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100 Best Science Photos of the Year

Stingray bot

Robot Stingray

Tissue-engineered soft-robotic stingray . (Image credit: Karaghen Hudson and Michael Rosnach)

Muscle cells taken from the hearts of rats were given an unlikely mission: to help a new robot stingray swim. One of the scientists involved in the feat had noticed that the beating of stingray "wings" resembles the beating of a heart. When the heart cells contract, they pull the bot's wings downward for swimming in its pool of sugar water (sugar serves as the tiny robot's fuel). 

Gross!

High speed images of a human sneeze show how sneeze droplets travel in a 'turbulent cloud.'

High speed images of a human sneeze show how sneeze droplets travel in a 'turbulent cloud.' (Image credit: The New England Journal of Medicine © 2016)

Any guess as to what this cloud of high-speed droplets could be? You might not want to know.

These are frames from a high-speed video of someone sneezing, showing the resulting "turbulent cloud" of saliva and hot, moist air. The forceful eruption of the sneeze lasts about 150 milliseconds, but the images show the droplets from the cloud hovering for much longer. In fact, researchers reported in August in the New England Journal of Medicine, large droplets from a sneeze can reach as far as 6.5 feet (2 meters) away from the sneezer, while smaller droplets can travel as much as 26 feet (8 m) away. In other words: Cover your mouth. 

Fuzz ball

santa marta toro

The elusive Santa Marta Toro was thought extinct for 113 years, until one was spotted in the mountainous rainforests of Colombia. Now researchers are using lollipops to lure them out again. (Image credit: Lizzie Noble)

Pokemon Go character or endangered species? Researchers believed that this puffball, the Santa Marta Toro (Santamartamys rufodorsalis), was extinct until 2011, when someone spotted one in its habitat in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in Colombia. An expedition into the forest this year sought more evidence of the elusive rat. Scientists festooned camera traps with heart-shaped cherry lollipops in hopes of luring out the animals. Unfortunately, the solitary Toro declined to make an appearance. Researchers will try again in 2018.

Trumpapillar

Caterpillar Looks Like Donald Trump's Hair

The flannel moth caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) resembles Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's hair. (Image credit: Jeff Cremer)

The flannel moth caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) apparently shares a stylist with the president-elect. Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer snapped this shot of the caterpillar in the Peruvian Amazon and immediately noticed that it bore a resemblance to Donald Trump's infamous 'do. The species isn't new — it's known locally as "ovejillo" or "little sheep" — but it is rather nasty. The hairs are covered with tiny hooks that make them incredibly irritating to the touch… oh, and they're venomous, too. 

Martian selfie

Mars Rover Image of Murray Buttes

This September 2016 self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the 'Quela' drilling location in the scenic 'Murray Buttes' area on lower Mount Sharp. The panorama was stitched together from multiple images taken by the MAHLI camera at the end of the rover's arm. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Even the Mars rover is getting in on the selfie craze. NASA's Curiosity rover snapped the photos for this composite image between Sept. 17 and Sept. 20 at a site on the Red Planet called Quela. The rover was drilling here to collect data about Mars' ancient geology. Its findings, according to NASA, reveal that billions of years ago, this rocky area was the site of a system of lakes. Curiosity took this selfie with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the end of its arm. 

Natural wonder

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, David Friend Hall

(Image credit: Photo by Robert Lorenz, courtesy of Yale Peabody Museum)

A child soaks in the drama of an aragonite specimen from Yunnan, China. This and other amazing minerals went on display at the new David Friend Hall at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History this October. Aragonite is a crystalline form of calcium carbonate and can form in hot spring, marine or cave environments. 

Blub, blub

An image of a zebrafish embryo's face was the first-place winner of the 2016 Nikon Small World microphotography contest.

An image of a zebrafish embryo's face was the first-place winner of the 2016 Nikon Small World microphotography contest. (Image credit: Oscar Ruiz)

At just 4 days old, this zebrafish embryo took the top prize in the annual Nikon Small World photo contest. And no wonder — look at that mug.

Oscar Ruiz of the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center captured this image during the course of his research into the development of the zebrafish face. By making genetic alterations and then tracking their effects on facial development, researchers can determine the underlying causes of such abnormalities as cleft palate, a condition in which the roof of the mouth and underlying structures don't close correctly. 

New Arctic view

A new view of the Arctic was composited by NASA from images captured during more than a dozen satellite orbits.

A new view of the Arctic was composited by NASA from images captured during more than a dozen satellite orbits. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

This view of the top of the world makes "blue marble" a misnomer. From the Arctic, Earth looks more like a white marble. NASA created this image with stitched-together satellite views to commemorate the first Arctic Science Ministerial meeting in Washington, D.C. in September. Leaders from eight Arctic nations, U.S. Arctic officials and other stakeholders met to discuss Arctic science and observation, Arctic community resilience and STEM education. 

Holy Church

The Holy Edicule, the shrine that surrounds the rock tomb traditionally believed to belong to Jesus Christ, sits within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Here, a conservation team led by the National Technical University of Athens works on a

The Holy Edicule, the shrine that surrounds the rock tomb traditionally believed to belong to Jesus Christ, sits within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Here, a conservation team led by the National Technical University of Athens works on a long-awaited restoration project of the structure. (Image credit: ODED BALILTY / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

In October, conservation experts opened the shrine said to be the original tomb of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Here, the building that houses the shrine, The Holy Edicule, is surrounded by protecting sheeting and equipment. Conservationists had to shore up the structure, which has been held up by an unsightly scaffold of iron bars since the 1940s. In the process, they removed the marble cladding that covers the original bedrock where Christ is said to have been buried after the crucifixion. 

Gorgeous aurora

This gorgeous photo was taken in Norway on Oct. 26 by Chris, one of the '<a href='https://www.aurora-addicts.com/northern-lights-holidays'>Aurora Addicts</a>.' The 'addicts' run a company that offers trips to see the northern lights and other sights in A

This gorgeous photo was taken in Norway on Oct. 26 by Chris, one of the 'Aurora Addicts.' The 'addicts' run a company that offers trips to see the northern lights and other sights in Arctic Norway. (Image credit: Aurora Addicts - www.aurora-addicts.com/tours - facebook.com/AuroraAddicts)

A brilliant green glow lights up the Norwegian sky on October 26. A strong geomagnetic storm in late October caused magnetic disturbances in the atmosphere, bringing the aurora as far south as the northern United States. Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden all saw spectacular shows, and skywatchers in Wyoming and northern Wisconsin captured images of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, much farther south than it is normally seen.