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100 Best Science Photos of the Year

#SnailLove

Jeremy the snail

Jeremy, the snail with the left-coiling shell (right) next to a snail with a right-coiling shell (left). (Image credit: University of Nottingham)

It was a Twitter hashtag campaign for only the most die-hard of romantics: An effort to find a mate for a rare snail found in compost heap in southwest London.

The snail, dubbed "Jeremy" after garden-loving British politician Jeremy Corbyn, has a rare genetic mutation that causes its shell to spiral counter-clockwise. Most snails have right-spiraling shells, and Jeremy's asymmetry means its genitals are on the wrong side of its body for successful mating with these righties. Since left-spiraling snails are so rare, Jeremy was unlikely to meet a mate the old-fashioned way. So evolutionary geneticist Angus Davison of the University of Nottingham took to Twitter to ask people to be on the lookout for leftie snails that Jeremy might mate with. It took only weeks for a promising candidate from Ipswich to turn up, PhysOrg reported in November.   

River runs through it

map of river flow in the united states

A new map visualizes the flow of ever river in the United States. (Image credit: Robert Szucs, Fejetlenfej/Imgur)

An unforgettable visualization is revealing the winding path of every single river in the U.S.

Much of the Midwest is fed by the mighty Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, while the arid Southwest may look dry on the surface, but is actually part of the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins.

Striking iron

This dark, lumpy, golf ball-size object is an iron-nickel meteorite. NASA's Curiosity rover discovered it on Mars on Oct. 30, 2016.

This dark, lumpy, golf ball-size object is an iron-nickel meteorite. NASA's Curiosity rover discovered it on Mars on Oct. 30, 2016. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS)

In November, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity came upon a curious site: A grey, oval-shaped object that looks nothing like the normal rocks on the Red Planet. A closer chemical analysis revealed the mysterious rock, dubbed an "Egg Rock" by the Curiosity team, was actual an iron-nickel meteorite that fell to the Martian surface.

The odd meteorite was found by Curiosity's laser-shooting instrument, called ChemCam, which zaps nearby rocks with laser beams, then measures the light that bounces back to identify the chemical composition. The rock came from a region of Mars known as Mount Sharp, and likely came from the molten core of an asteroid, researchers say.

Dirty houseguests

House dust samples carried dust mites, animal fur, fibers and pollen, as seen here in this scanning electron micrograph (SEM).

House dust samples carried dust mites, animal fur, fibers and pollen, as seen here in this scanning electron micrograph (SEM). (Image credit: Anne A. Madden and Robert Mcgugan, University of Colorado, Boulder Nanomaterials Characterization Facility. False-coloring by Robin Hacker-Cary)

And you thought sharing a sixth-floor walkup with roommates was crowded. It turns out a whole ecosystem of gross bugs also shares people's homes, including a new species of cockroach that originally hails from Turkestan, a study from November reveals.

Some houses had as many as 40 different species of arthropods, which includes insects and spiders.

Headless penguins

headless penguins

Headless penguins on South Georgia Island (Image credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY Charles Kinsey / Barcroft Images)

When wild animals aren't being terrifying, they can be downright hilarious. Animals in this year's Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards included these headless penguins, photographed by wildlife photographer Charles Kinsey on South Georgia Island, as well as squirrels pigging out on corn, a fox burying his head in the snow and a frog with a contagious smile.

Baby cave lions

Cave lion cub

The ancient cave lion cub named Uyan is so well preserved that researchers could tell that its mother fed it milk a few hours before it died. (Image credit: Olga Potapova)

In October, scientists reported the discovery of the bodies of two, 30,000-year-old cave lion cubs that had been perfectly preserved in the permafrost in Russia.

The mummified cubs, named Uyan and Dina, were so well preserved that scientists could tell one of the cubs had fed from its mothers' milk just hours earlier. The adorable, doomed pups were so young when they died that they likely couldn't see, researchers speculated. The finding could help scientists learn how cave lions grew in comparison to their modern-day cousins.

Tiny universe

3D Printed Universe (CMB)

A 3D-printed model of the cosmic microwave background. The color and texture represent temperature and density. (Image credit: Dave Clements, Imperial College London)

Now people can hold not just the world in their hands, but the entire Universe. A group of scientists have created the blueprints for 3D printing the Universe. The wrinkly microcosm is meant to mimic the cosmic background radiation permeating the entire universe.

Google maps for the brain

mouse brain

Here, another view of the Allen Common Connectivity Framework, which acts as a Google Maps or GPS for the brain (Image credit: Allen Institute for Brain Science)

A stunning new visualization is allowing researchers to navigate inside the mouse's brain much as they do on Google Maps. The map a richly detailed view of the cortex structure in the mouse brain, a structure that is the size of a pebble.

The map was created by the Allen Institute for Brain Science by painstakingly mapping connections and structures in the brain, then creating a common framework for scientists to use for their own research insights.

Dave the earthworm

dave-giant-earthworm

The huge size of the earthworm becomes apparent when compared to an Oyster card (a London public transit ticket). (Image credit: Natural History Museum, London)

The world's heaviest earthworm was discovered in November in a United Kingdom garden. The giant earthworm, named Dave by the stepson of the man who stumbled upon the creature, is almost as long as the average house cat.

However, Dave's enormous size (shown here in comparison to a London metro card) didn't protect him in the end. He was anesthetized and preserved for display at the Natural History Museum.

Fireworks drones

intel-drone-fireworks-record

The 'fireworks' display was not produced by pyrotechnics, but by hundreds of individual drones each fitted with an LED light. (Image credit: Guinness World Records)

The record for the world's largest swarm of drones was broken in November when Intel launched a fleet of 500 "firework" drones into the sky.

The flying firework show was made by quadcopter drones fitted with LED lights. These simple drones, made of foam and plastic, weigh about 0.5 pounds (280 grams). According to Intel, the LED can also light up in 4 billion different combinations, creating luminous shows of nearly infinite variety.