This year was full of amazing science … and stunning images to boot. From stunning animals — including a dancing peacock spider, a baby sea dragon, the cutest dinosaur ever and a glowing alien-like sea creature — to ancient history, including a striking Etruscan sarcophagus in the shape of a woman’s face and the youngest Egyptian mummy, to the plain bizarre — think an ancient tattoo on a mummy’s neck and a volcanic smiley face, there’s plenty to look at in the world of science from 2016. Click through to see Live Science’s best in science images.
Shimmering against a deep-black background, a rarely seen larval cusk-eel looks more "alien with a Mohawk" than bony fish. Photographer Jeff Milisen earned the top prize in the Underwater Photography Guide's Ocean Art Contest this year for the dazzling shot.
During the fish's larval stage (shown in the photo), it sports a gracefully trailing blue-hued appendage holding its gut. Illuminated by the camera's light, this digestive system takes the form of tube-like structures under the head, and extending the length of its external digestive sack.
Another amazing shot from the Ocean Art Contest, this one of a barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo) took first place in the "Wide Angle" category. The photographer, Francesco Visintin, captured the image at Forte dei Marmi, in Tuscany, Italy. He said that several factors — rising sea temperatures, mating season, a decrease in natural predators of jellyfish, as well as winds and currents — concentrated thousands of these jellyfish in the shallow waters off the Versilia coast.
This striking face is a sarcophagus produced by the Etruscans, a culture that thrived in central Italy about 2,500 years ago, before being encompassed by Rome.
This sarcophagus was one of two seized from a warehouse in Geneva, along with other artifacts that authorities suspected had been looted from archaeological sites. Swiss officials said the objects were stored by a "former high-profile British art dealer" who'd previously been linked to looting, a description that may have referred to dealer Robin Symes.
This starry-eyed cutie got his close-up and became one of approximately 2.5 million unsuspecting animals that got their "selfies" taken from one of 1,000 camera traps in 15 tropical forests in South America, Africa and Asia. The project amassed images of 244 animal species. This leopard (Panthera pardus) was caught offguard in Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of the Congo. [See more images of "animal selfies."]
Stunning Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls looks like a fairyland in this image of a rainbow spanning the chasm where the Zambezi river thunders over a precipice. The falls, situated between Zambia and Zimbabwe, send 250,000 gallons (950,000 liters) of water plunging 355 feet (108 meters) every second.
In April, National Geographic released a new 360-degree video showing people swimming in a calm eddy at the top of the falls.
A colorful new peacock spider shows off. Researchers discovered this new species, Maratus lobatus, along with six other new peacock spiders in western and southern Australia this year. The dramatic arachnids are known for flashing their colors during elaborate mating dances. This spider was first discovered and photographed by an insect educator named David Knowles, prompting scientists to track down the species and describe it formally.
The entire universe
A huge place scrunched into a very small space took the Internet by storm this year. Using images from NASA and some of his own "textures," artist Pablo Carlos Budassi created a logarithmic visualization of the entire universe: with our solar system at the center, encircled by the inner and outer planets, the Kuiper belt — a disc of frozen volatiles and icy bodies, including the dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake — followed by the Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri (closest star system to our solar system), the Perseus Arm, Milky Way (our galaxy), the Andromeda galaxy, other nearby galaxies, the cosmic web of gas that stretches between galaxies, cosmic microwave radiation, and encircling the edge is the Big Bang's invisible plasma on the edge, according to a description on Wikimedia Commons.
High-speed video this year revealed that chameleons are more than showy color-changers: They also have snappy tongues, 2016 research revealed. The chameleon species, ranging from 1.6 to 7.8 inches (4 to 20 centimeters) long, the cute reptiles could launch their tongues an average distance of 1.5 times their body length. And the smaller the chameleon, the farther it could project its tongue relative to its body length and with more power. For instance, individuals of this species, Trioceroshoehnelii, ranged from 2.9 to 3.5 in. (7.5 to 8.8 cm) in length, and could shoot their tongues up to nearly 8 in. (20.3 cm), or about 2.3 times their body length. Shown here, a day-old baby T. hoehnelii.
Stand tall, octopus
Here, a gloomy octopus (Octopus tetricus) displays a dark color and spreads its arms. The eight-armed denizen of the deep was thought to be a loner, using its clever color-changing abilities to intimidate predators, or hide from them. But this year, researchers found social behaviors: Both male and female octopuses were found to communicate with each other with both posturing and color changes.
Bird vs. lizard
Look out! The giant flightless bird Genyornis newtoni runs from a Megalania Prisca lizard in this artist rendition of a scene 50,000 years ago in Australia. G. newtoni was 7 feet tall (2.1 meters) and weighed in at around 500 lbs (227 kilograms). In January, researchers reported that humans cooked and ate this bird's cantaloupe-sized eggs for supper, possibly contributing to the animals' decline and extinction.