Beauty in Embryos
'Fairy' Insect Wings
Love in the Time of Giardia
Ball of Color
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.
Nicaragua from Above
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.
Aurora go Bragh
Penguin Pomp: Birds of a Feather
In a (Green) Flash
"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.
'You Lookin' at Me?'
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.
Arctic Melt Ponds Icescape
Into the Blue
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.
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.
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!
Snow-White Penguin Chick
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]
Endeavor's Final Voyage
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.
Ring Around The Sky
[Related: Photos: Contest Showcases Night Sky Sparkle]
Lighting Up the Sky
What Big Paws You Have
All Wrapped Up and Ready to ...
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
Venus by the Sea
— Stephanie Pappas
Are We In Outer 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
Need a Vacation?
Tiny Feet Take Big Steps for Cancer Cells
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.
An Astronaut's View of Atlantis' Descent
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
Galaxies Masquerade as Eyes in the Sky
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.
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.
Jellies In Leopard-Print
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
See Summer From the "Snow Caves"
Love to hike? Glacier is your place for summer backcountry adventures. With over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) of trails, hikers will find a wilderness of forests, alpine meadows, mountains and beautiful lakes.
For those not ready to leave winter behind, there's the solitude of snow caves. Caves such as the one shown in the above image often form when meltwater runs under the ice of a glacier.
Glacier National Park is named for the glacier-scoured landscape. A few small glaciers remain throughout the park today, some of which can be seen from the roads. Just look for the tell-tale blue ice and crevasses that distinguishes them from the snowfields above timberline. [Top 10 Most Visited National Parks]
Visitors to the park in the summer should check the local road conditions before their trip. A heavy snowpack and budget cuts have hampered efforts to plow popular roads to the park in recent years. This month, plow crews have made progress removing snow from the park's famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, clearing up to half a mile on a good day. Happy summer!
- Brett Israel
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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.
Biomineral Single Crystals
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.
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.
Solar Storm May Spark Dazzling Northern Lights Display
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]
Eggshells Hold Hidden Worlds
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.)
Merging Galaxies Form Cosmic Exclamation Point
A Great Comet Sets
Water and 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.
Plankton Bloom Tie-Dyes the Sea
Hurricane Irene Slices Through Islands
Eye-Popping Undersea Color
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.
Swirl of Stunning Stars
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.
Bold Fashion From a Colorful Critter
Feeding the Beast
No one has ever seen this process in real life; rather, this version of galaxy formation is a theoretical scenario based on numerical simulations.
The Microbes That Cleaned the Gulf
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."
Full Moon Casts Icy Glow
The Folds of the Earth
Who's Haunting You?
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.
Catch a Falling Star
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.
Ring of Fire
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.
Seriously Spooky Squid
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.
Crazy Cat's Eye
This image is part of a recent study published August 2012 in The Astronomical Journal examining 21 planetary nebulas within 5000 light-years of our own planet. Despite their name, planetary nebulas are not planets, but dying stars that have used up their hydrogen cores and expanded. Our own sun will become a planetary nebula in several billion years.
Auroras Over America
Awesome Weather Phenomenon
Jewel of the Caribbean
On Top of the World
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.
The (Tiny) Face of a Killer
What in the World?
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.
The Perfect View?
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.
The Pink Lady
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.
The Parasite and the Protector
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.
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.
Our Colorful Planet
Galactic Easter Egg
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 Awesome Arctic
Blowing Smoke Rings at the Edge of Space
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our Tangled Magnetic Shield
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 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."
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.
Oooh, Aaah, Aurora!
Colorful and Cerebral
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.
— Stephanie Pappas