Squishy and cute
A cute robot? Yep. And it's squishy too. This year, scientists unveiled a rubbery little "octobot" (just 2.5 inches, or 6 centimeters, long and wide) that represented the first robot made completely from soft parts. The eight-armed bot doesn't need batteries, being driven pneumatically by steady streams of oxygen gas.
With a little genetic tinkering, scientists created baby beetles with three compound eyes, one in the center of their heads. The three-eyed critters, dung beetles in the genus Onthophagus, grew a compound eye where their horn once stood.
"We were amazed that shutting down a gene could not only turn off development of horns and major regions of the head, but also turn on the development of very complex structures such as compound eyes in a new location," study leader Eduardo Zattara, a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University's Department of Biology, said in a statement.
Flooding from space
What appear to be little rectangular shapes popping out from a mucky-brown background in a NASA satellite image are rooftops of homes swallowed up, temporarily at least, by intense rainfall that flooded parts of Louisiana in August. The most extreme flooding occurred along the Amite River, which exceeded its previous height record in Magnolia, Louisiana, by more than 6 feet (1.8 meters).
As if marks left by fairies in Australia, these barren, circular patches that dot grasslands have long mystified scientists. The fanciful "fairy circles," as they're called, have a slew of potential explanations, ranging from "termites did it," to the idea that scarce water and other nutrients drive a process called self-organization in the vegetation.
Previously, the circles had been seen only in southeastern Africa, mostly Namibia. Then, this year, scientists spotted them in satellite images in Western Australia. Their finding, they said, suggested that termites may be the culprits.
On Sept. 1, the moon and the Earth passed across the face of the sun, simultaneously, making for a brilliant sight. And NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory was at the ready, revealing this surreal shot. Since Earth's atmosphere absorbs some of the light from our hots star, the planet's shadow during the double eclipse appears fuzzy, though the moon's shadow stays sharp and distinct.
Fossils of some of the first four-limbed vertebrates to call Earth home, called Acanthostega, were discovered and reported this year. Analysis of the fossils suggested that some 360 million years ago, a school of juvenile lizard-like creatures ─ sans any parental chaperones ─ died in a watery grave in present-day Greenland.
An unusual "drilling bee" was discovered this year, one that seems to prefer hard work. The bee, dubbed Anthophora pueblo, gnaws its home out of vertical sandstone rock faces (even when softer dirt is available) in Utah, southwest Colorado and Death Valley in California, the researchers. The apparently solitary nesters build their rocky alcoves next to each other, sort of like insect apartment dwellers.
Boom, boom, boom
A trio of volcanoes erupted at once on a remote archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean this year. The volcanoes unleashed giant plumes of smoke that were captured in a false-color image by a NASA satellite passing overhead on Sept. 29. Such false-color images can make it easier to distinguish ice from ash and clouds by using portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that are typically invisible to the human eye.
Some 2 billion to 3 billion years ago, several lakes, including one bigger than several of North America's Great Lakes, formed on the surface of Mars, researchers found this year. At that time, scientists suspect Mars lacked much of its atmosphere and likely was too cold to host liquid water.
The behemoth Martian lake would have overflowed into an enormous basin called Heart Lake (shown here), which held 670 cubic miles (2,790 cubic km) of water, the researchers reported in September in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Planets.
This deep-sea diving squid, called Gonatus berryi, isn't afraid to eat its own kind. Scientists discovered the cannibalism using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to study the eating habits of more than 100 different squid species in the Gonatus genus in Monterey Submarine Canyon, off the California coast.
The videos from the deep revealed that two species, G. berryi (shown here eating its own) and G. onyx were particularly proficient cannibals. Out of video of 109 squid eating their meals, the researchers found that 42 percent of G. onyx's prey ere other G. onyx squid.