaming volcanic island of Tinakula appears in dark, almost liquid, green. The surrounding water takes on a milky, solid look because of the reflection of sunlight on the ocean.
Satellite observations of Tinakula suggest that the island erupts occasionally, but remote as it is, eyewitnesses are rare, according to NASA's Earth Observatory. Here, a plume of gas and perhaps ash rises lazily above the island.
Are you wearing green this St. Patrick's Day? Ireland sure is. A moderate temperature and plenty of rainfall keep the Emerald Isle emerald. Warm ocean currents help make Ireland more temperate than other spots at the same latitude. With all this warm, moist air, fog and clouds are common — making this clear green view, captured by NASA's Aqua satellite in October 2010, a special sight to behold.
Ever wonder what it would be like to be an old-fashioned tourist? This digitized lantern slide from the Brooklyn Museum provides a window into that world. Taken sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s, this image shows Egypt's famous Great Sphinx, still mostly buried in sand. Today, the Sphinx is fully exposed, a process that began with archaeological excavations in 1925.
Lantern slides like this hand-colored example were the first vacation slideshows. Transparent images were placed on glass and could be projected onto a screen with the use of a light. These slideshows allowed museums to easily display photos during lectures, bringing exotic lands to rapt audiences.
This city does night lights with an extra amount of flare. Any guesses where it is?
The answer, as aficionados of artificial islands may have guessed, is Dubai. This Middle Eastern metro is a playground for the wealthy, as suggested by the man-made, palm-tree-shaped archipelago in the upper left of the photo. A development company started building "Palm Jumeirah," as it's called, in 2001. Today, it's home to hotels, villas and resorts.
The artificial island isn't the only manmade wonder visible in this photo. The fiery blot of light in the center-right of the picture is the Burj Khalifa tower, which rises 2,717 feet (828 meters), making it the world's tallest building.
Like something out of a fantasy land, the Icelandic waterfall Gullfoss pours nearly 5,000 cubic feet (140 cubic meters) of water over its edge each second. Gullfoss (which means 'Golden Falls' in English) is on the Hvita river in southwest Iceland. The falls were once considered for hydroelectric power, but fortunately for this stunning vista, they were sold to the Icelandic government instead and preserved. Now the spot is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland.
Three viewers are silhouetted against Argentina's Perito Moreno Glacier, a sea of ice 19 miles (30 kilometers) long and up to 558 feet (170 meters) deep. This view in Los Glaciares National Park is easily accessible to travelers. Tour companies even lead guided trips for adventurous souls who want to walk on the glacier's surface.
Strangest class picture of all time? Nope, just a little tourism. A 12-foot-long female tiger shark shows off her size above a row of SCUBA divers at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas, a popular ecotourism spot. There have been worries that these eco-tourist spots disrupt sharks' natural wanderings by making them overly dependent on the chum that tour guides throw out to attract the giant, predatory fish. But new research suggests that's not the case. In fact, responsible eco-tourism may benefit sharks by encouraging local governments to protect them. [Read the full story here]
NASA's HiRISE camera makes it possible to see the weather worlds and worlds away. Any guesses which planet this dust devil is sweeping across?
The rusty soil probably gave it away: It's Mars. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) is a camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,which sends back ultra-high-resolution images of the surface of Mars. HiRISE caught this alien twister scouring the dusty Martian surface in the late Martian spring. Researchers calculate that the dust plume reached 2,625 feet (800 meters) high. Martian winds blew the plume out toward the east as the dust devil itself headed southeast.
A bather wades in clear blue waters in a cenote, or sinkhole, on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Cenotes form when the limestone ceiling of a cave collapses, revealing the void (and the groundwater) below. Some of these sinkholes look like large exposed lakes, while others, like this one, become underground cathedrals, with only a small hole in the ground allowing rays of light through. The water in cenotes is crystal-clear because it percolates up through the ground, carrying with it very little suspended sediment.
Has our sun turned into a Red Dwarf, er, make that Pink Dwarf, overnight? Fortunately, the answer is no. This pretty pastel image of the sun comes from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) satellites. This is one of the first batch of three-dimensional images beamed back from the STEREO project, though you'll need old-school red-and-cyan paper glasses to make the images pop.
This false-color image combines all of STEREO's wavelengths into one picture, enabling scientists to compare different features and wavelengths. The goal of the project is to better understand the physics of the sun, thus enabling scientists to more accurately predict space weather.
A roll cloud, associated with thunderstorm downdrafts and strange sea winds, tumbles across the sky off the coast of Brazil. Roll clouds are rare and harmless, though ominous-looking.
Ghostly rainbows seem to dominate the core of the galaxy cluster Abell 520 2.4 billion light-years away. In fact, the colors represent dark matter, galaxies and hot gas formed from the collision of massive galaxy clusters. Starlight is colored orange, hot gas is green, and blue areas represent the densest part of the cluster, most of which is dark matter.
Everyone's heard of sunshine and moonshine (and not the stuff that comes in glass jars). But the Earth shines too. Sunlight bounces off our planet, hits the moon and bounces back, visible as the silvery light seen here reflecting off Earth's natural satellite above the European Southern Obervatory's (ESO) Paranal Observatory in Chile.
New research published Feb. 29 in the journal Nature suggests that this Earthshine may be useful for more than beauty, however. Researchers led by Michael Sterzik of the ESO found that you can measure the polarization of Earthshine to reveal our planet's cloud cover, ocean surface and even vegetation cover. Using Earth as a test case, researchers could develop methods to study light signals bouncing off far-off exoplanets to determine their landscapes, the researchers reported.
This beautiful backlit web of dust and stars is NGC 7049, a galaxy in the constellation of Indus in the southern sky. Sprinkled around 7049 are brilliant globular clusters, collections of stars that orbit the galaxy. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope snapped this photograph in 2009.
These pearly whites belong to a Neanderthal boy who lived and died in northern Spain tens of thousands of years ago. Neanderthals died out in Europe about 30,000 years ago, and new research suggests that it wasn't the arrival of modern humans that did them in. An analysis of Neanderthal DNA led by Swedish Museum of Natural History professor Love Dalén suggests that most Neanderthals in Europe died out by 50,000 years ago, before humans arrived on the scene. A small group of Neanderthal survivors recolonized central and western Europe and survived another 10,000 years, Dalén and his colleagues reported Feb. 25 in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
"The fact that Neanderthals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us," Dalén said in a statement. "This indicates that the Neanderthals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought."
Fifty years ago this week, astronaut John Glenn snapped this picture of the Florida peninsula during his historic orbit of the Earth. Glenn was the first American to travel this orbit. On that day, Feb. 20, 1962, he circled the world three times, observing four sunsets, fires and a dust storm in Africa and, of course, home sweet home. Glenn took some of the first photographs of the Earth from above as seen by human eyes.
"I have the Cape [Cape Canaveral] in sight down there," Glenn told mission controllers. "It looks real fine from up here."
Remind anyone of a favorite arcade game? The new moon passes over the sun in this Feb. 21 image taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The partial eclipse was visible only from space.
The next partial solar eclipse Earthlings will be able to see will occur May 20, with views visible from Asia, the Pacific and western North America.
The tendrils of a sea anemone bring to mind the petals of a flower — but these petals bite. Sea anemones are predatory animals. Their tentacles are studded with venomous cells called nematocysts, which release toxins into prey such as fish and crustaceans, paralyzing the victims for easy digestion.
Looking for all the world like the work of a master jeweler, the dying star IC 4406 gives off an iridescent cloud of gas and dust. The Hubble telescope captured this side-on image of dust coming off the star in 2002. At this late point in the star's life, the material streaming away is called a planetary nebula. Nebulae are very symmetrical; if you could fly a spaceship around this one, it would look like a donut or a ring. Others have compared the look of this dying star to the look of they eye's retina, earning it the nickname the "Retina Nebula."
The lightest touch can trigger sensation thanks to these colorful filaments. This image is of nerve fibers wrapped around the hair follicle of a mouse. Run your finger ever-so-lightly across your arm hair: That tickle you feel is the result of nerves like this that detect minute changes in the position of a hair.
New research on sensory signals finds that a protein crucial to eye development is also important for the ability of both humans and mice to sense vibrations. The c-Maf protein is known for its importance in proper eye development; when something goes wrong with c-Maf, cataracts result. It turns out that when c-Maf mutates, Pacinian corpuscles, a kind of touch receptor specialized to detect fast vibrations, also atrophy. Humans have Pacinian corpuscles in our fingertips, meaning that one messed-up protein can damage multiple senses.
Recognize this? At 14,505 feet (about 4421 meters), Mount Whitney in California is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. Strangely enough, this high point is only about 85 miles (136 kilometers) from the lowest point in North America at Death Valley National Park. Photographer Jay Kim stitched together this sunrise image of Mount Whitney rising over Owen's Valley, Cali., on a camping trip in 2010.
Three giant rifts meet on the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica. Sixteen percent of the East Antarctica Ice Sheet drains through this ice shelf on its way toward the sea. The Amery deposits ice in the sea through the process of iceberg calving, a slow cycle (the last major calving event on Amery took place in the 1960s).
This satellite image, though, is of the western edge of the ice sheet's "loose tooth," a giant iceberg that has been gradually pulling away from the main sheet for decades. (The glacier doesn't actually cut off abruptly in two straight lines on either side — that is simply the border of the satellite's photograph.) If and when the loose tooth comes out, it's likely to be impressive: The last Amery ice calving event released an ice island 140 kilometers
Mars may have been the god of war, but his namesake planet is all about love — at least topographically.
In 1999, the Mars Global Surveyor snapped this photograph of a "Valentine" from the Red Planet. The "heart" is actually a pit formed by a collapse within a graben, which is a geological term for a straight-walled trough which forms along fault lines. The heart-shaped pit is 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) across at its widest point, and sits on the slopes of the Alba Patera volcano.
Where in the world is all the water vapor? It may be hard to tell at first glance, but this wall of globes represents a simulation of monthly averaged distribution of total column water vapor on the planet. Such simulations are important, because understanding the distribution of water vapor on Earth is critical for understanding our planet's climate.
Can you guess what a black hole eats for dinner? A team of scientists may have just found a clue. They had wondered about the source of mysterious X-ray flares in the region of a supermassive black hole at the center or our galaxy called Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*. A cloud around Sgr A* contains hundreds of trillions of asteroids and comets, which have been stripped from their parent stars. The flares occur when the black hole consumes asteroids having a radius of 6 miles (nearly 10 kilometers) or larger, they found.
If the asteroid passes within about 100 million miles (161 million kilometers) of the black hole, roughly the distance between the Earth and the sun, it is torn into pieces by the tidal forces from the black hole. These fragments would then be vaporized by friction as they pass through the hot, thin gas flowing onto Sgr A*, similar to a meteor heating up and glowing as it falls through Earth's atmosphere. A flare is produced and eventually the remains of the asteroid are swallowed by the black hole.
Spaghetti dinner gone sour? Some sort of fancy new knitting technique?
No, this is a computer simulation of the complex and crazy magnetic fields that make up Earth's magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is the result of the interaction of charged particles from the sun and the magnetic field that surrounds the planet. When solar storms send particles flowing toward Earth, the result can be stunning space weather — the kind that creates beautiful auroras but also can disrupt satellites, telecommunications and electrical power grids. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee are trying to understand how these storms work in order to better predict how storms on the sun will influence life on our planet.
This banana slug yin-yang is not quite as innocent as it seems. In fact, it's a bizarre mating dance — and just the beginning of how weird things are about to get for these mollusks.
You see, banana slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs. These organs are located, oddly enough, near their heads, explaining the cheek-to-cheek position you see here. When banana slugs start to mate, they nip, bite, and eventually intertwine, inserting their penises into one another's genital openings.
Once the sperm transfer is complete, slugs sometimes can't disengage from one another. That's when they do something really strange: a process called apophallation. Not to mince words, this means that one or both slugs chew the other's penis clean off. The organ doesn't regenerate, so these post-apophallation slugs live the rest of their days as females.
For more crazy animal mating strategies, see: Top 10 Swingers of the Animal Kingdom. West-coasters can learn more at a new exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco called "Animal Attraction," which opens Feb. 11, 2012.
The Red Planet takes on a rainbow of hues in this false-color image of the floor of Toro Crater. Located in the Syrtis Major Planum, a "dark spot" on the surface of Mars, the Toro Crater may have once been an active hydrothermal zone. It certainly contains diverse minerals, as represented here by the different colors. Blue and green indicate unaltered minerals, including pyroxene and olivine, while rusts and reds indicate changes into clays and other minerals, according to the University of Arizona's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). This Martian image was captured on Dec. 1, 2011 by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Bowing to popular demand, NASA has released the flip side of its newest "Blue Marble" image of Earth, revealing Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. The original Blue Marble photo of earth was snapped from about 28,000 miles (45,062 kilometers) away from Earth by Apollo 17 astronauts. If Earth were the size of a basketball, that would put the photographer about 30 inches (76 centimeters) away from the planet.
Blue Marble 2.0, on the other hand, is a satellite creation. The Suomi NPP satellite orbits 512 miles (824 km) over Earth. On our imaginary basketball, the satellite would rotate only five-eighths of an inch (1.5 cm) away. NASA scientists stitch together images taken from multiple passes by Suomi, creating a zoomed-out image of Earth as it would appear from 7,918 miles (12,743 km) away.
Long linear "avenues" of clouds form over the Bering Sea off of Russia in this satellite image captured on Jan. 4, 2012. These formations, known as "cloud streets," occur when air blows over ice on land and then travels over warmer ocean water, leading to parallel cylinders of spinning air. On the upper edges of these cylinders, clouds form, while skies stay clear on the downward side. Winds warp the cloud streets, resulting in the curves seen over open sea.
The rusty remain of an old shipwreck stands out against bright blue waters in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. This hunk of metal was once the Hoei Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel that ran aground on the Kure Atoll reefs in the 1970s. Wrecks like this often become part of the reef itself, providing nooks and crannies for fish and other marine creatures. For more images of lost vessels, see the shipwreck gallery.
This spectacular, multi-hued formation of so-called lenticular clouds was observed over Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colo. Professional photographer Richard H. Hahn snapped the magnificent view soon after sunset at 5:02 p.m. MST (7:02 EST) on Jan. 5.
Lenticular clouds form when waves of moist, fast-moving air are pushed upward by winds and ascend over high mountains. At the mountain's higher altitude, the moist air's water droplets cool and expand, and the water vapor condenses. When the air moves over the mountain top and descends to uniformly humid air conditions, lenticular clouds form.
These clouds are characterized by their smooth, symmetrical oval or round shapes, and because of this, are often referred to as "flying saucer" or "UFO" clouds.
"The significance of this particular atmospheric event was the dramatic shape and color of the cloud. It really did look like the 'mother ship' UFO," Hahn told LiveScience.com. "It was ominous and breathtaking."
Orbiting high above Earth, astronauts on the International Space Station snapped this shot of cities below on Jan. 22, 2012. Any guesses which cities they caught lighting up the night?
If you pegged this scene in western Europe, congratulations! Lights from Belgium and the Netherlands are visible in the bottom center of the image, with the British Isles partially obscured by the ISS solar array panels at left. The other piece of visible ISS hardware is Canadarm2, a remote manipulator for the space station.
Alien life? An odd extrasolar planet? Maybe an eyeball?
Perhaps just as exotic, this planktonic foraminifera called Orbulina universa evolved about 13 million years ago. The single-celled, shelled organism was captured by scuba divers from surface waters off Santa Catalina Island, Calif.
Living inside the calcite spines of this creature are other simple organisms called dinoflagellates; the dinoflagellates have formed a partnership with the foraminifera, using photosynthesis to produce foods while living in the calcium-rich spines.
At the end of their four-week life cycle, the shells from both protists (foraminifera and dinoflagellate) sink to the seafloor where they become part of the microfossil assemblage in deep-sea sediments. The geochemical compositions of such shells are used to reconstruct past ocean changes. Researchers reported in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Science Express the importance of such geochemistry; they reported that lithium isotopes in sea sediments reflect several intense episodes of mountain-building and other major geologic events in the last 60 million years.
This gorgeous image is the most up-to-date "blue marble" photo of our home planet, the latest in a long line of color images of Earth that date back to the Apollo space missions. The original "blue marble" shot was taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972. Today, satellites are snapping some of the most spectacular photos of Earth. This new image was taken by Suomi NPP, NASA's most recently launched Earth-observing satellite. It's a composite of many images of the planet's surface taken on Jan. 4, 2012.
The northern lights glow an otherworldly green above southwest Iceland on Jan. 22, boosted by an especially active sun. Auroras, visible mostly at very high and very low latitudes, occur when charged particles from the sun hit atoms in the upper atmosphere, creating curtains of light which often shift and undulate.
"The show on the 22nd was the largest I've seen in recent years, maybe in the last 20 years," photographer Atli Arnarson told LiveScience. "The pictures don't really do it justice. They were quite active at times, and danced across the sky."
Things are heating up on our nearest star, as a powerful solar storm blasts particles toward Earth today (Jan. 24). Early on Jan. 23, a massive eruption blew out from the sun, an event called a coronal mass ejection. The eruption sent charged particles barreling toward Earth, which can disrupt satellite transmissions and cause problems for power grids if officials aren't prepared.
This image, captured at 14:14 Universal Time on Jan. 24 (9:14 a.m. EST}, shows our stormy sun. The sun goes through 11-year cycles of activity and is currently ramping up. Fears that these solar storms could trigger apocalypse on Earth, however, are overblown.
Can you guess the name of this glacier? Get ready, because it's a mouthful. This is the Breidamerkurjokull glacier in Iceland, as seen from space in September 2010. As immense as it is, the glacier is only an outlet glacier for an ever larger river of ice, the Vatnajökull glacier.
Stuck behind bars for a crime he didn't commit? Nah, this fruit fly is part of an experiment to uncover how insects navigate thousands of miles during migration, or even find their way from flower to flower in the front yard. The "bars" of light demarcate a light-emitting diode (LED) flight arena, but what really holds the fly in is a magnetic field (he's glued to a metal pin, allowing him to move naturally within the field but keeping him in place).
The outcome of this bizarre set-up is the discovery that fruit flies look to the sky to keep their bearings. In naturally polarized light, the flies had no trouble staying on course. But when researchers altered the light polarization patterns, the flies got discombobulated. That means that as long as a bit of sunlight makes its way to the fly's eye, it can use the patterns in light to get where it's going — sort of an all-weather version of sailors navigating by the stars. The researchers reported their results Jan. 10 in the journal Current Biology.
As we grow, our body must build new blood vessels to feed expanding tissues. Now, new research reveals a critical protein that stitches cells together, allowing new pathways for blood to grow. The protein, called Raf-1, allows cells to stick together and migrate as a group. These cell connections are a bit like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears: If the junctions are too loose, the cells break apart. If they're too tight, the cells can't shift and migrate. They have to be just right.
This image shows the beginnings of cell-cell connections between endothelial cells, the type that make up our blood vessel walls. In green, the transmembrane protein VE-Cadherin mediates the formation of cellular junctions. The cells' nuclei are stained blue, while the red is actin, the internal "skeleton" of a cell.
The Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia founders off the coast of Tuscany on Jan. 17 in this image captured by a satellite. The ship hit a rock and capsized on Jan. 13, triggering a hectic, poorly planned evacuation and a manslaughter charge for the captain, who was among the first to bail out from the sinking ship. Eleven people are confirmed dead, with 23 more missing.
U.S. forests take center stage on this new map created by researchers at the Woods Hole Research Center, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. The darker green the area, the denser and more robust the forest.
This inventory of woody biomass is important, because trees are one of the largest reservoirs for carbon on Earth &mash; they store carbon released by both natural and man-made processes. Understanding how much carbon trees store now is important for understanding how much they'll store in the future, and whether factors like where the trees are matter. Fine-scale maps like this one help with that effort, said Woods Hole researcher Josef Kellndorfer in a statement.
"We have to know how much we have, and where, in order to conduct sound management and harvesting," he said.
A brilliant blue figure eight decorates the ocean as if someone painted it there. But this isn't man's work — the phenomenon is caused by a phytoplankton bloom coloring the water in the South Atlantic about 379 miles (600 km) east of the Falkland Islands.
The Earth-observing satellite Envisat captured this image of the algal bloom on Dec. 2, 2011. Satellites with ocean color sensors can even tell the species of the plankton from space, by analyzing the shade of the algae's chlorophyll pigment.
This artist's concept illustrates what scientists say is the fastest rotating star found to date. Called VFTS 102, the massive, bright young star rotates at a million miles per hour, or 100 times faster than our sun does. Centrifugal forces from this dizzying spin rate have flattened the star into an oblate shape and spun off a disk of hot plasma, seen edge-on in this view from a hypothetical planet. The star may have "spun up" by accreting material from a binary companion star, according to the scientists involved. The rapidly evolving companion later exploded as a supernova. The whirling star lies 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.
A festive glow emanates from the South Pole and BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) telescopes at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. Red lights minimize light pollution while still allowing staff and researchers to see while walking around the facility during the six months of darkness here. The South Pole telescope is used, in part, to explore dark energy, the mysterious phenomenon suspected to be responsible for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.
Art project? Tie-dye attempt gone wrong? A view of the world through the eyes of a fly?
Nope, these rainbow colors represent subtle ground deformation at the Kilauea volcano, Hawaii's current most active volcano. Using a technique called interferometry, researchers send pulses of microwave energy from a research aircraft to the ground to measure changes in the Earth's surface from volcanic activity. These changes are represented by the rainbow ripple patterns seen in these images of the east rift zone of the volcano, about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) from the summit. Lava has been flowing from this zone since 1983.
This striking black-and-yellow fellow is a brand-new species just discovered in remote Tanzania. Dubbed the Matilda's horned viper after the daughter of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Tanzania program director, the snake measures 2.1 feet (60 centimeters) in length and sports horn-like scales above its eyes.
The WCS announced the discovery of the new horned viper on Jan. 9, but they're keeping the exact location of the snake's habitat a secret to prevent poaching from illegal pet collectors. But the snake is already likely to be placed on the endangered list, as its habitat has been hit hard by logging and charcoal manufacturing.
Ever wonder what it'd be like to work at the end of the Earth? The staff and researchers at McMurdo Station in Antarctica know better than anyone. This research station, located at the southern tip of Ross Island, is one of three year-round research stations supposed by the U.S. Antarctic Program.
The station can support more than 1,000 personnel, no mean feat for a community built on a spit of bare volcanic rock where temperatures can plummet to -58 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 degrees Celsius). Those of us working away in climate-controlled cubicles can get a sense of what it's like to be at McMurdo by checking out the station's webcam.
The night sky puts on a colorful show like no other in this compressed wide-angle view of the aurora over Norway in late 2011. The gyrating colors are caused by charged particles hitting atoms in the high atmosphere.
... But there's a frog in my drink. Or maybe this little guy is an amphibious genie, here to offer three froggy wishes? Either way, it's best not to sip this beverage: This strawberry poison dart frog from Isla Bastimentos in Panama is quite toxic. A new study, published in January 2012 in the journal The American Naturalist, finds that these frogs' coloration patterns, as seen by birds, corresponds to how deadly they really are. Now that's truth in advertising.
Fur seals sun themselves on South Georgia Island in the Southern Ocean. Oxford zoologist Alex Rogers snapped this shot during an expedition to explore the first known deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Antarctic. The fauna under the water turned out to be even more intriguing than the animals on land. See a gallery of photos from the vents here.
This tiny virus has made big news lately, killing a man in southern China and causing a national security scare in the United States. The culprit, shown here in gold? H5N1, or avian flu.
Avian flu rarely jumps from human to human, which is fortunate because the virus kills about 60 percent of people it does infect (they usually get it from close contact with poultry). Researchers from the Netherlands and from Wisconsin caused a stir in December when they published a paper revealing how they'd made avian flu go airborne in ferrets, genetically engineering H5N1 to be highly contagious in mammals. It's likely the strain would work the same way in humans. This research could be important for understanding how the flu virus evolves and if it's likely to become highly transmissible on its own, but U.S. government officials, citing biosecurity fears, convinced the researchers and the journals that published the research to redact key details.
Meanwhile, avian flu flexed its muscles in Shenzhen, China, killing a 39-year-old bus driver and triggering a poultry import ban from that area in Hong Kong. The man was the first human avian flu death in 18 months.
The comet LoveJoy streaks across the sky above the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile. This newly discovered comet defied the odds earlier in the month, plunging into the sun's atmosphere Dec. 15 and surviving the fiery encounter.
Astronomers were shocked, but Lovejoy continues to put on a show. On Dec. 22, ESO astronomer Gabriel Brammer took this early-morning shot of Lovejoy set against the backdrop of the Milky Way, long tail of dust particles streaming behind it. The comet continues its orbit around the sun; if it survives, it will reappear in our skies in 314 years.
Yum, anchovies. Actually, this generous puffin meal is made up of sand lances, little fish commonly found in the North Pacific and North Atlantic. Sand lances and other "forage fish" are critical to the survival of seabirds like this puffin. According to new research published Dec. 23 in the journal Science, seabirds need about a third of the fish in the sea to maintain their current lifestyles. That information is important because it gives researchers a sense of how much overfishing will affect animals that depend on the ocean for dinner.
Until late this month, the Red Sea north of Rugged Island was glassy and clear — and then a new island emerged almost overnight. Yes, that smoking mass of land above is an infant isle, formed by a volcanic eruption. Fishermen off the coast of Yemen witnessed lava fountains 90 feet (30 meters) tall on December 19, 2011; by December 23, what had once been unbroken water surface was now a new chunk of land.
The plume in the photo, captured by NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite, is likely a mix of volcanic ash and water vapor. The new island is part of the Zubair Group, a line of islands arising from a shield volcano under the Red Sea. In this area, the Red Sea Rift, the African and Arabian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart, and new ocean crust regularly forms.
From 512 miles (824 kilometers) above Earth, the NASA Visible Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) beamed back its first complete global image on Nov. 24, 2011. VIIRS images the surface of the planet in long wedges, creating this surreal view of Earth as origami.
VIIRS is now snapping preliminary images, but when engineers get it calibrated for full operation, the satellite will measure everything from ocean temperatures to clouds to the location of fires.
Dan Burbank, commander on the International Space Station, snapped this stunning image of Comet Lovejoy from about 240 miles (386 kilometers) above the Earth's horizon on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Burbank described seeing the comet two nights ago as "the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space," in an interview with WDIV-TV in Detroit. Last night he captured hundreds of still images of the comet. [Read more on Comet Lovejoy's fiery plunge through the sun]
Say goodbye to fall! Winter is at the doorstep, with its official start, at least on the astronomical calendar, set to occur Thursday (Dec. 22) at 12:30 a.m. ET. During the winter solstice, the northern half of our planet faces away from the sun; hence it will experience its shortest day of the year as Earth rotates.
As a result of our planet being tilted on its axis by 23.5 degrees, everything above the Arctic Circle will remain shrouded in darkness, with no sun that day. To the north, the North Pole goes without sunlight for months.
Shown here, a sunrise-sunset in the Arctic Circle in December.
Like a Christmas ornament on a tree, the remains of an ancient supernova hangs against a background of green-colored gas and dust. This image, captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is of Puppis A, the remnant of a supernova that flared into view on Earth 3,700 years ago.
Puppis A formed when an massive star died with a bang, sending out a shock wave that heated the surrounding dust and gas clouds, seen here in red. Some of the green gas in this image is from yet another ancient supernova, the Vela supernova. That explosion is about three times older the Puppis A, but four times closer to Earth.
A brown bear rolls on its back in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Cute and cuddly it may seem, but these bears are bruisers: Males Kodiak grizzlys can weigh 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms).
The toothy underbite of adult barracudas is a common sight along the Florida coasts. But the early lives of these fishy predators was almost unknown. Until now.
Researchers at the University of Miami have pulled back the curtain on the early larval life of baby barracudas. They find that for several weeks, barracuda larvae live in the top 82 feet (25 meters) of the ocean, feeding on tiny crustaceans. Soon, though, the young barracuda turn to a diet of other fish larvae, including baby billfishes and tuna, the researchers report in the journal Marine Biology. Even before these fish reach an inch in length, it seems they're terrors of the sea. [For cuddlier babies, read: The World's Cutest Baby Wild Animals]
This incandescent hourglass, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, is a compact star-forming region in the constellation Cygnus (The Swan). At the "neck" of the hourglass is a newly-formed star called S106 IR. That star is responsible for the hourglass shape of the surrounding hydrogen gas cloud, shown in blue.
A plume of dust obscures part of the Red Sea in this satellite photo taken Dec. 12, 2011. The plume arose north of the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, traveling southwest before stopping short of Sudan. The Red Sea is surrounded by dust-producing regions; it's also the site of gradual rifting that is tearing the African and Arabian plates apart.
This tangled forest is a false-color representation of the cells that make you who you are: neurons. Brain cells communicate in complex networks, but researchers are getting better and better and unraveling their signals.
Reporting Dec. 12 in the journal Neuron, Norwegian and German scientists say they've used a supercomputer to better understand how the babble of thousands of nerve cells "talking" to one another translates when recorded onto an electrode of the sort used for electroencephalograms (EEGs). This translation effort should make it easier to design brain implants that help control epilepsy, or even enable a paralyzed patient to move his or her limbs with brain waves, the researchers said.
The moon is a shadow of its usual self in this photograph taken on Dec. 10 by a skywatcher in Phoenix, Ariz. That morning, the last total lunar eclipse until 2014 gave early risers a view of a reddened moon. The effect was due to the Earth passing between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow on the latter. [See more photographs of the lunar eclipse]
Early Saturday morning (Dec. 10), a total lunar eclipse will cast the moon into shadow and make it appear bright red. Skywatchers in western Canada and the United States should have a great view of the eclipse, which will start at 7:45 a.m. EST (4:45 a.m. PST, 1245 GMT).
Observers in Australia, New Zealand, and central and eastern Asia should also have a good view of the total lunar eclipse, which occurs when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, throwing the moon into shadow.
The above stunning shot, taken by skywatcher George Tucker, is of a lunar eclipse observed on June 15, 2011. The photo was taken from the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge on the NamibRand Nature Reserve located in Namibia, a country in southern Africa.
A massive crack in Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier marks the moment of creation for a new iceberg that is expected to eventually span about 340 square miles (880 square kilometers). Scientists participating in NASA’s IceBridge mission discovered the crack on Oct. 14.
The crack extends a length of about 18 miles (29 km) across the glacier’s floating tongue, and the rift was 260 feet (80 meters) wide on average and 165 to 195 feet (50 to 60 m) deep. The Digital Mapping System aboard a DC-8 research plane took the photo on Oct. 26, looking straight down over the crack.
The last time that a large iceberg broke off Pine Island Glacier was in November 2001. This event, which was also preceded by a large crack that was observed in satellite imagery, resulted in an iceberg that measured 26 miles by 11 miles (42 kilometers by 17 kilometers).
Shown above is the USS Arizona Memorial, which was built in remembrance of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise military strike on Dec. 7, 1941.
The all-white, 184-foot-long (56 meters) memorial is located at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, and floats above the hull of the "USS Arizona," a U.S. Navy battleship that sank after the attack.
Pearl Harbor was one of the worst naval disasters in American history, with 1,177 sailors dying on the "USS Arizona" during the strike. The memorial can be reached by boat, and includes a shrine dedicated to the fallen sailors, along with a museum exhibit about the Pearl Harbor attack.
Color data obtained by the framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft was used to show asteroid Vesta's southern hemisphere in a rainbow-colored palette. Colors were assigned based on the ratios of two wavelengths of radiation detected by the framing camera.
The shot is centered on the Rheasilvia formation, which is an impact basin that measures about 290 miles (467 kilometers) in diameter. Scientists used the colors to illustrate the asteroid's different rock and mineral types. For example, green suggests the presence of the iron-rich mineral pyroxene or large-sized particles.
The photo is actually a mosaic, composed of images taken while the Dawn spacecraft approached Vesta. The black hole in the middle is where data was omitted due to the angle between the sun, Vesta and the spacecraft.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station snapped this image of Antarctica while over the South Atlantic Ocean on Oct. 4, 2011, about 1,1000 miles (1,800 kilometers) to the northeast. This long viewing distance, combined with the highly oblique angle, accentuates the shadowing of the ground and provides a sense of the topography similar to the view you get from an airplane. It also causes foreshortening of features in the image, making them appear closer to each other than they actually are.
While the bulk of the continent of Antarctica sits over the South Pole, the narrow Antarctic Peninsula extends like a finger towards the tip of South America. The northernmost part of the Peninsula is known as Graham Land, a small portion of which (located at approximately 64 degrees South latitude) is visible at the top left in this astronaut photograph.
Off the coast of Graham Land to the north-northwest, two of the South Shetland Islands—Livingston Island and Deception Island—are visible. Both have volcanic origins, and active volcanism at Deception Island has been recorded since 1800. (The last verified eruptive activity occurred in 1970.) Closer to the coastline of Graham Land, Brabant Island (not part of the South Shetlands) also includes numerous outcrops of volcanic rock, attesting to the complex tectonic history of the region.
Where, oh where are these city lights brightening up the night? Here's a hint: This photograph was taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station who had a connection to the city below. Scroll down for an answer …
If you guessed Houston, home to NASA's Johnson Space Center and the training ground of astronauts, congratulations! In this photo taken by an Expedition 22 crew member in 2010, roughly 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the Houston metropolitan area are visible east to west. Houston is rotated from the view normally seen on maps, with Galveston Bay, southeast of the city, in the upper right of the photograph. Freeways radiate from the central downtown area, while suburban and residential urban land appears reddish-brown and gray-green, indicated lower light density and heavier tree cover. Along the Houston Ship Channel, petroleum refineries glow with dense golden-yellow light.
Silhouetted against Earth's atmosphere, the Space Shuttle Endeavour cuts a striking figure in this 2010 photo taken from the International Space Station. The shuttle approaches the station against a backdrop of the layers of the atmosphere. The blue layer directly behind the shuttle is the mesosphere, and the white layer is the stratosphere. Below that is Earth's troposphere, the lowest portion of the atmosphere, seen in orange.
They may look like ancient cave paintings, but these owls are a miracle of modern technology. They're each vanishingly tiny, about the width of three human hairs apiece.
Researchers from Rice University in Texas created these mini-owls to demonstrate a new method in organic chemistry that allows scientists to attach organic molecules to sheets of graphene. Graphene, a carbon-based material, is super-strong, but mostly inert. Attaching other molecules to graphene for the purpose of nanoengineering wasn't easy until Rice researchers developed a crafty two-step method to restructure graphene into a semiconductor, graphane. They then created little strips of graphane to layer over graphene sheets and then coated the sheets with fluorescent molecules. Graphene quenches fluorescence, but graphane does not. Thus, these fluorescing little fellows are an artistic way to prove the new method, reported in the journal Nature Communications, works.
The brilliant Northern Lights fill the sky above a radar dish in Svalbard, Norway, on a crisp December night (temperatures dipped to minus 4 degrees F, or minus 20 degrees C) in 2006 when Cyril Simon Wedlund captured this image. Scientists were in the process of taking measurements using the European Incoherent Scatter Svalbard Radar to learn more about the aurora and the ionosphere. "This aurora was very dynamic and one of the most beautiful that we watched during this period of waning solar activity," writes Wedlund. [See more images of the Northern Lights]
This beetle is a predator in the water but vulnerable in the wider world. Graphoderus bilineatus, a European water beetle, is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and was thought to be locally extinct in Germany. But researchers with the Barcoding Fauna Bavarica project in Germany discovered that these beetles are still kicking around. The project is part of a larger scientific push to "barcode" species based on DNA snippets, enabling researchers to identify flora and fauna more accurately. Researchers engaged in barcoding projects convene these week in Adelaide Austraila for the fourth annual International Barcode of Life Conference.
In the upper left of this photograph, the tail of Saturn's great northern storm riles the planet's atmosphere. This storm, observed by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, is both enormous and long-running; photos in 2010 captured it growing from a spot 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) top-to-bottom to a tempest 11,000 miles (17,000 km) across. The head of the storm is around the horizon in this Jan. 12, 2011 image, but the tail trails behind. In 2010, the tail lengthened until it encircled the entire planet, a circumference of about 186,000 miles (300,000 km) at that latitude.
In this false-color image, red and orange indicate clouds that are low in the atmosphere, while yellow and green are intermediate clouds. White and blue are high clouds and haze. The rings of the planet appear as a thin, bright blue line. The darkness in the lower left of the image is the shadow cast by Saturn's moon, Enceladus.
A rainbow attempts to one-up a beautiful view of the Cordillera del Paine, a small mountain group in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Icebergs float in Lago Grey, the large, glacier-fed lake in the foreground.
These waves between Indonesia (top) and the coast of Australia (bottom) aren't caused by wind. They're a direct result of gravity.
The pattern is of atmospheric gravity waves playing on the surface of the ocean. Atmospheric gravity waves form when buoyancy pushes air up, and gravity pulls it back down. As the air descends in to the low point of the atmospheric wave, it touches the ocean surface, causing rough waters, visible here as long, dark vertical lines. The brighter regions show the crests of the atmospheric waves, because there, the water is calm and reflective.
Flies are quite adept at buzzing around, despite the fact that their wings are small in comparison to their bulky bodies. Now, new research published Nov. 17 in the journal Nature has uncovered the gene switch responsible for building the flight muscles in flies.
Much like hummingbirds, flies have to flap their wings extremely fast to stay aloft. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster contracts and relaxes its flight muscles 200 times a second. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany have found that a gene transcription factor called "spalt" creates these specialized muscles. Spalt is an important go-between that ensures that genes get translated into functional proteins. Without it, flies develop only slow-moving leg muscles.
Humans can't fly, but our heart muscles contain spalt, according to study researcher Frank Schnorrer. That could mean that the factor is important in regulating heartbeat, although more research is needed.
A hawkmoth moves in for a tasty nectar treat from a columbine flower. Columbines come in a variety of shapes and sizes to attract various pollinators. Plants looking to tempt bees, for example, keep their flowers short and stubby, whereas hawkmoths are attracted to species like Aquilegia vulgaris, which have floral spurs that can grow 6 inches (16 centimeters) long.
According to new research published Nov. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, columbines evolved their varying shapes not by adding more cells like building blocks, but by varying the shape of the cells themselves. Longer-spurred columbine petals have elongated cells, while flowers with short spurs have short, rounded cells.
Where is this icy, rugged landscape? Take a guess and scroll down to see if you're right…
It's the roof of the world: Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks. A NASA astronaut snapped this picture from the International Space Station in January 2011, revealing the scale of the glaciers surrounding the world's highest peak. The tip-top of Everest is out of sight in this picture, located just off the bottom edge, but the northern summit approach to the mountain starts along the East Rongbuk Glacier in the top right of the photograph. The knife-edge pass in the center of the photograph is the North Col, where climbers ascend toward progressively higher camps along the way to the peak. Everest's summit is 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level.
Boom! Or should that be 'Whooosh!'? We're not sure what sound a solar flare would make, but this oddly green image is of the most powerful solar flare measured by modern methods. The flare erupted from the sun early on Tuesday, Oct. 28 in 2003.
Solar flares are bursts of electromagnetic energy and particles that sometimes stream from the sun. Flare activity fluctuates in a 11-year cycle, which is currently ramping up. Some 2012 doomsday predictors, anxieties piqued by the upcoming end of the ancient Mayan long-count calendar, believe that peak solar flare activity in 2012 will spell the end for us all. But according to NASA, these doom-sayers are way off base. For one thing, the next solar flare maximum won't even occur in 2012; it's likely to hit in late 2013 or early 2014.
But more importantly, there's nothing particularly special about the next solar maximum. According to NASA, electromagnetic radiation from solar weather can disrupt satellite transmission, and in extreme cases, power grids, but precautions by satellite operators and electric companies can prevent problems. And counter to any "the world will end in fire" predictions, the sun doesn't have enough energy to send a solar flare 93 million miles to Earth, the space agency reports. As the above solar flare image reveals, we've all lived through solar maximums before and lived to tell the tale.
This star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud is one of the closest to our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Known as the Tarantula Nebula, this stormy area encompasses 2,400 massive stars at its center, all producing intense radiation and powerful winds as they blow off material.
These supernova explosions and stellar winds form "shock fronts," which are similar to sonic booms. Multimillion-degree gas from these shock fronts is visible in blue in this Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope image. The hot gas carves out bubbles in the surrounding cooler gas, shown here in orange.
This colorful creature acts more like Stephen King's "It" than Bozo the Clown. The mantis shrimp, a predator that is neither a mantis nor a shrimp, spears and dismembers prey with its powerful claws. Mantis shrimp are also capable of using their claws as hammers to crush snail shells, and larger species can even muster enough force to crack aquarium glass.
Mantis shrimp look shrimp-like, but they're actually their own subgroup of crustacean. According to new research from the University of Queensland, mantis shrimp have a unique way of seeing the world. They detect circular polarized light, a type of light beam that spirals either to the left or right. Filters in their eyes re-orient this light to turn it into the linear polarized light. To the human eye, linear polarized light is only a glare, the sort that requires the need for polarized sunglasses.
Researchers aren't yet sure how the mantis shrimp make use of this ability to filter circular polarized light. It's possible that this visual ability allows animals to see light patterns reflected off the shells of male animals — possible courtship displays visible only to the species that needs to see them.
These leopard-spotted jellies are appropriately decorated, considering they're terrifying predators — if you're a plankton. This species, Mastigias papua is known as the spotted jelly or the lagoon jelly. They live in coastal waters in the South Pacific and grow about 5.5 inches (14 to 16 centimeters) in diameter.
But what makes spotted jellies really cool is that they grow their own gardens. The jellies get their greenish-brown tinge from algae that they harbor. The algae is a handy food source for the jellies. Some of the larger individuals will even keep extra hangers-on: Little minnows that live inside the jellyfish's bell until they're large enough to face the wider ocean.
Jellyfish facts courtesy the Monterey Bay Aquarium
The meandering Ivalo River makes its way through northern Finland in this image made from data from the National Land Survey of Finland. The river, called Ivalojoki in Finnish, is also known as the "river of gold" thanks to a late-1800s gold rush that littered its banks with mining claims.
This rocketman made it farther from his spacecraft than any astronaut before. On Feb. 12, 1984, astronaut Brice McCandless tested out a nitrogen jet-propelled backpack called the Manned Maneuvering Unit. As the space shuttle Challenger orbited hundreds of miles above Earth, McCandless flew 320 feet (97 meters) from the ship and hovered alone in the black of space.
Even though the oceans tend to warm slower than the land, researchers report in the Nov. 4 issue of the journal Science that similar movement rates are needed for organisms to stay ahead of climate change on land and in the oceans.
After analyzing 50 years of global temperature and climate data, Michael Burrows of the Scottish Marine Institute in Argyll and his colleagues found that the speed and direction of climate change, along with the arrival time of various seasons, is happening just as fast in the oceans as on land. The research team says that this climate-change velocity and seasonal shifts can be used to predict shifts in habitat ranges and life-cycle changes in a warming world.
For instance, organisms like these marine sea slugs and even elephant seals (shown here in bull kelp in the Southern Ocean) must adapt to new temperatures or move to new areas to stay in an optimal habitat.
Restricting calorie intake has been shown to extend an organism's life span, and now researchers think they know the secret to this age-defying trick. A new study in fruit flies shows that tweaking a gene called PGC-1 in the intestinal stem cells of fruit flies delayed aging of their intestines and extended their life span by as much as 50 percent. Humans also carry that gene.
The researchers speculate that boosting the fruit fly version of PGC-1 stimulates the stem cells that replenish the intestinal tissues, keeping the flies' intestines healthier. The findings, which are detailed in the journal Cell Metabolism, suggest that the fruit fly version of PGC-1 can act as a biological dial for slowing the aging process and might serve as a target for drugs or other therapies to put the breaks on aging and age-related diseases.
(Shown here is a fruit-fly intestine with the different colors representing different cell types; as fruit flies age unregulated stem cell activity and the inability to form cells with specialized functions goes awry.)
Air bubbles push up a dome of water in a geyser in the Haukadalur Valley of Iceland just before the geyser erupts. This geyser, known in Icelandic as simply, "Geysir," is the first geyser that was ever described in print, and the first known to Europeans. Geysir has been active for about 10,000 years, but it isn't as regular as Yellowstone's Old Faithful. It erupted only rarely in the 1990s, reviving again in the early 2000s after earthquakes rumbled its internal plumbing. Now Geysir blows its top every eight to 10 hours.
Boo! Do you believe in spooks? This 1920s-era couple seem downright relaxed for two people being haunted by an ominous specter, but then, the ghost only revealed herself on film … or did she?
In fact, this is an example of spirit photography, a supposed method of capturing images of the dead practiced by self-proclaimed mediums beginning in the late 1800s. In the days before Photoshop, spirit photographers doctored their photos by overlaying other photographs or magazine images. Some of the "spirits" were simply double exposures. Ghostly "mist" was often added by etching the negatives.
What are you going to be for Halloween? These two galaxies have joined forces to masquerade as two spooky eyes floating in space.
Galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163 met and began a slow gravitational merge about 40 million years ago. This false-color image of the galaxies shows their cores in blue-green and their spiral arms in bright red. Eventually, the two galaxies will become one.
It's hard to miss a flamingo tongue snail (Cyphoma gibbosum), with its mantle splotched with a pattern of irregularly shaped orange, white and black spots. Considered gastropod mollusks, the snails are members of the Mollusca phylum, which includes octopuses and oysters, and the class Gastropoda, which includes marine snails with and without shells.
Mollusks encompass a wide variety of animals, with the lineage dating back some 500 million years. Just recently, in a study published in the Oct. 27, 2011, issue of the journal Nature, Casey Dunn, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University, and colleagues put together the most comprehensive evolutionary tree of mollusks.
The researchers found that a mysterious group of deep-ocean animals that resemble limpets, called monoplacophorans, are a sister clade to cephalopods, which include octopuses, squid and nautiluses. "Cephalopods are so different from all other mollusks, it was very difficult to understand what they are related to. They don't fit in with the rest," Dunn said. "Now, we have a situation where two of the most enigmatic groups within the mollusks turn out to be sister groups." [Amazing Mollusks: Images of Strange & Slimy Snails]
Where on Earth are these city lights brightening up the night? Here's a hint: That green sliver is the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Make your guesses, and then scroll down …
If you guessed that you were looking at the United States, pat yourself on the back. And if you guessed the Midwest, congratulations! This is a view from the International Space Station taken in September 2011. The Northern Lights hover over Canada, while the largest bright spot near the center of the photo is Chicago (You can see Lake Michigan as a big dark spot bordering the city). The spidery-looking city below and to the right of Chicago is St. Louis. Way to the left of St. Louis is a small clump of lights: That's Des Moines, with Minneapolis-St. Paul above and to the left of it. The large blur of lights in the lower left-hand corner of the photo is Omaha, Nebraska.
The astronaut who snapped this photo also captured a weather event. Look above St. Louis and the dark, winding spot that is the little-populated Appalachian Mountains. You'll see a bright, almost bluish dot. That dot is almost certainly lightning from a storm on the East Coast.
Almost 2,000 years ago, Chinese astronomers observed light from a star that exploded with amazing force 8,000 light-years away from Earth. The remnants of this supernova are still around today.
The supernova, known as RCW 86, was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 185 A.D. Today, astronomers use space telescopes to peer at the debris RCW 86 left behind. This image was stitched together with data from four space telescopes; the blue and green colors only show up on x-ray images. These x-rays show interstellar gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by the passage of the shock wave from the supernova. The red represents dust at a temperature of several hundred degrees below zero — cold to human senses, but quite warm compared to typical space dust in our Milky Way galaxy.
This may look like a terribly wonky Christmas tree, but it's actually a succession of fruit fly egg chambers. The red dots are Wolbachia bacteria, which infect most insect species. The odd thing about a Wolbachia infection is that female insects that carry the bacteria lay four times the eggs as females without an infection.
One reason for this extra fecundity, a new study finds, is that cells divide more readily into gametes (the cells that combine to form offspring, like sperm and egg in humans) in infected female insects. Programmed cell death also drops in developing egg chambers, like those seen in the photograph. Because disease-carrying bugs such as mosquitoes are infected by Wolbachia, researchers hope their results, reported online in Science Oct. 20, will help in developing controls on insect reproduction.
This gorgeous view of a storm on the plains was taken by Fort Morgan, Colo. photographer Debi Bratrsovsky. Of capturing the image, Bratrsovsky wrote on the Earth Science Picture of the Day blog, "When I first spotted this storm, 17 mi (27 km) north of Fort Morgan, Colorado, it appeared to be a mesacyclone. However, by the time I gathered my photography equipment and drove toward it, I could tell that it had changed quite a bit and was no longer so threatening. Nonetheless, the way the waning sunlight interacted with the fast moving storm clouds was breathtaking; indigo, ink and violet clouds swirling above a red-rimmed horizon." She captured this shot just before sunset on June 20, 2011.
Look out, this rattler is ready to strike. Fortunately, rattlesnakes really are more afraid of you than you are of them. They rarely bite unless provoked and would much prefer to warn you away. Only about 7,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, and only about 0.2 percent of bites result in death, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
What might the night sky look like from an exoplanet? No one knows for sure, but this science-informed artist's conception is a good starting point for the imagination. The cluster of stars is a dwarf galaxy, which are galaxies composed of up to 99 percent dark matter and only 1 percent normal matter such as stars. Dark matter is a mysterious, invisible substance, detectable only through its gravitational pull.
A recent Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics study finds that dark matter is distributed smoothly throughout dwarf galaxies, contradicting scientists' expectations that the dark matter would be clustered at the center of these galaxies like a pit in a peach. These findings suggest that scientists are missing something in their understanding of dark matter's mysteries.
This creepy-crawly is a spider water beetle, a water-loving bug that lives in mountain rivers on Palawan Island in the Philippines. The beetles get their name from their long, spindly legs (imagine if this fellow stretched his out!). They also create their own little scuba-diving bubbles called "plastrons," which allow them to live permanently under the water.
A baby orangutan takes thumb-sucking to a new level thanks to prehensile feet. Much like human children, baby orangutans remain dependent on their moms for a long time, sometimes being carried most of the time until they're 5 years old. Young orangutans normally don't leave mom's side until they're 10 or so, and even when they do strike out on their own, they often return to "visit" for the next few years.
We couldn’t wait until Halloween to share this spooky thermal image of bats in flight. Provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this image was taken by Boston University researchers trying to better understand how bats navigate the air in response to weather, bug activity and climate change.
According to the United State Geological Survey, bats save farmers at least $3 billion a year by scarfing down insects that would otherwise eat crops. But bats are threatened by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that kills them, as well as by deadly collisions with wind turbines.
Researchers estimate that the loss of one million bats in the Northeast alone has probably resulted in between 660 and 1320 metric tons fewer insects being eaten by bats each year. Now that's scarier than blood-red bats any day.
An exposed wall of ice-rich permafrost dwarfs a researcher along the coast of Herschel Island in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Permafrost is soil, often water-rich, that is below freezing. The sea rapidly erodes this permafrost in coastal zones, a geological process that could have major implications for humans living in such chilly coastal areas. Currently, Arctic coastlines are eroding by about 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) each year, according to the Alfred Wegener Institute. The Institute is now funding study of this erosion to understand how it happens and what triggers the coastline loss.
The Oct. 11 full moon shines over Greenland's ice sheet in this photograph taken from Summit Station. Ice crystals in the air reflect the moon's light, creating a halo effect. But it wasn't a night to stay out sky-watching long: Temperatures were -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius) when photographer Ed Stockard snapped this image.
Although a waxing moon washed out the view of much of this year's Draconid meteor shower, a photographer in Palermo, Italy captured this shooting star on October 8. The 2011 Draconids were expected to be heavier than usual, because Earth passed directly through several strands of debris left behind by a passing comet. But the showers hit their peak while North America was in full daylight, and European skywatchers had to contend with a bright moon.
Nothing like a nice nest of twigs and snow to keep you warm on a winter's night. The gray jay takes the weather in stride, though — these Canadian birds don't fly south for the winter, and they start their breeding season in mid-February when temperatures are below 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius).
A new study by researchers at the University of Guelph finds that these birds survive in their winter wasteland by storing berries, fungi, insects and even bits of scavenged meat in the nooks and crannies of trees. The new research, published in the journal Oecologia, revealed that spruce and pine trees make better treasure troves than deciduous trees, perhaps because the resin in conifers helps preserve the birds' food. The findings explain why gray jays seem to be disappearing from areas without much pine and spruce.
The Crab Nebula, the leftovers of a star that went out in a supernova in 1054, is sending out strange signals that scientists can't fully explain. According to research published in the Oct. 7, 2011 issue of the journal Science, astronomers have detected pulsed gamma rays from the neutron star within the nebula that are far higher than the scientists expected.
The pulsed gamma rays have energies between 100 billion and 400 billion electronvolts, far higher than the 25 billion electronvolts previously detected. A 400 billion electronvolt photon is almost a trillion times more energetic than the photons that make up visible light. Explaining this high energy is going to require major adjustments to astronomers' theories of the energy interactions in the nebula.
"The finding shows that the theory is not there yet," said study researcher Henric Krawczynski, a professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis. "We know less about these systems than we thought."
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill left a sheen of petroleum on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Now, a new study finds that oil-eating microbes chowed down on this unlikely feast — but the type of microbes depended strongly on water temperature.
Cold-loving, or psychrophilic, bacteria thrived in the deep oil plume rising from the ocean floor, feeding preferentially on natural gas, researchers reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Oct. 3, 2011.
"The ability of oil-eating bacteria to grow with natural gas as their 'foodstuff' is important," said study researcher David Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara, "because these bacteria may have reached high numbers by eating the more-abundant gas, then turned their attention to other components of the oil."
Autumn in Tokyo, marked by blazing colors on gingko trees. This tree on the Tokyo University campus is, like all gingkos, a living fossil. Gingkos have no close living relatives, and their ancestry can be traced all the way back to the Jurassic period. Fossil ginkgo leaves 270 million years old are little different than the ones found today.
What could this odd array of objects be? No hints here: Scroll down to see if you figured it out.
Okay, one hint: You're looking at something very, very small.
This photograph, which took 14th place in the 2011 Nikon Small World photography contest, is of a few shapely grains of sand. Under a microscope, the stuff of sandcastles is sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged, depending on how the ocean shaped the original material that would become the sand.
See more winners of the 2011 Nikon contest here.
More than 9,000 light-years away from Earth, stars form within the star cluster NGC 281, colloquially known as the "Pacman Nebula." The nebula gets its name because optical images show dust obscuring some of the nebula's glowing gas in a shape reminiscent of the arcade character. This infared image shows that dust glowing brightly instead.
Like a parasite clinging to a host, the deadly HIV virus buds from a white blood cell grown in the laboratory. The HIV-1 virus, seen here, is the most common (and deadliest) strain of the disease. It infects immune cells like this lymphocyte, causing their deaths and opening the door for opportunistic infections to swoop in.
This well-formed storm is reminiscent of one of the tropical cyclones that regularly bear down on the East and Gulf Coasts, so what's it doing over Lake Michigan?
Actually, this storm is what's known as a mid-latitude cyclone. These tempests are responsible for most of the nasty, stormy weather in the continental U.S., according to NASA. They're formed when a warm front from the south clashes with a cold front from the north. Bands of cold and warm air wrap around a center of low pressure, and the rising air in that low-pressure zone triggers the development of clouds and precipitation.
NASA's Aqua satellite captured this storm snapshot over Lake Michigan on Sept. 26.
For sure this would be one giant (and explosive) breakfast. Spanning 1,000 times the diameter of the sun, this monster star known as IRAS 17163-3907 shines some 500,000 more brightly than the sun, researchers have just found. New observations of the star and its surrounding shells using the infrared camera aboard Very Large Telescope (VLT) revealed it is actually a yellow hypergiant. [50 Fabulous Deep-Space Nebula Photos]
If the fried egg nebula, which includes the star and its surrounding cloud of gas and dust, were placed in the center of the solar system, Earth would lie deep within the star itself, while Jupiter would orbit just above its surface. And the much larger surrounding nebula would engulf all the planets and dwarf planets, even veiling some of the comets that orbit far beyond Neptune's orbit. (The outer shell of the nebula has a radius of 10,000 times the distance from the Earth to the sun.)
"This object was known to glow brightly in the infrared but, surprisingly, nobody had identified it as a yellow hypergiant before," said Eric Lagadec, of the European Southern Observatory, who led the team that produced the new images, in a statement.
Yellow hypergiants like this one are in an extremely active phase of their life cycle, undergoing a series of explosive events. In fact, this star has ejected four times the mass of the sun in just a few hundred years, with that ejected matter forming the nebula's double shell. The explosions signal a nearing death for the star, which the researchers will be one of the next supernova explosions in our galaxy. Toast anyone?
A blue dragonfly perches on a flower. The insect seems to be making googly eyes, but of course those black dots aren't really pupils; dragonflies have compound eyes with hundreds of tiny lenses.
Practice makes perfect for the Botswanan Southern Masked Weaver, shown above weaving a complex nest of out grass. Weavers aren't born knowing how to build these structures, researchers reported today (Sept. 26, 2011) in the journal Behavioural Processess. Instead, the bird vary their technique from one nest to another, sometimes building left to right, sometimes starting from right to left. As the birds gain more experience building nests, they drop grass less often, suggesting that they improve at their art.
The moon hangs over the Earth in this astronaut photograph taken from the International Space Station. Space transitions into the orange-colored troposphere, the lowest portion of Earth's atmosphere. The line between the troposphere and the rest of the blue-colored atmosphere is called the tropopause.
Do you think of algae as gloopy green slime? Think again. This unicellular diatom (Diatom Arachnoidiscus), a type of algae, reveals an intricate rainbow pattern under 40x magnification. The colorful effect is due to the diatom's silica cell wall, which encases the organism like a glassy shell.
Streams of cold gas feed a forming galaxy in this artist's visualization. The "arms" of gas bring in the raw material to feed star formation in the new galaxy.
No one has ever seen this process in real life; rather, this version of galaxy formation is a theoretical scenario based on numerical simulations.
This harlequin shrimp isn't clowning around (yeah, yeah, cue groans). Hymenocera elegans here is found in the waters off of Indonesia. Popular among aquarium enthusiasts for their bright colors, harlequin shrimp are nonetheless tough to care for in a tank. One reason is their diet: They eat only starfish (and sometimes sea urchins), and they reportedly prefer to eat them alive. Since the prey is so much larger than the predator, it sometimes takes the shrimp two weeks to finish off a single (living) starfish. No wonder people think clowns are scary.
Mountains in the mist? A really close look at someone's fingerprint? Just what are we seeing here?
Made your guesses? Despite the salmon-pink background, this is actually a photograph of wispy cloud formations in the sky. The photograph was taken at dusk in February 2009.
A moray eel lurks outside a cage full of fish in the Caribbean Sea. The fish are part of a living experiment to find out how different species affect the growth of noxious seaweed that can harm coral reefs. The eel, on the other hand, is just hungry.
Calm water mirrors cloudy skies in this photograph of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The Channel Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Southern California home to a variety of plants and animals found nowhere else. The marine sanctuary protects the water-loving animals that call the ocean around the islands their home, while five of the islands are protected by the Channel Islands National Park.
NASA announced today (Sept. 14) that it is prepared to move forward in developing the Space Launch System, a new heavy-lift launch vehicle envisioned as mankind's latest ticket to the cosmos.
Unlike the Space Shuttle, which stuck relatively close to Earth, the Space Launch System is designed to launch a crewed space capsule into deep space. The capsule, or the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), is based on designs from the scrapped Constellation program, which would have aimed for the moon. This iteration of Orion is intended for trips to Mars or far-off asteroids.
Above, an artist's conception of the Space Launch System blasting off.
This image of a pair of interacting galaxies called Arp 273 was taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and released in April 2011.
The distorted shape of the larger of the two galaxies shows signs of tidal interactions with the smaller of the two. It is thought that the smaller galaxy has actually passed through the larger one.
Like something out of a sci-fi movie, a laser seems to trigger lightning in this European Southern Observatory photo taken in Chile. In reality, the image is a bit of an illusion: The lightning was far from the Observatory and the laser only appears to be cutting through the bolt.
Rather than controlling the weather, the laser beam is actually used to calibrate the ESO's powerful telescopes. The intense beam creates an artificial "star" in the atmosphere by exciting atoms 56 miles (90 km) up. Astronomers then measure this glow and use it to correct telescope settings to overcome the blurring effect of the atmosphere on far-off images.
A gelatinous nudibranch (Janolus barbarensis) adds a splash of color to the ocean in Morro Bay, Calif. Nudibranches are ocean-dwelling mollusks without shells; they're often called sea slugs, but some sea slugs are in a family of their own, unrelated to the 3,000 or so species of nudibranch.
Marine scientists believe that the colors on nudibranches keep predators at bay, much like a neon sign reading, "Tastes terrible, do not eat!" And indeed, some nudibranches store up toxins from their diet of poisonous sponges, making the slug-like creatures themselves deadly to predators.
Chalk this one up to the weird world of human psychology: A wall of used gum is a popular tourist attraction in Seattle.
The Market Theater Gum Wall is in an alleyway in downtown Seattle. People waiting in line at the box office for Market Theater started sticking gum here in the 1990s, and theater workers eventually despaired of scraping it all off. Now the wall is plastered with gum several inches thick, some of it arranged into fruit-flavored artwork.
Looking for a piece of abstract art for the living room? Look no further than Mother Nature. Italian geoscientist Bernardo Cesare takes photomicrographs of regular rocks, transforming them with the use of special filters into stained-glass hues. Cesare, who is now selling his photographs in the U.S. via his website, thinks of himself as less an artist than a reporter, painstakingly coaxing brilliant colors out of tiny slices of stone. [See a full gallery of Cesare's work]
For astronauts looking down on Earth, city lights look much like stars dotting the sky. Can you guess what cities are lighting up the planet in this Aug. 10, 2011 astronaut photo?
If you guessed that you were looking at northwestern Europe, congratulations. London is the large bright spot in the lower left-hand corner; across the dark English Channel is Paris, near the center of the photograph. Brussels is the large dark orange area to the left of Paris, and smaller, brighter Amsterdam sits to Paris' left. Rounding out the spacebound tour of European cities is Milan, which is visible as a line of lights alongside the dark Alps in the upper right corner of the photo.
About 1 million years ago, an ancient woolly rhinoceros roamed what is now the Zanda Basin (shown here) in the foothills of the Himalayas in southwestern Tibet. The previously unknown species was equipped with a "snow shovel" on its head, suggesting giants like this were already adapted for the cold, icy climate of the Himalayas before the Ice Age, scientists announced this week in the journal Science.
The authors also discovered fossils from other cold-adapted giants in the Basin, including a snow leopard, blue sheep and Tibetan antelope. The findings suggest the Tibetan Plateau was a cold cradle for the evolution of Ice Age beasts, such as the woolly mammoth. [Read full story]
The moons Mimas, Enceladus and Dione whiz around Saturn in this 1995 image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. At the time, the planet's rings were tilted nearly edge-on toward the sun, an event that happens only once every 15 years and allows the moons to cast shadows on Saturn and its rings.
Flood waters from Hurricane Irene breach North Carolina's Hatteras Island, cutting through Highway 12, the road connecting the island to the mainland. This photo, taken Aug. 28 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is part of a larger project to assess the damage Irene caused to the East Coast. The hurricane came ashore near Cape Lookout on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Aug. 27 before heading toward New Jersey and New York. [Read: How Barrier Islands Survive Storms]
A humpback whale breaches in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. A new study, published Aug. 16 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that to protect marine mammals like these gentle giants, humans need only set aside 4 percent of the world's oceans for conservation. The research found that just 9 conservation sites would protect habitat for 84 percent of all marine mammals species on Earth.
The critical sites are off the coasts of Baja California in Mexico, eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Astrophysicists have long tried to simulate the formation of our spiral galaxy, the Milky Way. Until now, such attempts have faltered on one of two points: Either the simulated spiral galaxies displayed too many stars at the center or the overall stellar mass was several times too big.
For their study, which is published in the Astrophysical Journal, the scientists created a computer model of a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way developing by itself without any intervention, offering a glimpse in time lapse into almost the entire genesis of a spiral galaxy. The above image shows our simulated galaxy (left), with gas in red and stars in blue, along with a false-color picture of the spiral galaxy M74.
The simulations, among other findings, showed that stars must be at the outer edge of the Milky Way.
Being able to use physical laws and processes to recreate the formation of a complex system like the Milky Way realistically is the ultimate proof that the underlying theories of astrophysics are correct.
High above the Earth from aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Ron Garan snapped this image of Hurricane Irene as it passed over the Caribbean on Aug. 22, 2011. As of Thursday, Aug. 25, Irene was expected to hug the East Coast, possibly making landfall near New York City over the weekend.
Like tie-dye on the water, blue and green swirls decorate the Barents Sea off the coast of Norway in this Aug. 14 image. The colors are created by a massive phytoplankton bloom. This image, captured by NASA's Aqua satellite, reveals a distinctive milky blue color often associated with plankton called coccolithophores.
Care for a swim? Perhaps not in this sulfur lake, found near the Dallol volcano in the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia. The landscape is not unlike Yellowstone National Park's hot springs, with small geysers and mineral-rich pools dotting the landscape. This lake is ringed in yellow due to high concentrations of natural sulfur, known in ancient times as brimstone.
If lakes of sulfur aren't hellish enough for you, consider this: The nearby mining settlement of Dallol, now a ghost town, holds the record high average temperature for an inhabited location. An annual average temperature of 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) was recorded in Dallol in the 1960s, shortly before the town was abandoned.
Giant kelp works hard for its name. Under ideal conditions, the plant can grow up to two feet every day — leaving land-based plants like bamboo in the dust. Growing in undersea forests, giant kelp provides a habitat for everything from sea stars to sea otters, which sometimes wrap themselves up in kelp fronds to anchor in for naps.
A crevasse opens into darkness in this 2009 photograph taken on Jungfraujoch, a pass between the Swiss mountains of Jungfrau and Mönch. Jungfrau, or "The Maiden" is the third-highest mountain in the Bernese Alps. According to legend, the peak is protected from The Ogre (Eiger, a nearby mountain) by Mönch, The Monk.
Actin (purple), microtubules (yellow), and nuclei (green) are labeled in these cells by immunofluorescence. This image won first place in the Nikon 2003 Small World photo competition. See some of this year's competition entries here.
— Stephanie Pappas
Comet McNaught, a comet discovered by British-Australian astronomer Robert H. McNaught, sets behind Mount Paranal, Chile in 2007. The comet, nicknamed the "Great Comet of 2007" was visible to the naked eye for southern hemisphere viewers. The comet was the brightest seen from Earth for 40 years, and researchers later discovered Comet McNaught to be the largest ever measured.
Ireland: Home of Guinness beer, leprechauns and ... puffins? Yes, the rocky islands on Ireland's west coast are the summer breeding grounds of a variety of birds, including this little fellow photographed on Skellig Michael in July 2011. Atlantic puffins like this one nest in bonded pairs, and both mom and dad help hatch and raise one chick per year.
VV 340, also known as Arp 302, provides a textbook example of colliding galaxies seen in the early stages of their interaction. The edge-on galaxy near the top of the image is VV 340 North and the face-on galaxy at the bottom of the image is VV 340 South. Millions of years later these two spirals will merge -- much like the Milky Way and Andromeda will likely do billions of years from now. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple) are shown here along with optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, blue). VV 340 is located about 450 million light years from Earth.
Flatworms, or planaria, have a network of fine tubules running through their bodies that function much like the kidneys of a mammal. Instead of shunting waste fluids toward the bladder, though, the tubules send it out of the worm's body through pores on the skin.
The tubes accomplish this trick thanks to bulb-like structures called flame cells, which contain cilia that move the fluids out toward the skin.
— Stephanie Pappas
Here, an artist's conception illustrates the history of the cosmos: Right after the Big Bang, conditions were extremely hot and dense, with charged electrons and protons floating around independently. Once conditions cooled down enough, the electrons and protons could come together to form neutral hydrogen atoms, a process and time period called the recombination epoch, which created the microwave background.
The illustration takes us from the Big Bang and the recombination epoch to the formation of galactic superclusters and galaxies themselves.
Observations by the High-z Supernova (High-Z SN) search team, who are using supernovas to trace the expansion of the universe from today back 9 billion years, have hinted that we live in a "stop and go" universe. The expansion, described by Robert Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, slowed due to gravity before accelerating again due to an unexplained dark energy. [Supernova Photos: Great Images of Star Explosions]
A Hawaiian green sea turtle mugs for the camera at the Hawaaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
African penguins take a sidewalk stroll. These two-foot-tall birds are also known as "jackass penguins" because of their loud, donkey-like calls. They nest in burrows along southern Africa's coastal waters, laying two eggs that are cared for by both mom and dad. One major African penguin colony is right near Cape Town, South Africa, at Boulders Beach. There, penguins rub elbows with tourists and swimmers.
This image taken by Hanna Jackowiak shows the microstructures of the lower parts of eggshell wall in a pheasant. The eggshell in birds is composed of a thick layer of mineral column and underlying thin, fibrous membrane. Scanning electron microscopy was used to show the space between these layers.
This image was taken during microscopic studies on the spatial structure of the eggshell in the pheasant and was an entry in the 2005 Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge (SciVis) competition, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Journal Science. The competition is held each year to recognize outstanding achievements by scientists, engineers, visualization specialists and artists who are innovators in using visual media to promote the understanding of research results and scientific phenomena. To learn more about the competition and view all the winning entries, see the SciVis Special Report. (Date of Image: May 30, 2005.)
Skywatchers at high latitudes can expect spectacular aurora borealis displaysin the skies tonight (Aug. 5) thanks to a strong solar flare that hurled a cloud of plasma toward Earth on Aug. 2. The flare occurred when an intense magnetic event above sunspot 1261 hurled a stream of charged particles that's now headed toward Earth, according to SpaceWeather.com.
Also known as the Northern Lights, the aurora light show is the result of the interaction of these charged particles with Earth's magnetic field.
The image above, taken by instruments onboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows a powerful M9-class solar flare that erupted from the sun at 10:09 p.m. EDT on July 29 (0209 GMT July 30). M-Class flares are medium-strength events. The strongest type of solar eruption is class X, while class C represents the weakest, on the scale. The Aug. 2 flare registered as a middleclass M1 event. [Read more at SPACE.com]
As fetal you developed in the womb, your intestines grew faster than your body, forcing the guts to loop around on themselves. A new study published Aug 4 in the journal Nature found that the patterns of this fold depend on the elasticity, geometry and rate of growth of the gut and the muscles it's anchored to.
Here, a chick's gut melds with a numerical simulation of chicken gut development.
— Stephanie Pappas
This may look like a fanciful illustration, but it's the real thing. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope snapped this shot of the spiral galaxy NGC 634 after a white dwarf star went supernova in the galaxy in 2008.
This photo was taken a year and a half after the supernova explosion, so the brilliance of the white dwarf's last breaths is no longer visible. But NGC 634 still sparkles from its perch in the Triangulum constellation, 250 million light years away from Earth.
— Stephanie Pappas
Three gentoo penguins line up at Gamage Point, Antarctica. Gentoos stand about 22 inches (56 centimeters) tall and weigh about 12 pounds (6 kilograms). Adults are marked by a white strip spanning the top of the head like a bonnet, but babies are grey-and-white balls of fuzz.
These candy-colored "trees" are actually the cells that enable you to see in the dark. They're called rod cells, and humans have some 120 million of them lining the back of the eye, shooting signals to the brain when they're stimulated by light. Rods are sensitive to very dim light, unlike their counterparts, cones, which allow us to see color.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg made this image using new brain-mapping software that traces the connections between nerve cells 50 times faster than earlier methods. The process has now been tested on the mouse retina, as seen above, and researchers plan to tackle the rodent's cerebral cortex next. For more amazing brain images, check out LiveScience's gallery, Inside the Brain: A Journey Through Time.
The moon and Jupiter appear to be neighbors in this June 2011 photograph taken taken on a cloudy night in Fonte-de-Telha, Portugal.
Blazing a tiny trail across the face of the Earth, the Space Shuttle Atlantis makes its final descent on July 21, 2011. An astronaut snapped this photo from the International Space Station, showing the ionized plasma plume created by Atlantis' descent through the atmosphere.
The greenish glow hovering over the planet is airglow, which occurs when molecules in the high atmosphere release energy at night that they absorbed from sunlight during the day.
— Stephanie Pappas
Going back to the salt mines never looked so appealing. This brilliant blue speck in the desert near Moab, Utah is a potash evaporation pond. Potash is a catch-all name for a variety of salts, many of which are used in fertilizers.
To get potash out of the ground, miners pump water from the nearby Colorado River through wells into an underground mine, according to mining company Intrepid. The water dissolves the potash salts buried 3,000 feet (914 meters) below the surface. The now-briny water is pumped back up into the shallow ponds seen here, where the sun evaporates off the water, leaving salt crystals behind.
The ponds get their bright blue color from a dye, much like food coloring, added to the water. The color helps the ponds absorb more light, speeding up the evaporation process.
Pretty colors aside, potash mining isn't immune to environmental concerns. Environmental activists have raised concerns about water contamination and land disturbance, especially in the potash-rich Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
— Stephanie Pappas
The spread of cancer from one its initial outpost to someplace else in the body, called metastasis, is the most common reason cancer treatments fail. Some cancer cells rely on microscopic "feet" called invadopodia, which are projections on the cellular membrane that help the cells "walk" to surrounding tissues. Now researchers are reporting online in the July 26, 2011, issue of the journal Science Signaling that they have identified compounds that inhibit invadopodia formation without causing toxicity. The team also found a number of compounds that increased a cancer cell's invadopodia.
Here, invadopodia (bright red dots) form on metastatic cancer cells.
The NASA GOES-13 satellite captured a snapshot of three tropical storms (and a tropical wave) on July 22. Hurricane Dora is in the Pacific, while Bret and Cindy whirl in the Atlantic. Low #1, a tropical wave, has brought rain to parts of the Caribbean. None of the storms are expected to pose a major threat to land.
Here's a hint: Something really small.
These are a laboratory-built version of cilia, tiny hair-like projections off of a cell body. In a cell, cilia beat in synchronization much like "The Wave" so beloved by sports fans, propelling a cell or brushing away foreign material (cilia in our lungs help expel inhaled particles, for example.)
Using just four cellular components, researchers at Brandeis University in Massachusetts found that they could build super-simple cilia that automatically sync up with one another, beating in perfect rhythm. We'd like to see a bunch of drunk baseball fans manage that.
— Stephanie Pappas
The STS-135 crew got its last glimpse of the International Space Station through the Space Shuttle Atlantis' windows on Tuesday, July 19. Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center at 5:57 a.m. EDT on July 21, marking the end of the space shuttle era. Atlantis will retire to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Now you see him ... A gray tree frog peers out of a hole in a tree in Louisiana. Like chameleons, gray tree frogs can change colors to match their surroundings, ranging from gray, brown, green or even white. On the underside of each hind leg, the frogs have a splash of bright orange color, which may confuse predators.
This ringtail possum has the camera, so who's going to provide the action? Taken in 1943 somewhere in northern Australia, this photo is part of the Australian War Memorial collection. The possum, someone's pet, apparently became interested in a Department of Information movie camera and assumed the director's position. Normally, ringtail possums live a less artistic life in dense, brushy forests. Like the more-famous koalas that share their Aussie home, ringtail possums are eucalyptus-loving marsupials.
Forming a thin green line over the southern horizon, the southern lights (aurora australis) are visible from the International Space Station. This atmospheric phenomenon occurs when particles collide in the high atmosphere. Auroras can be seen on dark nights from the ground in high latitudes. In this space-based view, the aurora provides a stunning backdrop for the Space Shuttle Atlantis' final mission.
— Stephanie Pappas
During the spring and summer melt, the sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean (shown here in this photo from July 12, 2011) begins to melt; the liquid water collects in depressions on the surface, pressing down on them and making them deeper until they become melt ponds. These freshwater ponds stay separated from the salty sea below and around it until cracks in the ice let the two mix.
Scientists who are part of NASA's ICESCAPE mission (Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment) are studying these melt ponds and the surrounding water and ice to see how changes in the Arctic impact the ocean's chemical and biological makeup.
In the photo above, crewmembers are collecting supplies. Earlier in the day a C-130 airplane flew in and dropped a parachuted canister of hardware for fixing instruments and other machinery on the icebreaker, the Cutter Healy, which is carrying the research team. [Read: Melting Arctic Ice Marks Possible Sea Change in Marine Ecosystems]
Keep up with the mission on the ICESCAPE blog by NASA science writer Kathryn Hansen.
This may be as relaxing as it gets. Various shades of blue come to life in this view of Pukaki, a glacial lake in New Zealand. The alpine lake, which sits alongside Lakes Tekapo and Ohau, was carved out long ago by glaciers. Its striking blue color comes from the finely ground rock particles — called glacial flour — from the glaciers that now feed it.
Looking west along the Cucharas River Canyon in Colorado you'd notice the high Spanish Peaks in front of you. The Peaks, located in the foothills of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, are the remnants of a 20-million-year-old volcano. Rising 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) above the plains to the east, these igneous rock formations served as guiding landmarks for travelers on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.
This three-dimensional perspective view was generated using topographic data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) and an enhanced false-color Landsat 5 satellite image. Colors are from Landsat bands 5, 4, and 2 as red, green, and blue, respectively. The height of the terrain is exaggerated by two times.
Northern lights lit up the sky after researchers completed their fieldwork near Kevo, in the northernmost Finnish province of Lappi (Finnish Lapland).
Also called auroras, northern lights form when charged particles flow from the sun in a kind of "solar wind" and enter Earth's magnetic field, revving up electrically charged particles trapped there. "The high-speed particles then crash into Earth's upper atmosphere over the polar regions, causing the atmosphere to emit a ghostly, multicolored glow," according to NASA. [Photos: Auroras Dazzle Northern Observers]
NASA's final space shuttle mission, STS-135, roared from its launch pad on Friday, July 8, headed toward the International Space Station for the last time. [Stunning Photos of Last Shuttle Launch]
Here's a photo of the first space shuttle mission, ushering in a new concept in the utilization of space. The April 12, 1981 launch, at Pad 39A, just seconds past 7 a.m., carried astronaut John Young and Robert Crippen into an Earth-orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with an unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. STS-1, the first in a series of shuttle vehicles planned for the Space Transportation System, utilized reusable launch and return components.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis sits on the launch pad at NASA Kennedy Space Center on the evening of Thursday, July 7, the eve of its final flight. Weather permitting, Atlantis will lift off today (July 8) in the last flight of the Space Shuttle program.
Scientists aboard the German research vessel Polarstern dangle off the deck to sample an iceberg in this 2005 photo. The ship, which is operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, is at sea about 310 days a year, sailing to both the Arctic and Antarctic. As of July 2011, the ship is on a research mission to the Arctic island of Spitsbergen.
— Stephanie Pappas
Without gravity, flames act in mysterious ways. This artistic image is a composite of three separate flames spreading over paper in microgravity. Each color represents a different chemical reaction within the flame: Blue is caused by chemiluminescence, or the light produced by a chemical reaction, while white, yellow and orange are caused by glowing soot.
This image, by NASA Glenn Research Center aerospace engineer Sandra Olson, won first place in the 2011 Combustion Art Competition at the 7th U.S. National Combustion Meeting.
— Stephanie Pappas
Ready for your close-up? This pigeon's head-held camera captures all, including the secret of how these birdbrains navigate tricky forest environments. Researchers from Harvard University attached tiny cameras to the heads of pigeons and trained them to fly through an artificial forest in order to learn how the birds make choices in flight.
The pigeons proved excellent navigators, the researchers reported on July 1 at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual conference in Glasgow. They always chose the straightest route through the trees and seem to exit the forest heading the same direction as when they entered, despite the twists and turns they have to take to avoid crashing. The results will contribute to research in developing robotics and auto-pilots, the researchers said.
— Stephanie Pappas
A Papuan taipan gives up its venom for science. These snakes, which can grow to be 6 feet (2 meters) long, are shy, but they will bite when threatened. And that bite is nasty: According to the University of Melbourne's Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU), taipans will often inflict multiple bites on their victims, injecting bigger payloads of venom with each bite. The venom contains toxins that destroy nerves and prevent the blood from clotting. It can kill within 30 minutes.
The Papuan taipan is responsible for 82 percent of the serious snakebites in the Central province of Papua New Guinea. Now, AVRU scientists have developed a new antivenom for the deadly bites, publishing their preclinical results in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The new antivenom is less expensive than the current taipan bite treatment, which must be imported from Australia. Shortages of that drug have created a black market in antivenom, study researcher David Williams, a doctoral candidate at AVRU, said in a statement.
The researchers are now seeking funding to test the antivenom in rigorous medical trials.
— Stephanie Pappas
The Arctic takes on a gothic feel as fog rises from melting ice floes in the Laptev Sea. This photo was taken during a 2009 research expedition to Samoylov Island in northern Siberia. There, researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research are more interested in land than sea: They're investigating the permafrost of the northern Arctic to better understand how climate change could affect the tundra ecosystem.
— Stephanie Pappas
In August 2006, a NASA satellite captured this image of three angry sisters in the western Pacific Ocean. This trio of storms formed within three days of each other. The youngest storm, Typhoon Bopha (top) is barely organized into a tropical storm, with no eye and only the most basic round shape. Tropical Storm Maria (bottom right) is a day older and has formed a central eye and a spiral shape. The most powerful of the triplets, Typhoon Saomai (bottom left) is fully formed and roaring with winds around 85 miles per hour (140 kilometers per hour).
Typhoon Saomai would hit the Philippines, Taiwan and the east coast of China, causing $2.5 billion in damage and almost 500 deaths. According to the World Meteorological Organization, Saomai was a 100-year storm and the most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall over mainland China.
— Stephanie Pappas
This pale creature haunts the sea floor near the Philippine island of Luzon. Newly discovered during the California Academy of Sciences’ 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, this species of sea slug doesn't need ectoplasm (or a shell) to ward off predators.
Instead, sea slugs produce toxins to protect themselves. Some of these toxins are quite dangerous: In 2009, five dogs in New Zealand died after eating gray side-gilled sea slugs that had washed up on the beach. Ingesting half a teaspoon of gray side-gilled slug would kill a human, New Zealand officials said. So while we know it might be tempting, don't eat the slugs. Please.
— Stephanie Pappas
A bird's-eye view of the San Andreas fault where it cuts along the base of the appropriately-named Temblor Range near Bakersfield, Calif. The San Andreas is the linear feature to the right of the mountains. To the right of the fault is the Carrizo Plain. Dry conditions here preserve the visible trace of the fault, making it a popular stop for amateur and professional geologists alike.
This image was made with data collected by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which flew on a Shuttle mission in February 2000.
— Stephanie Pappas
Nope. This is inner space.
The space between cells is a freeway when you're a Staphylococcus bacterium. A tight barrier of cells is supposed to prevent outside invaders like these Staph bugs (red and purple) from entering the body. The fact that we get sick is testimony that those barriers sometimes fail. Now, University of Pennsylvania researchers have found one reason why: Some pathogenic bugs have the key that opens secret passages in this cellular wall.
The surface cells in the respiratory system (shown here in blue) let their guard down when they come in contact with certain pathogen molecules. These molecules trigger the respiratory cells to stop producing proteins that keep the junctions between cells tight. Once that happens, it's no problem for the tiny, deadly microbes to breeze through like they own the place.
— Stephanie Pappas
Venus sparkles like a diamond over the Rio de la Plata near Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Rio de la Plata is an estuary of the Parana and Uruguay Rivers. It's so large (125 miles, or 200 kilometers from shore to shore) that some geologists consider the Rio de la Plata to be not a river mouth, but a marginal sea. The lights of Buenos Aires are visible in the far right of this May 28, 2011 photo.
— Stephanie Pappas
A web of cracks in meltwater ice found along the edge of Byrd Glacier in Antarctica. The 85 mile ( 137 kilometers) long glacier flows into the Ross Ice Shelf. About the size of France, the Ross Ice Shelf is the largest ice field in Antartica.
… With room to spare. This scar in the ground is the Mirny open pit diamond mind in eastern Siberia (If you were wondering where the phrase "diamond in the rough" came from, well, here's your answer). The mine is 1,720 feet (525 meters) deep, dwarfing the 1,250 foot (381 m) tall Empire State Building. America's tallest building, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago, would just barely poke out of the Mirny Mine — that building's tallest antenna reaches 1,730 feet (527 m).
The Mirny Mine is so large that helicopters can't fly over its mouth, as there have been accidents in which the choppers get caught in the pit's downdraft. But Mirny isn't the deepest open-pit mine on Earth. That honor goes to Utah's Bingham Canyon Mine, a copper mine that descends 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometers) into the ground.
— Stephanie Pappas
A half-finished crochet project? A tattered scarf? Nope — this is a close-up of Claudea elegans, sea algae found off the coast of Australia.
— Stephanie Pappas
A Landsat 5 satellite image reveals the damage caused by Arizona's Wallow wildfire. Bright orange flames and blue smoke can be seen along the fire-damaged area's edges. As of Friday, June 17, the fire had burned 495,016 acres, according to InciWeb.org. Firefighters had the enormous wildfire 33 percent contained, but were expecting high winds that would make keeping the fire under control difficult.
— Stephanie Pappas
Yeah, probably not. This illustration appeared in the 1696 tome "Specula physico-mathematico-historica …" by Johann Zahn. The book featured a number of mythical creatures supposedly caught or sighted in the sea. Besides this merman-satyr character, Zahn "documented" a goat-eared merman with both a fin and clawed hind legs, not to mention a scaly, bearded merman supposedly caught in the Baltic Sea in 1531.
— Stephanie Pappas
Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Volcano Complex sends a plume of ash streaming 497 miles (800 kilometers) east in this June 13 satellite photo. The volcano has been erupting since June 4, evidenced here by the pale coating of ash on the ground. These ash deposits could be a danger in the weeks and months to come, as winter rains can turn instable volcanic ash into deadly mudflows called lahars.
— Stephanie Pappas
Looks like these chasers have found their storm. Lightning crackles behind a stormchase vehicle in Enid, Okla. In 2009 and 2010, an armada of researchers in fully equipped vehicles (including this one) descended on the Great Plains, following the weather.
The project, VORTEX2, has one major goal: Tornado forecasting. Right now, residents in stormy areas usually have only 13 minutes to seek cover from a twister, and 70 percent of alarms are false. Understanding how and when tornados form is a major goal for meteorologists trying to give people on the ground more warning about these deadly winds.
— Stephanie Pappas
This amazing image, taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2000, shows Jupiter's closet large moon Io seemingly dwarfed by the planet's famous Great Red Spot. It's hard to comprehend the magnitude of the Great Red Spot, actually an enormous storm that has been raging on Jupiter for at least 400 years. Three Earths could fit within the boundaries of the storm.
In comparison, little Io looks relatively peaceful. But the moon is home to more than 100 active volcanoes, which spew out hot lava and giant plumes of dust and gas.
— Stephanie Pappas
The emerald tree boa, which is found in the Amazon basin, is equipped with highly sensitive heat-sensing organs that it uses for 3-D thermal imaging of their prey. Its color pattern and the way the tree boa drapes itself over branches are similar to the green tree python from Australia and New Guinea.
Come here often? This giant sea bass seems to have an eye for the ladies at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Jealous boyfriends should think twice before challenging their fishy foe: "Buccalo," as he's known, is over four feet long and weighs 165 pounds.
— Stephanie Pappas
Near the sword of the constellation Orion, an active stellar nursery lights up the darkness. Thousands of young stars and protostars develop here, many of which will turn into stars like our own sun.
Massive stars light up the Orion nebula, seen here as the bright area near the center of the image. To the north of the Orion nebula is a dark cloud of cold dust and gas. Here, a new generation of ruby red protostars jewel Orion's sword. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which captured this image, recently detected tiny green crystals raining down on one of these baby stars like glitter from a surrounding gas cloud.
This juvenile big brown bat may be cute, but the animals are major carriers and transmitters of rabies. A new study, published online June 6, 2011 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that hibernation keeps rabies-infected bats alive long enough to pass the disease on to young bats in the next season. These hibernation patterns continue the cycle of rabies infection.
A common leaf-tailed gecko licks its chops. These Madagascar natives have more teeth than any other land-dwelling vertebrate.
Step right up, come this way, see the amazing see-through Chihuahua!
Okay, it's really just a normal Chihuahua, but scientists in Germany caught the animal on high-speed x-ray film as part of a project to learn more about how canines move. This Chihuahua is one of 327 dogs from 32 different breeds videotaped, a project that the researchers hope will boost knowledge about dog anatomy and evolution. For example, did you now that the length of a dog's foreleg is always 27 percent of that of the entire leg, regardless of breed? Now you've got something to talk about at your next cocktail party.
This shy-looking critter is an inhabitant of Antarctica first found during the research vessel Polarstern's ANTXXIII-8 cruise. Found in water near Antarctica's Elephant Island, the arthropod is about 1 inch (25 mm) long.
Sundogs, or parahelia, are bright spots in the sky caused by the refraction of sunlight off tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere. Above the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in midwinter, sundogs meld into a halo around the sun.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour is docked with the International Space Station one last time in this May 28, 2011 photograph. Below, city lights brighten the night side of Earth. The STS-134 astronauts left the station the next day on May 29, and they are scheduled to land in Florida on Wednesday, June 1.
Lava erupts from Mount Yasur, an active volcano in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. Mount Yasur has been erupting at low levels since at least the 1700s and possibly stretching back 800 years. This photo was taken in April, 2011.
Coming to a clump of dirt near you... Myxococcus xanthus is a social bacterium that preys on other microbes in the soil. When food is abundant, the bacteria take a rod-shaped form, shown here in yellow. When times are tough, bacteria cells clump together into multicellular fruiting bodies containing long-lasting spores, seen here in green.
Some bacteria try to game the system, however, by jockeying to become the hardy spore rather than the supporting fruiting body.
A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that some bacteria in the community evolve to "police" these cheaters, a very primitive form of social cooperation.
Even in the chilliest water, life can thrive. This Antarctic ice fish, photographed during an Alfred Wegener Institute Polarstern mission, has no red blood cells or red blood pigments. The adaption makes the fish's blood thinner, saving energy that would otherwise be needed to pump the blood around the body.
Iceland's Grimsvotn volcano erupts on May 22, 2011.
Meltwater cuts into the edge of the Larson Ice Shelf on Antarctica's Weddell Sea, creating a temporary waterfall. Scientists on the research vessel Polarstern snapped this picture during a seven-month Antarctic expedition.
A close-up look at a dead dragonfly found in Georgia revealed this miniature hanger-on. The tiny insect seen in this scanning electron microscope image may have been a dragonfly parasite. Or the bug could be nothing more than debris picked up by the dragonfly on its travels.
"Lights From the Hidden City" by Ben Canales (www.thestartrail.com). This photograph won fifth place in the Against the Lights category of the International Earth and Sky Photo Contest, run by The World at Night (TWAN). Light pollution reflects in winter cloud cover. The source of the apocalyptic glow is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) away -- the city of Portland, Oregon.
Take a minute to oooh and aaah. In this composite photograph, the northern lights, or aurora, reflect off Jökulsárlón, a glacial lake in Iceland. Photographer Stephane Vetter stitched together six photographs to make this image, which reveals the band of the Milky Way galaxy, the Pleiades star cluster and the Andromeda Galaxy in the night sky. The photo took first place in 2011's Second International Earth and Sky Photo Contest.
[Related: Photos: Contest Showcases Night Sky Sparkle]
Born March 22, Francisco the black lion tamarin is the first baby black lion tamarin born in captivity outside of Brazil in eight years. Francisco's keepers at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in the U.K. hope the monkey's c-section birth bodes well for his species, which is critically endangered. The black-maned baby is now being syringe-fed until he can learn to drink milk on his own, at which point he'll rejoin his mother.
NASA's space shuttle Endeavour blasted into the sky Monday at 8:56 a.m. EDT (1256 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center's seaside Launch Pad 39A in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for its final mission. The six-person crew, led by Mark Kelly, will deliver spare supplies and an ambitious astrophysics experiment to the International Space Station. The mission is planned to last 16 days. [Photos: Shuttle Endeavour's Final Mission]
For continued coverage of Endeavor's 25th mission, go to SPACE.com.
Lemondrop, a 15-foot (4.6 meter) long albino python, is on display this summer at the California Academy of Science's "Snakes and Lizards: The Summer of Slither" exhibit. Burmese pythons like Lemondrop can grow as long as 23 feet (7 m) and weigh 200 pounds (90 kilograms).
These tiny phytoplankton, called diatoms, are the workhorses of the sea, producing much of the carbon and oxygen in the oceans. A new study in the journal Nature finds that diatoms share at least one molecular process once thought unique to animals, suggesting that the ancestors of diatoms were possibly more closely related to the ancestors of animals than to plants.
A researcher examines the paws of a sedated polar bear in this 1982 photograph taken in Alaska. Polar bears' giant paw pads help them keep traction on ice and snow.
Here, gases rise from hydrothermal vents at Antarctica's Mt. Erebus, one of the extreme environments where researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have studied rock-eating bacteria at the bottom of the food chain. The scientists say the new information could add to our understanding of the origins of life on Earth. [Read: 7 Theories on the Origin of Life]
Not all emperor penguins sport black-and-white tuxedoes. Scripps reseacher Gerald Kooyman spotted this unique all-white emperor chick, dubbed Snowflake, during a penguin survey on the ice shelf of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, in December 1997.
Its white feathers blended in so well with the icy background that Kooyman said he almost missed the chick – emperor penguin chicks are usually covered in a grayish down coat, with dark tail feathers and dark bills and feet.
Scientists don't think Snowflake is an albino, however, as it didn't have the characteristic pink eyes associated with albinism. [Here's a Scripps video of Snowflake]
If you think gestating one baby is tough, try 3,000. The squid Gonatus onyx carries around her brood of 2,000 to 3,000 eggs for up to nine months. The squid moms have their arms full: While carrying their eggs, they're stuck swimming with their fins and mantle instead of their much more effective arms.
So why would G. onyx take such care of its thousands of offspring? According to a 2005 study published in the journal Nature, the squid carry their eggs to deep water, where predators are rare. The deep-sea offspring are also larger and more capable of survival than shallow water squid -- thanks, mom!
Today Quttinirpaaq National Park in the Canadian Arctic is too cold and dry to support forests. Glaciers and tundra dominate the landscape, as shown here. But more than between 2 million and 12 million years ago, the Arctic was warm enough that trees grew in this park. Some of them are still around, in the form of mummified pieces of wood found by Ohio State University researcher Joel Barker.
Mummified wood isn't like petrified wood, in which all of the organic material gets replaced by minerals. Instead, the mummified trees of Quttinirpaag died in a landslide and were sealed off from water and oxygen by earth. Today, even their leaves survive, along with their secrets about ancient climate and ecosystems.
It's not hard to imagine where these moon jellies got their name. As delicate as they look, jellies are tough: They've been around for 600 million years, predating sharks and surviving multiple mass extinctions, including the one that killed the dinosaurs.
What makes jellies such survivors? Unlike fish, they're able to absorb oxygen directly through their bodies, storing it in their tissues so they can hunt in deep waters. Baby jellies can develop from swimming larvae directly into adults, but they often settle down and turn into polyps. Polyps can go dormant if conditions get bad, survive months without food, and even clone themselves.
Low-angled sunlight casts sideways shadows in this fjord along the coast of northwestern Greenland. At the base of the cliffs, icebergs are the only disruption to the smooth sea ice. Scientists working on NASA's IceBridge mission snapped this photograph on March 29, 2011. The mission is the world's largest airbone survey of polar ice.
Space weather is all about magnetism. When magnetic fields cross, they create energy bursts so large they have to be measured in megatons of TNT. But what really goes on when magnetic fields crash into one another? In 2014, NASA will launch the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, a fleet of four spacecraft that will help answer that question. This artist's rendering shows the spacecraft sweeping through the clash of solar winds against Earth's magnetic fields. More information on MMS can be found at http://mms.gsfc.nasa.gov/.
Robotic insects? The jewelry of an ancient Egyptian queen? No, these bugs are the real thing: Two species of gold and silver beetle found in the rainforests of Costa Rica.
The reflective shells of Chrysina aurgians (gold) and Chrysina limbata (silver) may help the bugs blend into their damp, forest environment, which is studded with shimmering droplets of water. A new study published in the open-access journal Optical Materials Express finds that the beetles' shells are made of progressively thinner layers of the exoskeleton material chitin. As light passes back through each layer of chitin, the waves combine to become brighter and more intense, creating the glint of gold and silver.
According to study researchers, understanding the beetles' beauty may help scientists replicate it -- creating metallic-looking materials out of organic ingredients.
An infrared satellite image of the severe storm system that has been hammering what scientists call Dixie Alley. Image captured on April 26.
Here a close-up shot of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Gulf of Mexico's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, which is about 100 miles (179 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast. Two new studies are showing the turtles are being contaminated with so-called persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include banned substances such as DDT and toxaphenes, once used as pesticides; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), once used as insulating fluids; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), once used as flame retardants.
The studies showed the turtles accumulate more of the contaminant chemicals the farther they travel up the Atlantic coast, suggesting their northern feeding grounds in Florida have higher POP levels. The turtles likely consume the POPs when they eat contaminated prey such as crabs, the researchers said. One of the studies was published online April 20, 2011 in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and the other will be published in a forthcoming issue of that journal.
This is a close-up look at any homeowner's nightmare: A bedbug. These reddish-brown bugs, each the size of an apple seed, are tough to eliminate once they take hold in the linens. Bedbugs were once virtually wiped out in the United States, but international travelers have carried them back to U.S. soil.
This scanning electron microscope photograph of a bedbug's head reveals its mouthparts, which are used to pierce the skin and suck the blood of its victims. While some people have no reaction to bedbug bites, others experience itchy clusters of hives.
The sun sets over western South America in this photo taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS). ISS astronauts see an average of 16 sunrises and sunsets during a 24-hour period. The diffuse line between night and day seen here is called the "terminator."
On the horizon, layers of Earth's atmosphere appear in colors ranging from bright white to deep blue.
A red fox trots away with its kill — a smaller arctic fox. This scene in northern Alaska is becoming more common as warming temperatures have opened up new territory to red foxes, threatening the survival of their arctic cousins.
In a world with two or three suns, plants might turn black, according to a new research study. It's not because the extra suns would fry the vegetation to a crisp; rather, the plants' color might change depending on how much of the visible light spectrum they absorbed for energy. In a multi-star system, plants depending on dim red dwarf stars for energy might evolve to absorb all colors of light, researchers reported April 19 at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales. The result? Plants that appear black as night to the human eye.
One year ago today, on April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, marking the beginning of a three-month long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill turned the Mississippi delta into an oily canvas, as seen in this May 24, 2010 image from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. Vegetation looks red, while the reflective oil appears silver.
Scientists collect samples among the sea ice and melt ponds of the Arctic's Chukchi Sea. The project, called Impacts of Climate Change on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment, or ICESCAPE, aims to find out how warming temperatures are affecting the biochemistry and ecology of the Arctic seas.
Dwarfing barns and homes, a dust storm roars into the Texas panhandle town of Spearman during the Great Depression. Caused by drought and poor farming practices, these enormous "black blizzards" or "black rollers" scarred the lungs and turned day to night.
This storm struck on April 14, 1935, a day known from then on as "Black Sunday," according to Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl" (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). The storm ripped through five states with winds up to 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour, generating enough static electricity to power New York. A pilot flying over the area reported climbing to 23,000 feet (7,010 meters) before realizing she wouldn't be able to fly high enough to avoid the choking cloud of dust. The Black Sunday duster would go down in history as the worst dust storm ever seen on the Great Plains.
A pronghorn fitted with a GPS collar leaps through the snow. Scientists in Idaho have set up a similar collaring program to track the migration of these grazing mammals. The Idaho pronghorns make an 80-mile (129 kilometer) journey between their summer and winter ranges, and human development can cut off their migration routes. The collars, which eventually drop off of the animals, will give researchers a better idea of which areas are crucial to pronghorn migration, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) is the smallest of 12 species of bizarre-looking leaf-tailed geckos. The nocturnal creature has extremely cryptic camouflage so it can hide out in forests in Madagascar. This group of geckos is found only in primary, undisturbed forests, so their populations are very sensitive to habitat destruction. Large Uroplatus species have more teeth than any other living terrestrial vertebrate species.
The gecko species was discovered in Mantadia-Zahamena corridor of Madagascar in 1998 during one of the Conservation International (CI) "Rapid Assessment Program" (RAP) surveys. The animal snagged a spot on CI's "Top 20" list of animals discovered during these expeditions, which began 20 years ago today, April 14, 2011.
As the sun sinks into the Pacific, its last light seems to glow green. This "green flash," caused by light refracting in the atmosphere, is rarely seen. But Nigella Hillgarth, the director of the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, got lucky one night.
"I often work late and have developed the habit of taking photos of the incredible sunsets over the Pacific from the Aquarium," Hillgarth told LiveScience. "One evening, I was snapping away and caught the green flash as it appeared. I was hoping for a green flash, but was very excited when one actually happened and I caught it!"
More of Hillgarth's images can be found on her Flickr page.
The northern lights illuminate the sky in this image captured by photographer Nate Bolt during a flight from San Francisco to Paris. Bolt set up his camera in an empty seat facing a window and snapped more than 2,400 shots during the 11-hour flight. A time-lapse video of the flight can be seen at beepshow.com.
This image shows the merger of two neutron stars recently simulated using a new supercomputer model. Redder colors indicate lower densities. Green and white ribbons and lines represent magnetic fields. The orbiting neutron stars rapidly lose energy by emitting gravitational waves and merge after about three orbits, or in less than 8 milliseconds. The merger amplifies and scrambles the merged magnetic field. A black hole forms and the magnetic field becomes more organized, eventually producing structures capable of supporting the jets that power short gamma-ray bursts.
The European Space Agency's CryoSat satellite orbits an icy Earth. The satellite monitors changes in the thickness of marine ice floating in the polar oceans and variations in the thickness of the vast ice sheets that overlay Greenland and Antarctica.
Did you guess it? This radar image, captured by the European Space Agency earth observation spacecraft Envisat, shows the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. Located in Western Africa, Guinea-Bissau is bordered by Guinea and Senegal. The nation's capital, Bissau, is visible as a whitish area on the second estuary up from the bottom of the picture.
A flock of gentoo penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga puts on a show. At heights of almost 3 feet (1 meter), gentoos are the third-largest penguin species in the world. Gentoos build nests out of round, smooth stones, which are highly prized by females. To curry favor with a potential mate, male gentoos sometimes present "gifts" of these coveted rocks.
Ceraunius Tholus and Uranius Tholus, two Martian volcanoes, take on unearthly hues in this elevation model made with images captured by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft. The larger volcano, Ceraunius Tholus, rises 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) above its surroundings.
A Brazilian free-tailed bat flies with its prey -- a moth -- clutched in its mouth. According to an article published April 1, 2011 in the journal Science, bats save U.S. farmers 22.9 billion dollars a year by eating pests that would otherwise destroy crops.
The largest canyon in the solar system, called Valles Marineris, cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. The grand valley extends over 1,864 miles (3,000 kilometers long), up to 373 miles (600 km) across, and as much as (8 km) deep. By comparison, Earth's Grand Canyon is 500 miles (800 km) long, 19 miles (30 km) across, and 1.1 miles (1.8 km) deep. The origin of the Valles Marineris remains unknown, although a leading hypothesis holds that it started as a crack billions of years ago as the planet cooled. Several geologic processes have been identified in the canyon. The above mosaic was created from over 100 images of Mars taken by Viking Orbiters in the 1970s.
The moon over an iceberg in the Weddell sea of Antarctica.
To honor the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev (center), European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman place folded paper cranes in the Kounotori2 H-II Transfer Vehicle, which delivered supplies to the International Space Station. The vehicle and its contents undocked from the ISS and burned up in Earth's atmosphere on March 29.
Researchers sit atop a wind-formed ridge called a yardang located in the Qaidam Basin of Central Asia. The yardangs in that area can be up to 130 feet (40 meters) tall and about a football field apart. By studying these yardangs, researchers from the University of Arizona have discovered that like rivers and glaciers, wind can be an effective mountain molder, by eroding away the rocky material. For instance, they suggest that bedrock in Central Asia that would have formed mountains instead was blasted into dust by wind.
This Hubble Space Telescope image shows NGC 1275, the galaxy located in the center of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. The red threadlike filaments are composed of cool gas suspended by a magnetic field.
Here, the ocular lens from a 12-day-old mouse embryo shows expression of a protein called TDRD7 in specialized lens fiber cells, forming foci of so-called RNA granules (stained here in red). The nuclei of the fiber cells are stained blue. Research published in the March 24, 2011, issue of the journal Nature revealed that mice without the protein develop cataract and glaucoma. Mutations in the protein in humans can also lead to cataract, they found.
Ultra-magnified, a quail embryo reveals the secrets of its rapid growth. According to a new study published in the journal Developmental Dynamics, the radius of the quail yolk doubles every day for the first few days of development, representing a hundreds-fold increase in the egg yolk surface area. For the cells that have to cover that yolk as it grows, the migration across its expanse is "like an ant walking across the earth," study researcher Evan Zamir of Georgia Tech said in a statement.
The new study finds that the cells at the edges of the sheet covering the yolk don't divide. Instead, actively dividing cells in the interior (shown here in blue, purple and orange) migrate out to grow the sheet. But the study isn't just an excuse to label cells with pretty colors; researchers hope an understanding of how cells migrate over large distances will help them develop treatments for wound healing and cancer.
Severe storms are forecasted for the Appalachian and mid-Atlantic states today (March 23). According to the National Weather Service, tornados, like this one captured on film March 11, 1942 near Paris, Tenn., are a possibility.
A NASA satellite captures an ash plume and ash on snow on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Last week on March 15, three local volancos (Shiveluch, Karymsky and Kizimen) were all spewing ash.
This colorful, tropical bird called the Tuamotu kingfisher lives on one tiny island — Niau in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, in the south Pacific. Today, just 125 of the birds exist, and scientists say they will go extinct without serious intervention.
By working with farmers and residents on the island inhabited by the kingfishers, Dylan Kesler, at the University of Missouri's School of Natural Resources, has come up with factors critical to the birds' survival. These include: hunting perches; clear ground so they can spot their primary food, lizards; dead trees for nesting; means for keeping predators away from the birds' nests.
This Saturday (Mar. 19), the moon will swing closer to Earth than it has been in more than 18 years, meaning our only satellite will appear larger than it will throughout 2011, and hence its "supermoon" moniker. The moon will appear 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than when it's at its farthest from us, according to SPACE.com.
Here, you can see the dazzling full moon as it set behind the Very Large Telescope in Chile's Atacama Desert in this photo released June 7, 2010, by the European Southern Observatory. The moon appears larger than normal due to an optical illusion of perspective.
This 2008 image, taken in Antarctica, capture's Earth's atmosphere in a St. Paddy's Day mood. Aurora australis, the southern lights, are caused by solar wind passing through the upper atmosphere. The southern lights are seen less often than aurora borealis, the northern lights, because few people brave Antarctica's dark, freezing winters. In the summer, when research scientists descend on the continent, almost-constant daylight overpowers the atmospheric display.
The far side of the moon as captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The mission has captured and stitched together an unprecendented amount of data about the moon, available at pds.nasa.gov.
A new study of tree rings finds that European settlers changed the ecosystem of the Midwest. By examining the rings of old-growth post oak trees cut during a timber harvest in 1996, researchers from the Illinois State Museum and the University of Illinois learned that the forests in Illinois burned every couple of years or so until the arrival of Europeans. Those settlers suppressed fires (and did not continue the Native American habit of setting fires to maintain open woodlands and prairie). As a result, the researchers report in the journal Castenea, the forests of the Midwest became dense and scrubby after European settlement.
Lava erupts from the Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia in November 2010. According to a study published in Nature Geoscience March 13, the tectonic plate below Ethiopia is undergoing a period of stretching and thinning, causing such eruptions.
The 8.9-magnitude (which may have been upgraded to a 9.0) earthquake that struck Japan triggered tsunamis across the region. Here, results from a computer model run by the Center for Tsunami Research at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory show the expected wave heights of the tsunami as it travels across the Pacific basin.
The largest wave heights are expected near the earthquake epicenter, off the coast of Sendai, Honshu, Japan. The wave will decrease in height as it travels across the deep Pacific but grow taller as it nears coastal areas. In general, as the energy of the wave decreases with distance, the near-shore heights will also decrease. For example, coastal Hawaii will not expect heights of that encountered in coastal Japan, according to NOAA.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has recently uncovered what may be the first, and possibly only, color photographs of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire devastated the city, killing more than 3,000 people.
Frederick Eugene Ives (1856–1937) took the photographs several months after the quake, which struck the city at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906. Each stereo photo includes two stereoscopic images that give a three-dimensional effect when viewed through a special device. (He had come up with a color-photography process that was marked as the Photochromoscope system; and so the photographs are called Kromgrams and the special viewer is called a Kromscope.)
The photographs were donated by Ives's son Herbert, who worked with his father on a variety of projects. The Ives collection in the Photographic History Collection includes 250 Kromgrams, other photographs, viewers and apparatus, along with archival materials.
The airborne fungus Ustilago maydis, or corn smut, costs corn growers in the U.S. $1 billion dollars each year, according to the National Corn Growers Association. Researchers have now harnessed a virus that lives in one strain of corn smut to fight the infection. The virus excretes a killer protein, KP4, to fight off other corn smut strains and keep its own host alive. A genetically modified corn that produces lots of KP4 can prevent corn smut from taking hold, Danford Plant Science Center researchers report in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Three breast cells grown in a lab reveal the trademark starburst shape of a protein called laminin. Like the framework of a house, laminin provides support to body tissue. A new study from UC Berkeley researchers finds that laminin's interactions with other cellular proteins are also key to the development of breast cancer. The findings are far from being translated into a treatment for breast cancer, but the researchers say the study gives them new molecular targets to investigate.
Two newbie astronauts train for spacewalks last week in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 6.2-million gallon pool in Houston containing life-sized models of the International Space Station. In this training session, the first astronaut drags the second behind him, simulating a zero-gravity rescue of a disabled crewmember in space.
European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express recently returned new images of an elongated impact crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars. Located just south of the Huygens basin, it could have been carved out by a train of projectiles striking the planet at a shallow angle, researchers say. The unnamed depressed is about 48 miles (78 kilometers) in length and reaches a depth of 1.2 miles (2 km). Here, purple indicates the lowest lying regions and gray the highest (scale in meters).
Impact craters are generally round, because the projectiles that create them push into the ground before the shockwave of the impact can explode outwards. As for why this crater is elongated, the researchers found the answer in the surrounding blanket of material (called the ejecta blanket). This ejecta blanket is shaped like a butterfly's wings, with two distinct lobes, suggesting that two projectiles, possibly halves of a once-intact body, slammed into the surface here.
Wildfires in southern Texas and Louisiana are visible from space in this March 1 image, captured by the the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The fires seen here are in wooded areas, so they produce copious amounts of visible smoke. A much larger series of grassfires that have burned more than 130,000 acres and destroyed at least 78 homes across the Texas panhandle produce very little smoke in comparison. Despite their destruction, those grassfires are almost invisible on satellite images, according to NASA
The scales of a moon moth look like palm fronds under the electron microscope. Moon moths, native to Madagascar, don't have mouths. They do all their eating as larvae. After their metamorphosis into fluttering moths, they live only 10 days.
The image snagged a spot on the Wellcome Image Awards 2011, which chooses the most striking and technically excellent images acquired by the Wellcome Images picture library in the prior 18 months.
This photomicrograph shows the ruby-tailed wasp called Chrysis ignita, which is the most commonly observed of this species. The abdomen's is coloring -- ruby red and bronze – give the wasp its name. The underside of the abdomen is also concave, which allows the wasp to roll itself into a protective ball if threatened. Ruby-tailed wasps are "parasitoids," meaning they eventually kill their hosts. Chrysis ignita parasitizes mason bees: The females lay their eggs in the same nest as mason bees, so when the ruby-tailed wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the mason bee larvae. Ruby-tailed wasps do have a sting but it is not functional and most species have no venom.
The fantastical image snagged a spot on the Wellcome Image Awards 2011, which chooses the most striking and technically excellent images acquired by the Wellcome Images picture library in the prior 18 months.
A jaguar in Peru is captured on an automated camera set by Smithsonian researchers. Such cameras allow scientists to monitor wildlife in remote locations.
Jack Cesareo, exhibition preparator at the American Museum of Natural History, is making a mold for a homunculus — a scaled model of a human that says more about "real estate" in the brain than actual appearance. Here, the emphasis is on the sense of touch. Because lips are more sensitive than other parts of the face, an odd caricature is the result. The homunculus is installed in the new exhibition Brain: The Inside Story, which opened Nov. 20 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
You can view the final statue and learn more about it here.— Kristin Phillips, AMNH
Phytoplankton never looked so sparkly. These diatoms, or single-celled algae species, glitter under the microscope like tiny jewels. Diatoms form the basis of many a marine food chain, and they're protected by cell walls made of silica, seen here. When diatoms die, their cell walls form diatomaceous earth, a sediment used in pool filters and some kitty litter. Researchers use diatom deposits as one way to understand the conditions of ancient lakes and bogs.
In a display that mixes school spirit with agricultural technology, Clemson University researchers demonstrate the benefits of genetically engineered crops. The researchers planted regular cotton plants to spell out "Tigers" -- the school mascot -- and surrounded those plants with a genetically modified version of cotton that creates its own pesticide. The pesticide repels bollworms, or moth larvae, while remaining harmless to other organisms.
This aerial image shows the result: The genetically modified plants remain untouched, white cotton lint visible from the air. The unmodified plants, on the other hand, have become bollworm snacks -- and a palette for Tiger pride.
A detailed 3-D model of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) won first prize in the 2010 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored jointly by the journal Science and the National Science Foundation (NSF), announced Thursday (Feb. 17).
Currently in its eighth year, the international competition honors recipients who use visual media to promote understanding of scientific research. The criteria for judging the entries included visual impact, effective communication, freshness and originality.
That was surely the case for the HIV illustration. Ivan Konstantinov and his team's winning illustration depict the most highly detailed 3D structural model of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) ever made. "We consider such 3-D models as a new way to present and promote scientific data about ubiquitous human viruses," said Ivan Konstantinov, one of the scientists who created the illustration.
Konstantinov said his team tried to show the viral particle in as real a light as possible. "While working on the HIV model, over 100 articles from leading scientific journals were analyzed," he said. "For this project, Dr. Yegor Voronin from the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise helped us evaluate the data, shared recent findings and views in the field, and provided general advice."
On Oct. 4, 2010, an industrial disaster flooded parts of northern Hungary with more than 700,000 cubic yards (640,080 cubic meters) of red mud, an industrial waste product.
At least nine people died and more than a hundred were injured in the red mud flood, but a new study suggests that the long-term dangers of the mud might not be as bad as feared. The dust from the mud is no more toxic than particles of ordinary urban air pollution, according to research published Feb. 16 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The red mud dust particles are too large to lodge deep in the lungs, the study found, and are unlikely to cause health problems beyond irritation and coughing. Nonetheless, the researchers wrote, workers involved in decontamination efforts should wear protective masks when conditions are dusty.
As if attending an underwater gala, seadragons are adorned with gowns of flowing limbs. These graceful characters belong to a family of fish called Syngnathidae, which also includes seahorses and pipefish. Now, University of California, San Diego, marine biologists Greg Rouse and Nerida Wilson are using genetics to unlock some of the mysteries of this mystical animal. In popular dive spots off the coast of Australia, the duo took tiny snips of tissue from the appendages of seadragons for genetic testing, before releasing the creatures. While seadragons are generally grouped into three species, leafy (shown here), weedy and ribboned, the team's genetic analyses and examinations of body structure have shown the eastern and western populations of weedy seadragons could be divided into two species. They also found the mysterious ribboned seadragon is not related to the leafy and weedy seadragons.
Microbes crawling around our bodies gravitate to and "hang out" with certain other types of bacteria in their little community. Researchers have known this much about microbes. But until now they could not see these cliques in action. A new microscope technique called CLASI-FISH (combinatorial labeling and spectral imaging fluorescent in situ hybridization), gave scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., a peak at the spatial arrangement of up to 20 microbes in a single field of view. They used the technique to analyze dental plaque, a complex biofilm known to contain at least 600 species of microbes. They were able to visually discriminate 15 different microbial types (shown here), and to determine which two types – Prevotella and Actinomyces – showed the most interspecies associations.
Is it love or a diarrheal parasite? In this Valentine's-appropriate image, it's the parasite. Caught on scanning electron microscope in the midst of dividing into two separate organisms, this Giardia lamblla parasite forms a heart, flagella untwining as the two new protozoa prepare to go their separate ways. When ingested by humans (usually through drinking contaminated water), Giardia protozoa cause a diarrheal disease called giardiasis.
Blood vessels grow out of control in this environmental scanning electron microscopy image of a diseased retina. In diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity, blood vessels grow abnormally in the back of the eye and leak blood, causing blindness. At least 4.1 Americans with diabetes are affected.
Research has shown that inexpensive omega-3 supplements may ease retinopathy. A new study of mice published Feb. 9 in the journal Science Translational Medicine finds that the supplements do so by reducing runaway blood vessel growth. Clinical trials in humans are underway.
Paragliding pilot and instructor Chris Santacroce sails in front of Lone Peak in the Wasatch Range above Salt Lake City. This was no pleasure flight: Santacroce wore a helmet equipped with automated weather sensors to help researchers monitor weather patterns that trap smog in Salt Lake City and other urban areas worldwide.
These patterns, called temperature inversions, occur when high warm air traps cold air near the ground, keeping pollutants at nose level. Any city with mountains nearby, including Los Angeles, Mexico City and Tehran, can experience temperature inversions. Beginning Dec. 1, National Science Foundation-funded researchers deployed weather balloons, mobile weather stations and human daredevils like Santacroce to collect data about these patterns. The goal, researchers say, is to understand weather's contribution to city smog.
This hemispheric view of Venus was created using more than a decade of radar investigations culminating in the 1990-1994 Magellan mission, and is centered on the planet's North Pole. The Magellan spacecraft imaged more than 98 percent of Venus and a mosaic of the Magellan images forms the image base. Gaps in the Magellan coverage were filled with images from the Earth-based Arecibo radar in a region centered roughly on 0 degree latitude and longitude, and with a neutral tone elsewhere (primarily near the South Pole). This composite image is color-coded to show elevation.
Nemopilema nomurai, known as Nomura's jellyfish, can grow up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) in diameter. It is edible, though it hasn't caught on widely. When Nomura's jellyfish bloomed in 2005, some Japanese coped by selling souvenir cookies flavored with jellyfish powder, according to the New York Times.
A female Closterocerus coffeellae, a wasp collected in Colombia, looks drab against a white background and shines against black. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered that the insect species – hymenoptera wasps and diptera flies – they've been studying for decades reflect light off their wings in rainbow-like patterns. The effect is a bit like oil on water, but these patterns are permanent, suggesting they may play a role in insect communication. The wings of the flies and wasps are transparent, but they reflect about 20 percent of the light that hits them, the researchers found. It's this light that creates the shining patterns, just like a thin film of soap or oil on water creates a rainbow-colored glare.
As the shuttle and the space station began their post-undocking relative separation, Expedition 23 flight engineer Soichi Noguchi photographed the underside of the shuttle over the south end of Isla de Providencia, about 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred on April 17, 2010, ending the shuttle's 10-day stay. The visit included three spacewalks and delivery of more than seven tons of equipment and supplies to the station.
Har Nuur, or the Black Lake, is located in western Mongolia's Valley of Lakes, part of a system of closed basins stretching across central Asia. These basins are the remnants of larger paleolakes that began to shrink around 5,000 years ago as regional climate became drier. Like other lakes in the region, Har Nuur relies on precipitation, growing in the spring and shrinking in the summer. This photograph, acquired Sept. 7, 2006 by the crew of the International Space Station, reveals sand dune fields encircling the lake and encroaching on the lower slopes of the Tobhata Mountains to the west and south. Gaps in the mountains have been exploited by sand dunes moving eastward, indicating westerly winds. The most striking example is a series of dunes entering Har Nuur along its southwestern shoreline. Here, the dunes reflect the channeling of winds through the break in the mountain ridgeline, leading to dune crests lying perpendicular to northwesterly winds. Another well-developed line of dunes appears between Har and Baga Lakes; while these dunes appear to cut across a lake surface, the dunes have in fact moved across a narrow stream channel.
Tracks of the first heavy ion collisions in the ALICE experiment, which takes place at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-long (27 kilometer) underground ring run by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva. Such collisions are likely to create conditions closer to the beginning of the universe than ever before, though on a much smaller scale.
This dreamy illustration of a zebrafish embryo happens to be attached to some cool research. The compilation photo reflects a centuries-old observation that during a certain point in a vertebrate embryo's development, the embryo will look just like embryos of other vertebrates. The concept is known as the "developmental hourglass." Embryos look alike in the middle of development, but early and late in development, the embryos' appearances diverge, just as an hourglass flares out from its narrow "waist."
Researchers have laser-cooled atoms and then launched them toward a single, freely suspended carbon nanotube charged to hundreds of volts. The nanotube acts as a "black hold," and as such, the atoms spiral toward the tube (white path) under dramatic acceleration, with orbit times reaching just a few picoseconds (where one picosecond is a trillionth of a second). Close to the nanotube, the atom's valence electron (yellow), or an electron in the outer shell of an atom, tunnels into the tube, converting the atom into an ion, or charged particle (purple), which gets ejected with massive amounts of energy. The research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, opens the door to a new generation of cold atom experiments and nanoscale devices. [Research supported by a grant from the
An elusive Saharan cheetah recently came into the spotlight in Niger, Africa, where a hidden camera snapped photos of the ghostly cat, whose pale coat and emaciated appearance distinguish it from other cheetahs. Its appearance, and how the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) is genetically related to other cheetahs are open to question. The cat is so rare and elusive that scientists aren't even sure how many exist. Among the threats to the pale cat are scarcity of prey due to poaching and overuse, and conflicts with herders over stock harassment and killing of their animals, according to SCF. Apparently cheetah skins are prized as prayer rugs or used to make slippers.
Social amoebae, better known as slime molds, have long been known for their migratory ways. When food gets scarce, they amass and travel to new territory, where they reproduce by sending out spherical fruiting bodies containing spores.
A new study finds that some strains of this social amoeba, called Dictyostelium discoideum, pack bacteria snacks with them before they travel. Once the amoebae reach their destination, they seed the area with the bacteria, ensuring any amoeba offspring will have plenty to eat. Here, the social amoebae fruiting bodies with spores are shown.