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Amazing images: The best science photos of the week

Artist’s reconstruction of the Cretaceous ostracod crustacean Myanmarcypris hui male (right) and female (left) during mating.
(Image: © Dinghua Yang)

Each week at Live Science we find the most interesting and informative articles we can. Along the way, we uncover some amazing and cool images. Here you'll discover the most incredible photos we found this week, and the remarkable stories behind them.

The mummy's mugshot

(Image credit: Nerlich AG, et al. PLOS One (2020); CC BY 4.0)

Just after the turn of the first millennium A.D., a young child living in Egypt contracted a deadly illness — most likely pneumonia — and died. His tiny body was prepared for mummification and burial; some of his organs were removed, his remains were wrapped in criss-crossed linen bindings and a portrait of his face was affixed to the front of his mummy.

This so-called "mummy portrait" was part of a popular tradition among some Egyptians in Greco-Roman times, from about the first through the third centuries A.D. But how accurate were these portraits? To find out, a team of scientists in Austria and Germany CT scanned this little boy's body and created a 3D digital reconstruction of his face. 

The CT scan revealed that the boy's brain and some of his abdominal organs had been removed, a common practice during mummification in ancient Egypt. Bone and tooth development revealed the boy's age at his death, showing he was about 3 or 4 years old (significantly younger than his portrait made him look).

Read more: Facial reconstruction reveals Egyptian 'mummy portrait' was accurate except for one detail

Funniest animals on film

(Image credit: © Arthur Telle Thiemenn / Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2020)

Feast your eyes on some of the most amusing animal photos ever, as the finalists are unveiled for the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2020. The competition is designed to raise awareness of the need for conservation, and it's run in association with Born Free. 

This year's winners will be revealed on October 22, but for now, have a chortle at these amazing photos -- including a smiley Mediterranean parrotfish (Sparisoma cretense), a photo-bombing giraffe and a majestically barfing penguin.

Read more: These could be the funniest animal pictures ever

Rivers beneath the ice

(Image credit: Alex Mazur/British Antarctic Survey)

One of the largest, most unstable glaciers in Antarctica is sliding into the ocean. That's due, in large part, to hidden rivers of warm water that lubricate its underbelly, more so now than ever in the era of climate change. Now, researchers aboard the British Antarctic Survey ship RV Nathaniel B Palmer (pictured here) know what those unseen channels look like.

By using equipment that can measure fluctuations in gravity, radar and seismic waves, scientists were able to map precisely where these glacier-melting channels cut through the deep seabed.

"It was fantastic to be able to map the channels and cavity system hidden beneath the ice shelf; they are deeper than expected — some are more than 800 meters [2,600 feet] deep," study lead researcher Tom Jordan, an aero-geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey, said in a statement. "They form the critical link between the ocean and the glacier."

Read more: Hidden rivers of warm water threaten vast Antarctic glacier

The world's oldest sperm

(Image credit: He Wang & Xiangdong Zhao)

The oldest known sperm in the world has been discovered, locked in a piece of amber that solidified when behemoths like Spinosaurus dominated the Earth.

The giant sperm comes from a much more miniscule creature than the toothy Spinosaurus: an ostracod, a crustacean that looks like a shrimp dressing up as a clam for Halloween. Known colloquially as "seed shrimp," ostracods typically grow just a few tenths of an inch long. Their bodies are protected by a bivalve shell, from which tiny, crab-like appendages sometimes protrude.

There are thousands of ostracod species alive today, and many boast giant sperm cells, the longest of which unspools to a jaw-dropping 0.46 inches (11.8 millimeters), far longer than the animal that produces it. Now, scientists have found an example of this enormous sperm in an ostracod from the Cretaceous period, 100 million years ago. It's the oldest unambiguous example of any animal sperm by 50 million years.

Read more: 100 million-year-old sperm is the oldest ever found. And it's giant

'Fluit' of their labor

(Image credit: Badewanne)

Divers from Finland have made an unexpected discovery while exploring the depths of the Baltic Sea, finding an incredibly well-preserved shipwreck dating back almost 400 years.

Volunteer divers from the nonprofit Badewanne team more often come across wrecked 20th-century relics sunk during the sea battles of World War I and WWII, so uncovering what appears to be a largely undamaged Dutch merchant vessel from the 17th century was a huge surprise.

The ship, an example of a Dutch 'fluit' (or fluyt), was found near the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, in the easternmost waters of the Baltic. Showing only minor damage sustained from subsequent pelagic trawling with fishing nets, the vessel is otherwise frozen in a kind of 17th-century stasis, the team says, thanks to the properties of the water in this part of the sea — where a combination of low levels of salinity, temperature, and light can enable sunk wrecks to survive virtually unchanged for hundreds of years.

Read more: Eerily well-preserved 17th-century ship found in the dark waters of the Baltic Sea

Beer squirreled away

(Image credit: Courtesy of Disgusting Food Museum)

Gin brewed with ants. Poop wine. Whale testicle beer flavored with the smoked dung of Icelandic sheep. This beverage collection sounds like a menu at the world's worst Happy Hour, but it's actually part of a new exhibit at the aptly named Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden.

The museum is already known for its peculiar culinary displays, such as maggoty cheese from Sardinia, Icelandic fermented shark flesh and Peruvian frog smoothies. For the new three-month-long exhibit, which opened to the public on Sept. 5, "we have found the strangest, most interesting and challenging alcohol types from the world," museum director Andreas Ahrens said in a statement.

One highlight is a Scottish beer that is the strongest beer in the world, with a staggering 55% alcohol by volume, or ABV (on average, beer is usually about 4.5% ABV). But the high alcohol content isn't the weirdest aspect of this Scottish beer — the intoxicating brew is served inside a taxidermy squirrel. 

Read more: Squirrel beer, ant gin and poop wine are served up in Disgusting Food Museum's new exhibit

The eternal sleeper

(Image credit: Illustration by Carine Ciselet; Yang Y. et al. PeerJ (2020); CC BY 4.0)

About 125 million years ago, two dinosaurs that had likely dozed off in an underground burrow drew their last breaths before they were buried alive, possibly by a volcanic eruption, a new study finds. 

The pristinely preserved remains of these two nearly 4-foot-long (1.1 meters) reptiles looked so serene that researchers named the newly discovered species Changmiania liaoningensis, which means "eternal sleeper from Liaoning" in Chinese.

"It is tentatively hypothesized that both Changmiania liaoningensis specimens were suddenly entrapped in a collapsed underground burrow while they were resting, which would explain their perfect lifelike postures" and why their remains weren't damaged by the elements or by scavengers, the researchers wrote in the study.

Read more: New 'eternal sleeper' dinosaur species was entombed while still alive

Life on Venus?

(Image credit: NASA)

An unexplained chemical has turned up in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Scientists are tentatively suggesting it could be a sign of life. The unknown chemical is phosphine gas (PH3), a substance that on Earth mostly comes from anaerobic (non-oxygen-breathing) bacteria or "anthropogenic activity" — stuff humans are doing. It exists in the atmospheres of gas giant planets, due to chemical processes that occur deep in their pressurized depths to bind together three hydrogen atoms and a phosphorus atom.

Scientists don't have any explanation for how it could appear on Venus; no known chemical processes would generate phosphine there. And yet, it seems to be there, and no one knows of anything that could make phosphine on Venus except for living organisms.

But phosphine on Venus doesn't necessarily mean life on Venus, the authors wrote. They raised the possibility of life because bacteria are the only known way of making phosphine on a planet without a gas giant's super-high atmospheric pressures. But it's just as possible that some previously-unknown chemical process is producing the gas.

Read more: Possible hint of life discovered on Venus

Sky full of doubt

(Image credit: Anagoria/CC BY 3.0)

One of Germany's most famous ancient artifacts may not be what it seems, if a new study is to be believed. Fierce debate over the Nebra Sky Disk has been reignited by a new study that suggests it is at least 1,000 years younger than previously thought, and probably doesn't have any of the elaborate meanings proposed for it.

The 12-inch-wide (30 centimeters) bronze disk inlaid with gold circles, arcs and crescents was reportedly unearthed in 1999 near the town of Nebra, in Germany's Saxony-Anhalt state. It was widely hailed as one of the most stunning ancient artifacts ever found. But controversy has surrounded it since its discovery.

Writing this month in the journal Archäologische Informationen, archaeologists argue that the artifact could not have been unearthed at the location near Nebra, according to a statement. The biggest reason the new study casts doubt on the sky disk's provenance is that scientific evidence suggests it was not part of a hoard of Bronze Age axes, swords and bracelets allegedly unearthed by treasure hunters near Nebra in 1999, although it was initially thought to be. Archaeological evidence, soil analysis and studies of trace isotopes (variations of an element with different numbers of neutrons) in the metals of the disk show it must have been found somewhere else, and then sold as part of the hoard from Nebra.

Read more: Study casts doubt on 'sky disk' thought to be oldest representation of the heavens

Ursus the mighty

(Image credit: North-Eastern Federal University )

Reindeer hunters in Siberia have unearthed the remains of an extinct ice age beast: a mummified cave bear — the only adult of its species ever discovered that still has intact soft tissues, including its fur and even its black nose, according to news reports. 

The hunters found the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) mummy on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky island, in the East Siberian Sea. Meanwhile, on the mainland in the Republic of Sakha (also known as Yakutia), another group discovered the mummy of a cave bear cub, according to a statement from the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk.

"This is the first and only find of its kind — a whole bear carcass with soft tissues," Lena Grigorieva, a molecular paleontologist at NEFU, said in the statement, referring to the mummy found on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky island. "It is completely preserved, with all internal organs in place"

Read more: Cave bear mummy discovered in Siberia still has its internal organs, fur and black nose

Originally published on Live Science.