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100 Best Science Photos of the Year

Amazing ray

A giant manta ray swims in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, about 300 miles off Baja California, Mexico.

A giant manta ray swims in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, about 300 miles off Baja California, Mexico.
(Image credit: Scripps OceScripps Oceanography / Joshua Stewart)

A giant manta ray glides through Revillagigedo Archipelago, 300 miles (482 km) from Baja California, Mexico. These are the largest rays in the world, with a wingspan that can be as long as 23 feet (7 meters). Until this year, researchers thought that such large marine animals probably migrated long distances, just like whales or Bluefin tuna. A tagging study, however, found that the rays hung out within about 62 miles (100 km) of where they were originally found. Their flexible diet might allow them to stay in one spot rather than roaming to find food, the researchers reported.

Ugly discovery

Anglerfish - Lasiognathus dinema

Lasiognathus dinema: female in the northern Gulf of Mexico
(Image credit: Theodore W. Pietsch, University of Washington)

Now here's a looker: This is Lasiognatus dinema, a newly discovered anglerfish found in the Gulf of Mexico during a damage assessment after the 2010 Deepwater horizon oil spill.

"The thing is so ugly, you can't help but stop and look at it," said Quentin Wheeler, president of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The protrusion on the anglerfish's head is a lure to attract prey. The fish made the college's 2016 list of the top 10 new species discovered in the previous year.

Three pillars

underwater photographer 2016, underwater photography contest

While this image won first place in the Up & Coming Worldwide Category, it also captured photographer Pier Mane the title of 'Up & Coming Underwater Photgrapher of the Year, 2016.' Choosing to shoot a more calm subject in more dramatic surroundings, Mane captured a superb view of the shark and its environment.
(Image credit: Pier Mane/UPY 2016)

Titled "Three Pillars," this image snagged first place as the up & coming underwater photographer of the year in the Underwater Photography of the Year contest in 2016. He shot the gorgeous photo of sharks at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas.

Here's what he told the photo contest officials of the shot: " Weary of shooting sharks head-on, and keen to avoid diver’s bubbles in my shot, I decided to turn away from the peak action and the crowds it attracts. I wanted sun rays, dramatic foreground, background perspective, and - the cherry on top - to capture the 'master of the house' in all of its mystique. The three sponges were well-positioned to set the scene beneath the boat and it took countless shots to balance the elements I wanted; but perseverance, patience and practice all paid off. I would like to dedicate my first winning shot to my father, for his introduction to photography, and to my mother for passing on her resilient attitude."

Hungry beast

In this artist's rendering, a disk of material has formed around a supermassive black hole after a star was shredded by the cosmic beast. The material heats up as it falls toward the black hole, and flashes of X-ray light near the center of the disk resu

In this artist's rendering, a disk of material has formed around a supermassive black hole after a star was shredded by the cosmic beast. The material heats up as it falls toward the black hole, and flashes of X-ray light near the center of the disk result in light echoes that allow astronomers to map the structure of the funnel-like flow. Using these light echoes, new research has revealed strong gravity effects around a normally quiet black hole.
(Image credit: NASA/Swift/Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State U.)

This usually dormant black hole was seen devouring a star, scientists reported this year. The event was first detected in 2011, but happened a much longer time ago: This supermassive black hole is 3.9 billion light-years from Earth.

A supermassive black hole like this one is typically dormant, but researchers were fortunate to detect this one gobbling up a star that fell under its gravitational influence. Measuring the forces at work could help demystify how black holes grow to these enormous sizes, the scientists reported in June.

Baby bison

This image of a bison calf in the road was taken by a Yellowstone National Park photographer and was posted to Facebook on April 27.

This image of a bison calf in the road was taken by a Yellowstone National Park photographer and was posted to Facebook on April 27.
(Image credit: Yellowstone National Park)

A baby bison walks down a road in Yellowstone National Park on April 27, 2016. Baby bison became a flashpoint this spring after the National Park Service said that it had euthanized a baby bison that park visitors had found abandoned on a roadway. The visitors put the calf in their car to take it the ranger station, which is illegal, and the park eventually euthanized it when it was rejected from its herd, because Yellowstone does not rehabilitate individual animals.

"Our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone," a park representative explained on Facebook.

Gorgeous aliens

A common lionfish (Pterois miles) specimen photographed in the Mediterranean Sea.

A common lionfish (Pterois miles) specimen photographed in the Mediterranean Sea.
(Image credit: Maria Papanikola)

This year, scientists found that a gorgeous, but deadly, fish had invaded the Mediterranean Sea. The invader, a common lionfish (Pterois miles) sports venomous spines that can cause painful stings to unsuspecting divers. A close relative, the red lionfish (Pterois volitans) is also a notorious invader, threatening reefs around the southeastern United States, such as Florida, and in the Caribbean Sea.

Wrinkly ant

Myrmecina magnificens, named for its striking, or magnificent, appearance, is a newly discovered ant species from the rainforest in Singapore.

Myrmecina magnificens, named for its striking, or magnificent, appearance, is a newly discovered ant species from the rainforest in Singapore. And it sort of looks like a raisin.
(Image credit: Benoit Guénard, The University of Hong Kong)

Named for its beauty, Myrmecina magnificens, a new species of spiny ant with intricate, wrinkled skin was found in the Singaporean forest this year. Its claim to fame might be its skin, which is imprinted with a fingerprint-whorl pattern and tipped with delicate golden spines that curve toward the front of its body (apparently, an oddity in the ant world).

Earth's lava lamp

Mysterious blobs of distinct rock are imaged using waves from earthquakes (model from French and Romanowicz, 2015, Nature).

Mysterious blobs of distinct rock are imaged using waves from earthquakes (model from French and Romanowicz, 2015, Nature).
(Image credit: Ed Garnero, Hongyu Lai, Arizona State University)

Huge, mysterious blobs of hot, possibly molten, rock were discovered deep beneath Earth this year. Located beneath the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the blobs are each so large they would be as tall as Mount Everest. They start where the planet's mantle layer touches the core. Like lava lamps, the hot blobs send plumes up through the rock, the researchers said.

Casper the fish

Scientists spotted this ghostly fish in the deep waters of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, making it the first time anyone has seen a fish in the family Aphyonidae alive.

Scientists spotted this ghostly fish in the deep waters of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, making it the first time anyone has seen a fish in the family Aphyonidae alive.
(Image credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research)

If Casper were a fish… This little guy, about 4 inches (10 centimeters) long, was spotted during an expedition to the deepest spot on Earth, the Mariana Trench. Researchers found the ghost fish, a member of the Aphyonidae family, some 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. With translucent, scale-less skin and eerie, colorless eyes, the fish appears as a swimming ghost. In fact, nobody had ever seen an Aphyonidae fish alive before.

Dragon ant

'Game of Thrones' Ant

Although they lack fire-breathing capabilities, the unique, spiny characteristics of the new ant species reminded researchers of the dragons from 'Game of Thrones.'
(Image credit: OIST)

A bizarre-looking ant this year may lack fire-breathing capabilities, but its spiny ornamentation reminded researchers of Drogon, one of the dragons from the "Game of Thrones," so much so that they named it Pheidole drogon after fire-breathing star of the popular fantasy series. The scientists captured P. drogon's body in detail using 3D-imaging technology, called micro computed-tomography, which also helped them to identify the ant.

"This is one of the first studies in ant taxonomy to use micro-CT," study co-author Evan Economo, head of the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), said in a statement.