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Image of the Day: August 2013

Image of the Day Archives

Lightning Storm in Oregon

(Image credit: Steve Lenz/Steve Lenz Photography)

For older Image of the Day pictures, please visit the Image of the Day archives.

Above: Photographer Steve Lenz captured this incredible lightning photo in northeast Oregon, outside the city of Milton-Freewater. The region is characterized by rolling hills, and treeless agriculture, he said. Lenz snapped this electrifying shot during a storm on July 20, 2012.

"I was out in the middle of this storm with lightning crashing all around (a few miles away) and excitedly taking photos," Lenz told LiveScience in an email. "This photo is the last one I got when my shutter broke. My heart sank. I put my equipment away and got in my car and then realized the lightning had gotten dangerously close. So I was somehow relieved my shutter had broken or I might have been in trouble."

Lenz used a Canon 5D mark1 camera and a Sigma 150-500 lens to capture the magnificent scene.

"I set the camera on a tripod and aimed it towards the windmills where there was a high concentration of lightning strikes," he said. "I set it at F5, ISO 100 and left the shutter open for about 30 seconds at a time hoping to catch strikes." [See More Stunning Images of Lightning]

What's that smell?

Corpse Flower Blooms at UCSB

(Image credit: George Foulsham)

Get a whiff of that! A rare, smelly flower bloomed at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) this week, drawing hundreds of visitors to the school's greenhouse to see the towering specimen and sniff its famously foul odor.

The flower’s scientific name is Amorophallus titanium (or Titan Arum), but it is more commonly called the "corpse flower," because of its signature smell of rotting flesh. UCSB’s specimen is named Chanel, as a nod to the "perfume" it releases when it blooms, school officials said in a statement. [In Images: A Corpse Flower Blooms]

The corpse flower is native to the equatorial rainforests of central Sumatra in western Indonesia, and was first discovered by an Italian botanist in 1878. The flower blooms infrequently, but since 1889, more than 100 corpse flowers have blossomed in cultivation. Before Chanel caused a stink at UCSB, another corpse flower bloomed at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory in Washington, D.C.

"This is a rare occurrence under cultivation and even rarer in its native Sumatra, where the deforestation of equatorial rainforests has wreaked havoc on its habitat," UCSB biology greenhouse manager Danica Taber said in a statement. [Related: Hold Your Nose: 7 Foul Flowers]

Wide Open Spaces in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

(Image credit: Eric R. Walker/National Park Service)

Deep in Far West Texas, there's a special place known as Big Bend National Park, where the scenery is unlike anything in Texas. Here the night skies are just a little darker and the limestone canyons just a little grander.

Covering more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend National Park is larger than Rhode Island. Despite being so big, the park's remote location on the U.S.-Mexico border makes it one of the least visited national parks in America. The visitors that do come are often avid hikers or birders. The park has more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) of hiking trails and some 450 bird species.

The giant park is home to some prickly permanent residents. More species of cactus are found in Big Bend — some 70 species — than at any other national park in the country.

A proposed man-made feature could have transformed Big Bend into a tourist attraction years ago. The park came close to becoming home to another Mount Rushmore. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who carved the presidents into Mount Rushmore, once considered a similar project on the walls of Big Bend's Santa Elena Canyon, formed by the Rio Grande. But the idea didn't take, and the project was abandoned.

- Brett Israel, OurAmazingPlanet Contributor

Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, @Facebook & Google+.

Eyes in the Sky

Weather Satellite Delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base

(Image credit: Sarah Corrice/U.S. Air Force)

A new weather satellite was packed up and delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, Calif., on Aug. 1. A massive U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft transported the 19th Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite from Sunnyvale, Calif., to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Over the next 250 days, the satellite will undergo final launch preparations, including its installation atop an Atlas 5 rocket. The weather satellite is slated to launch into orbit in March 2014.

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) monitors oceanographic and weather systems. The satellites provide global atmospheric and terrestrial information to the U.S. Department of Defense. Military personnel also use the satellites to find, track and forecast weather patterns over remote and hostile areas for deployed troops. The program is managed by the Air Force Space Command and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). [Related: Satellites Gallery: Science from Above]

Here comes the sun!

Sunrise From Space

(Image credit: NASA)

This mesmerizing sunrise photo from space was taken by astronaut Karen Nyberg from the International Space Station on July 30. The space station travels at 17,500 miles per hour (more than 28,000 kilometers per hour), circling the Earth every 90 minutes. From this orbital perch, astronauts aboard the massive laboratory see about 16 sunrises and sunsets daily.

Nyberg launched to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on May 28. Nyberg's Soyuz crewmates included Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency. Upon their arrival at the orbiting outpost, the trio rounded out the space station's Expedition 36 mission. [Space Photos by Astronaut Karen Nyberg]

Nyberg has been actively sharing her spaceflight experience with the public via Twitter. You can follow Nyberg @AstroKarenN to see more of her photos and videos. Nyberg, Yurchikhin and Parmitano are scheduled to return to Earth in November. [Related: 101 Stunning Pictures from Orbit]

Tentacles in space

Jellyfish Nebula

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team)

This colorful space scene is known as the Jellyfish nebula, or IC 443. It is the remnant of a violent star explosion that occurred between 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, and provides astronomers with a revealing look at how these types of cosmic blasts affect the surrounding environment. [Gallery: Strange Nebula Shapes, What Do You See?]

The Jellyfish nebula can be found near the star Eta Geminorum, which lies near Castor, one of the twins in the constellation Gemini. This image of the stunning nebula was captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, space telescope. The different colors in the photo represent specific wavelengths of infrared emission. [Related: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit]

A hippo-size celebration!

Hippo at the Denver Zoo

(Image credit: Denver Zoo)

Happy birthday, Bertie! The Denver Zoo will be hosting a six-day extravaganza, starting next week, to celebrate the 57th birthday of Bertie the hippo. Bertie is the zoo's oldest resident and the second oldest hippo in North America.

From Aug. 16 to Aug. 21 visitors will be able to watch daily hippo demonstrations, experience an historic display about Bertie, and sign a hippo-size birthday card. Bertie's official birthday is Aug. 21.

Bertie arrived at the Denver Zoo on Dec. 16, 1958 from the Central Park Zoo. This crowd favorite has lived at the Denver Zoo longer than any other animal on display, and has fathered a total of 29 hippopotamuses at the zoo. [Related: 101 Animal Shots You'll Go Wild Over]

Toad-ally Cute: Radio-Tracking Tiny Toads

The Wyoming toad has been listed as an endangered species since 1993, but new conservation efforts are helping this species rebound.

(Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Endangered Species Program)

Toads across Wyoming have been outfitted with teensy backpacks and radio transmitters. Why? To track their every hop, of course.

The Wyoming toad is now the most endangered amphibian in North America. These toads once filled wetlands and rivers in southeastern Wyoming, but by the 1970s the population here was in decline. Insecticides, climate changes, disease and predators are all culprits. In 1993, The Nature Conservancy helped establish the Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming to protect the remaining toads.

Radio tracking is common on larger species, such as sharks and turtles. But toad tracking requires adorably small transmitters due to the amphibians' small size. Wyoming toads average just 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length, and they are covered in warts.

- Brett Israel, OurAmazingPlanet Contributor

Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, @Facebook & Google+.

Untangling nerve cell connections

Nerve Cells

(Image credit: Sara Parker)

These wispy, treelike structures are nerve cells, or neurons. The highly asymmetric cells have a main body, called the axon, and thin, branchlike arms that are known as dendrites. Neurons connect their dendrites to the tips of other nerve cells' axons to form neural networks.

Some neural networks, like those responsible for the knee-jerk reflex, are relatively simple and involve few connections. Others, such as the networks in the human brain, are far more complex.

Scientists at the University of Arizona in Tucson are studying how neurons are "wired," in order to develop cures for nerve damage from spinal cord injuries or neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. [Related: 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Brain]

Bright lights, big cities

Astronaut Photo of Saudi Arabia

(Image credit: NASA)

This incredible photo of southwestern Saudi Arabia was captured by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on July 26, 2013. The bright lights of several large Saudi Arabian cities seemingly set the coastline aflame in this view from space. In some regions, on the right of the photo, patchy clouds cloak and blur the twinkling lights.

Much of Saudi Arabia is lightly populated desert, where the skies remain relatively dark at night. Several large cities dot the southwestern coast, where the climate is more moderate. At top left in the image, three brightly lit urban centers are visible: Jeddah, Mecca and Taif.

Jeddah is a gateway city for Islamic pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca, on a journey known as the Hajj. The city of Taif is located on the slopes of the Sarawat Mountains, where the Saudi government retreats in the summer to avoid the desert heat of the capital city, Riyadh. [Related: Images of One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth]

Great balls of fire

Perseid Meteor Shower 2013

(Image credit: NASA)

A bright Perseid meteor streaks across the sky over Chickamauga, Ga., in this incredible photo. The fireball, photographed on Aug. 11, 2013 at 2:14 a.m. EDT, was seen by four cameras belonging to NASA's All Sky Fireball Network, which consists of a collection of cameras set up by the agency's Meteoroid Environment Office.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, which is often touted as the most dazzling meteor shower of the year, peaked overnight on Aug. 12. Meteor showers occur when Earth and its atmosphere pass through regions of the sky littered with debris from a comet. The Perseids, in particular, are remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which swings past the sun once ever 130 years.

NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office aims to observe fireballs in the night sky, and collect data to build models of the meteoroid environment around our planet, which will help engineers build more effective and robust spacecraft. [Related: Fallen Stars: A Gallery of Famous Meteorites]

Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.