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100 Best Science Photos of the Year

Mongoose groomers

Mongooses groom a warthog.

An apparently blissful warthog submits to the ministrations of its mongoose groomers. (Image credit: Andy Plumptre/WCS)

Mongooses as hairdressers? Sure, if you're a warthog.

This is a scene at Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park, where banded mongooses often groom warthogs, picking through their fur and looking for tasty ticks and insects to eat. Andy Plumptre, director for the Albertine Rift Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, reported this behavior in January 2016. Such behavior may be more common than realized, because both species must be habituated to humans for the primping to be observed.

Friendly ghost

This ghostlike octopod is almost certainly an undescribed species and may also represent a new genus.

This ghostlike octopod is almost certainly an undescribed species and may also represent a new genus. (Image credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana 2016)

Boo! Who's that on the ocean floor? A camera on a robotic vehicle operated by Okeanos Explorer, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel, caught this ghostly little octopod near the Hawaiian Islands on Feb. 27.

Researchers haven't yet formally described this species, which seems to lack the color-changing chromatophore cells that allow most octopuses and cuttlefish to shift their appearance rapidly.

Blocking out the sun

The total solar eclipse of 2016 reaches totality in this still image from a NASA webcast on March 8, 2016 from Woleai Island in Micronesia, where it was March 9 local time during the eclipse.

The total solar eclipse of 2016 reaches totality in this still image from a NASA webcast on March 8, 2016 from Woleai Island in Micronesia, where it was March 9 local time during the eclipse. (Image credit: NASA TV)

A total solar eclipse blacked out the sky on March 9, 2016, over Woleai Island in Micronesia. This image from a NASA webcast shows the moment of totality, when the moon passes completely in front of the sun. Residents of North America will get their turn to see a sight like this on August 21, 2017, when a total eclipse will be visible along a pathway stretching from Oregon through Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Veggie spider

A jumping spider (<em>Plexippus</em> sp.) covered with yellow Hibiscus pollen in Kinshasa, Congo.

A jumping spider (Plexippus sp.) covered with yellow Hibiscus pollen in Kinshasa, Congo. (Image credit: Nick Hobgood, University of South Pacific)

Pretty in pollen, this jumping spider is also a veggie-lover. In March, researchers rounded up 95 recorded instances of spiders supplementing their diets with plant foods.

A wide variety of arachnids eat everything from pollen to nectar to sap, biologists wrote in the Journal of Arachnology. About 60 percent of veggie-loving spiders are jumping spiders, like this one from Kinshasa, Congo. 

Supersonic shock wave

shock wave rippling from a plane

A new technique uses the texture and luminosity of the sun to reveal the details of shock waves in planes flying at faster than the speed of sound. (Image credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich)

Zooooooom! The ripples of a plane going supersonic emanate out from the face of the sun in this NASA image released in April. The photograph was taken with a method called the Schlieren technique, which uses a bright light and a mottled dark background to showcase changes in air density. (Light scatters off air of different densities, creating the rippling effect seen here.) The image the shock waves generated by a U.S. Air Force T-38C plane as it breaks the speed of sound. 

Space spider

Spider Nebula, Seen by Spitzer and 2MASS

The Spider Nebula, shown here using data gathered by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the 2MASS ground-based survey, lies about 10,000 light-years from Earth and is a site of active star formation. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS)

A glowing green spider seems to stretch its legs in a NASA image from the constellation Auriga. The image shows the Spider Nebula, a cloud of dust and gases 10,000 light-years from Earth. It was captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All-Sky Survey, or 2MASS. For the record, the nebula isn't really green – infrared colors, invisible to the naked eye, are shown in blue, green and red so that the nebula is visible. 

Reefs, cubed

In 2015, more than 2,000 concrete cubes were installed around Koh Tao island, in one of the largest artificial reef projects in the Gulf of Thailand. Each cube frame weighs approximately 1.2 tons (1,089 kilograms), and flotation bags were attached to them so that divers could maneuver them into position underwater.

In 2015, more than 2,000 concrete cubes were installed around Koh Tao island, in one of the largest artificial reef projects in the Gulf of Thailand. Each cube frame weighs approximately 1.2 tons (1,089 kilograms), and flotation bags were attached to them so that divers could maneuver them into position underwater. (Image credit: think4photop)

Modern art? No, an artificial reef. This image shows the man-made cube reef near Koh Tao, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. Each cube weighs 1.2 tons (1,089 kilograms) and provides shelter for reef animals, which use them as a foundation to rebuild habitat. Free-swimming coral larvae attach themselves to structures like these (other artificial reefs use old vehicles, shipwrecks and even statues), in turn attracting larger reef animals like fish, anemones and sea stars.

Space jelly

On April 24, 2016, scientists spotted this bizarre jellyfish around the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

On April 24, 2016, scientists spotted this bizarre jellyfish around the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. (Image credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas)

This deep-sea jelly looks as if it's about to announce that it's come in peace. And it might as well be an alien lifeform to us landlubbers — this is a denizen of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of any ocean in the world.

The jellyfish moves by pulsating two sets of tentacles. When it extends all of its tentacles as shown in this image taken by a remotely operated vehicle, the jelly hangs in the water, motionless. Researchers suspect it might use this talent to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Strange frog

Strange skin, lake titicaca frogs

This juvenile frog at the Denver Zoo is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, but Lake Titicaca frogs can grow to the size of dinner plates. (Image credit: Courtesy Denver Zoo)

There's not much dignity in the nickname "scrotum frog." Unfortunately, that's the moniker with which this saggy-skinned fellow is saddled.

Snickering at the frog's name overlooks its amazing biology, though. Otherwise known as the Lake Titicaca frog (Telmatobius coleus), these amphibians are found only in the lake of that name in South America. They manage to survive in low-oxygen, 50- to 60-degree Fahrenheit (10 to 17 degrees Celsius) water at 12,500 feet (3,811 meters) elevation. But they are threatened by habitat loss and poaching, in part because they're the main ingredient in a protein strength that's believed to be an aphrodisiac. This frog is on display at the Denver Zoo, which is involved in a conservation effort to prevent Lake Titicaca frogs from vanishing. 

The beauty of Kung Fu

kung fu motion capture

A new animated sculpture created by digital artist Tobias Gremmler recreates the motion of Kung fu practitioners going through a drill. (Image credit: screen shot from Vimeo/Tobias Gremmler)

Human movement becomes art in this image, a still from a video piece that went on display in Hong Kong in September. German digital artist Tobias Gremmler used motion capture to track the movements of a martial artist as they went through Kung Fu drills. Gremmler then turned this motion into an abstraction of fabric. In other parts of the video, the practitioner is animated as a collection of sticks, dots, ribbons and sprays of light.