Science is stunning
The year was full of exciting, jaw-dropping photos related to science. From adorable animals — like a 4-month-old gorilla and a pair of nuzzling orange-beaked puffins — to stunning pictures of our amazing planet, long-extinct creatures like the world's largest shark, here are the science photos that stood out in 2017.
Plankton Light Up
Otherworldly blue light dances in Three Cliffs Bay near Swansea, Wales in a gorgeous image taken June 18. Landscape photographer Alyn Wallace captured this view under a star-spangled sky. The blue is created by bioluminescent plankton, which sparkle when disturbed by currents or splashes. [Shimmering Sea: Why a Beautiful Blue Glow Lit Up the Coast of Wales]
Cyclone Licks the Coast
Like a tentative cat, a July cyclone reaches out to taste the coast of Portugal in this satellite image released by NASA. A low-pressure system pulled coastal moisture from over the ocean toward the warm, dry atmosphere of the Iberian Peninsula. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite captured the swirling clouds. [Cyclone 'Licks' Portugal Coast in Gorgeous Space Image]
"Blue Lasso," by Matty Smith, won the 2017 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition's "Best in Show" prize for its stark depiction of a Pacific man-of-war photographed against a night sky in New South Wales, Australia. Man-of-Wars are colonial animals made up of four separate types of polyps, which are all unique organisms of their own that function together as a single creature. [Dramatic Man-of-War Takes Top Ocean Art Photography Prize]
Teeth in the Deep
The ocean's horrors come to life in this artist's impression of a megalodon on the hunt. The largest shark that ever lived went extinct about 2.5 million years ago, and a study published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology suggested that the reason had to do with a lack of prey for these gigantic beasts. [https://www.livescience.com/57499-why-megalodon-shark-went-extinct.html]
Rocky Mountain High
At the very close of 2016, the International Space Station whizzed over the Rocky Mountains and captured a fantastic, snow-swept view. European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet was on hand to snap a photograph of the tops of the peaks slicing through a blanket of clouds.
A pair of orange-beaked puffins nuzzle in this moody black-and-white image. A study released in April found that orange-beaked puffins, which form long-term monogamous relationships, stick close together during their annual winter migrations, a strategy that probably allows them to coordinate their return to the breeding colony in Wales each spring. [Puffin Couples Stay Close During 'Winter Break']
The Thomas Fire in California, which is now considered the largest wildfire in the state’s history, created this massive gray cloud over Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties on Dec. 10. Called a pyrocumulus cloud, the puffball is a cumulus cloud that formed due to the hot air and smoke released by the fire. "Pyrocumulus clouds form when wildfires burn hot enough to generate very strong upward motion, which we call updrafts," Nick Nauslar, a research scientist for the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies/Storm Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told Live Science at the time. The gray color comes from the smoke in the air. [Read more about the amazing pyrocumulus cloud.]
This photo of a 4-month-old baby gorilla and her mother is a bittersweet warning of what the planet has to lose. In January, researchers warned in the journal Science Advances that 60 percent of primate species worldwide are in danger of extinction, and 75 percent are seeing population declines. Some are already on the brink: The Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus) from China is down to only about 25 individuals left in total. [More Than Half of All Primates Threatened with Extinction]
A 'walking' polymer inches like a caterpillar in a time-lapse image released in June. This polymer is made of light-activated materials and inches along when exposed to a light source. It can even carry small objects (small grains of sand) or push items larger than itself uphill. [Light Makes New Material Creep Like a Caterpillar]
What big eyes you have! This robber fly is a mere 6 millimeters in length, but its huge, faceted eyes give it some of the best vision among insects, researchers reported in March. Using their keen eyesight, the flies can capture prey as far as 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) away. [Jaw-Dropping Vision Helps Tiny Flies Snag Prey in Under a Second]