Skip to main content

100 Best Science Photos of the Year

Reflected Glory

national parks adventure imax

(Image credit: Courtesy of MacGillivray Freeman Films. Photographer: David Fortney. Copyright VisitTheUSA.com)

Fluffy clouds and clear blue skies reflect off crystal-clear water in St. Mary's Lake in Glacier National Park in Montana. This spectacular image of the rock-bottomed lake was released in association with the IMAX film "National Parks Adventure." The movie, narrated by Robert Redford, celebrated the National Park system on its 100th anniversary.

St. Mary's Lake is a 10-mile-long (16 kilometers) glacially-fed lake on the eastern end of Glacier National Park.

Chilled-out cutie

Adélie penguins like this one feed mainly on krill.

Adélie penguins like this one feed mainly on krill.
(Image credit: Michelle LaRue)

An adorable Adelie penguin stands tall. A study published in January in the journal Antarctic Science reported that a colony of 150,000 Adelie penguins in East Antarctica had shrunk to a mere 10,000 members after an iceberg cut off their sea access (and their food access — Adelie penguins eat mostly tiny crustaceans called krill). Researchers worried that most of the penguins had did, but some outside experts said they may have simply moved on instead.

Breaking wave

a yellow sunset and a wave near Monterey, California

The sun turns this breaking wave a golden hue around Monterey Peninsula, near Monterey, California. Sean Gravem captured this shot with a GoPro and a KNEKTUSA trigger.
(Image credit: Sean Gravem, @decompresean)

Sean Gravem, a photographer in Pacific Grove, California, captured this golden shot of a wave right before it broke. Gravem uses a Sony a6000 camera in a CMT Water Housing to photograph waves from the water.

"The biggest challenge is that the ocean is so unpredictable," Gravem told Live Science. "Current, tides, weather and swell are always changing and you have to be able to work with all of these together." 

Black-and-white gecko

cave gecko

Researchers chose not to publish the location of the newly identified cave gecko species Goniurosaurus kadoorieorum for fear that exotic pet trade poachers would wipe out the critters.
(Image credit: Copyright Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden | Photo by Jian-Huan Yang)

A remarkable black-and-white gecko with striking green eyes is found in a cave in China, though researchers have kept the precise location close to their chests.

It would be too risky to disclose the location of the geckos (Goniurosaurus kadoorieorum), study researchers wrote in a 2015 article in the journal Zootaxia. Previously, lead researcher Jian-Huan Yang told Live Science, commercial collectors had used information in his scientific papers to collect vulnerable species for the pet trade. 

Up-close ant

Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche). Public domain image by Alex Wild, produced by the 'Insects Unlocked' project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche). Public domain image by Alex Wild, produced by the 'Insects Unlocked' project at the University of Texas at Austin.
(Image credit: Alex Wild / UTA)

Hello there! A close-up look at a Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche), part of a project to curate public domain images of insects and spiders. The "Insects Unlocked" project at the University of Texas, Austin, started in summer 2015, training entomologists and students to create striking images of the state's tiny diversity.  

Serious silverback

Silverback Grauer's gorilla

A silverback Grauer's gorilla on a branch in a forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(Image credit: A.J.Plumptre/Copyright WCS)

A silverback Grauer's gorilla peers down from a branch in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This subspecies (Gorilla beringei graueri) is a close relative of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Researchers say that instability in the region, along with habitat loss and poaching, has caused the population of these gorillas to drop from 17,000 in 1995 to 3,800 today. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies these gorillas as critically endangered. 

Escape artist

Inky the octopus

Inky the octopus in his tank at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, New Zealand.
(Image credit: The National Aquarium of New Zealand)

This adorable animal was a resident of The National Aquarium of New Zealand until last April, when it made a break for freedom.

The common New Zealand octopus, Inky, crept through a gap in the top of his tank and crawled along the aquarium floor after close one evening, making his way to a 6-inch-wide (15 centimeter) drain and dropping through. Luckily, the drainpipe led to the ocean, so Inky likely survived to enjoy his independence.

Baby dragons

The delicate egg laid by a pregnant female olm at Slovenia's Postojnska Cave.

The delicate egg laid by a pregnant female olm at Slovenia's Postojnska Cave.
(Image credit: Iztok Medja for Postojnska jama d.d.)

Deep in a cave in Slovenia, this "dragon" egg waits to hatch. Photographed in March, this is an olm egg. Olms (Proteus anguinus) are also known as European cave salamanders. They can grow to be up to 16 inches (40 cm) long and are pinkish-white. They get their nickname of "cave dragons" because adults look a bit like the babies of some fantastical creature.

These eggs were under the care of their mother in an aquarium at Postojna Cave, a 15-mile-long (24 km) series of passages in the southwest of Slovenia. 

Cutest. Dino. Ever.

baby dinosaur

The baby Rapetosaurus krausei lived about 67 million years ago, but this image shows just how small the dinosaur would have been compared to a modern girl. It hatched from an egg no larger than a soccer ball.
(Image credit: Tyler Keillor, Anthony Morrow and Ella Glass)

The sauropod dinosaur Rapetosaurus krausei grew to lengths of about 49 feet (15 meters). But as a baby it would have made a cute house pet.

Juvenile Rapetosaurus bones found in Madagascar reveal a young dino that stood a mere 14 inches (35 centimeters) at the hips and weighed about 88 pounds (40 kilograms), about the size of a large Golden Retriever. (Its long Sauropod neck would have put its head at just about petting height for the average adult human.) At hatching, the dinosaur would have been about the size of a Chihuahua. No word, though, on how easy it was to house-train. 

Smiley shark!

Sand tiger sharks congregate in the shallow waters of the Delaware Bay in summertime. Researchers at the University of Delaware in Lewes use acoustic tags to track the movements of individual sand tigers in the open ocean throughout the rest of the year.

Sand tiger sharks congregate in the shallow waters of the Delaware Bay in summertime. Researchers at the University of Delaware in Lewes use acoustic tags to track the movements of individual sand tigers in the open ocean throughout the rest of the year.
(Image credit: Danielle Haulsee)

Smile! A sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) mugs for the camera as researchers from the University of Delaware in Lewes affix an acoustic tag to track its movements through the open ocean. These tagging studies revealed that these sharks, which were thought to be relatively solitary, actually interact frequently in the open ocean. The tags recorded about 200 encounters between sand tiger sharks, the researchers reported on Feb. 22 at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting.