Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you'll discover incredible photos and the stories behind them.
Peacock spider butts
The butts of male peacock spiders look, literally, like faces, from the faces of moths to those of mantises. They aren’t trying to win any beauty contests. Rather, according to a new study presented Jan. 4 at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting, the spiders are trying to not get eaten by potential mates. Yep, they have the seemingly impossible job of finding a mate and staying alive. That’s because females would rather kill and eat her courting beau than actually mate with him. By making his abdomen look like the face of a predator, a male peacock spider gets a chance to show off his goods. In the face of a fearsome predator, the female will freeze up for long enough that the male can do his courtship dance and persuade her he’s a better mate than meal.
[Read full story: You're Not Seeing Things, These Spider Butts Look Like Faces]
Australia on fire
The orange glow of raging bushfires in Australia acts as an eerie filter in this recent image. Animals are taking a huge hit as the fires continue to burn up their homes. Here, a wallaby licks its burnt paws, after having escaped a bushfire on the Liberation Trail in New South Wales. Some estimates indicate 480 million animals in New South Wales alone have been affected since the fires started there in September, according to Chris Dickman, an expert on Australian mammals and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
[See full gallery: In Photos: Devastating Look at Raging Wildfires in Australia]
The Milky Way's creamy center
In this composite image, swirls of gas and dust light up in infrared at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The gorgeous, new image could help to explain an enduring mystery: why our galaxy’s heart is missing stars. So even though there’s a lot of raw material there for stars to form — gas and dust — that “stuff” isn’t making stars. And the stars that do form tend to clump together in certain spots. NASA said the high-resolution image revealed new features that could help to explain the odd star formation. The image was created primarily from data collected by the Faint Object Infrared Camera (FORCAST) aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
New solar cycle?
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spotted two new sunspots — dark, cooler areas on the sun caused by magnetic disturbances — at the end of December. The two sunspots, designated as NOAA 2753 and 2754, end a long period of relative quiet on the surface of our blazing host star. And they seem to be heralding the start of a new 11-year cycle of sunspot activity, which astronomers are calling Solar Cycle 25, or SC25. This cycle, they said, is expected to reach a new peak of magnetic activity in about five years. Such solar activity can have dramatic effects on Earth, where it can disrupt communications and power grids.
[Read full story: First New Sunspots in 40 Days Herald Coming Solar Cycle]
Panda babies are adorable in their own right. But when the pudgy fluffballs take a tumble, they get even cuter. New research has found that some panda cubs are not the best climbers. After evaluating their climbing skills — and capturing the sweetest videos — researchers concluded in a new study that the best climbers make use of their head to help them shinny up a tree. The cubs that don’t, well, they make for great GIFs. On a serious note, the research can help distinguish which captive-bred pandas are most likely to survive when released into the wild, the researchers said at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting.
Betelguese has a deep, dark secret
Are there skeletons hiding in this giant red star’s closet? Turns out, yes. A new model suggests this prominent night-sky object dubbed Betelgeuse was once two stars, that is, until the larger one devoured its smaller companion. Besides being a cosmic horror tale, the revelation could help to explain some of the star’s oddities, including why the giant (the star is bigger than the orbit of Mars) rotates so fast for being such an old star.
[Read full story: Bright Star Betelgeuse Might Be Harboring a Deep, Dark Secret]
This week, conservationists in Indonesia announced they’d discovered the largest-ever blooming “flower,” a Rafflesia tuan-mudae individual with petals that extend a whopping 3.6 feet (111 centimeters) … and it smells like death. That’s why it’s sometimes called the corpse flower, even though it isn’t actually a flower but rather a parasite that lives on a tropical genus of grape vine called tetrastigma. The parasite lives on this unsuspecting vine for about nine months before it unfurls its orange, smelly flower. While in bloom for about a week, the bloom attracts lots of flies with its rotting-flesh stench.
[Read the full story: The World's Largest Corpse Flower Is Blooming Right Now (and It Stinks)]
On Jan. 2, NASA’s Earth Observatory released gorgeous images showing the abrupt transition between the red-hued sand dunes in Africa’s Namib Desert and the rocky (and brown) land.
The Operational Land Imager aboard the Landsat-8 satellite captured the images on Nov. 13, 2019, revealing the northern extent of the Namib Sand Sea, which the Earth Observatory describes as “a field of sand dunes,” encompassing more than 10,000 square miles (3 million hectares) in the Namib-Naukluft Park. The dunes appear red due to the coating of iron oxide.
Camels are creating more problems than usual in drought-stricken Australia, as the parched animals have been doing anything they can to reach water, including knocking down fences and trying to get water from air conditioners. As such, indigenous elders in the state of South Australia have approved of a plan to shoot 10,000 of the camels from helicopters. Here, camels are pictured on a dairy farm. These animals are not native to Australia, and instead arrived there in the 1840s on ships to transport humans across the country’s vast deserts.
This geological wonder called Antelope Canyon is crafted by water seeping its way into fissures of the bedrock here on the Colorado Plateau. Over thousands of years, flash floods turned the Navajo sandstone rock-faces into gorgeous formations with striated, swirling finishes.
[See full gallery: Antelope Canyon Photos: Where Water Runs Through Rocks]
As recently as a few years ago, volcanoes could have been erupting on the surface of Venus, new research has revealed. Until now, the only other place known to host active volcanoes currently is Io, a moon of Jupiter. In the study, the researchers experimented with crystals of a green mineral called olivine that's often found in volcanic rock. Details of their results suggested that the olivine detected by the ESA's Venus Express came from recent volcanic eruptions. If they had occurred longer ago, Venus’ atmosphere would have obscured that olivine, they said.
Australia is literally on fire. And now, things have gotten worse. Two wildfires in southeastern Australia — the East Ournie Creek fire and the Dunns Road fire — have merged on the border of New South Wales and Victoria to form one megafire spanning some 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers). That’s not the only inferno either. There are at least 155 others burning in New South Wales, according to news reports. In this photo snapped on Jan. 10, a large air tanker (LAT) drops retardant near a property in Penrose, Australia.
[Read full story: Australian Megafire Engulfs Nearly 1.5 Million Acres]
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- From Big Bang to Present: Snapshots of Our Universe Through Time
- 25 Strangest Sights on Google Earth
Originally published on Live Science.