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The Best Science Photos of 2017

Enigmatic Saudi Structures

Aerial photographs and ground inspection of the keyhole pendants in Saudi Arabia reveal more details of the enigmatic structures.

(Image credit: Courtesy APAAME, APAAME_20171027_DLK-0891)

Keyhole patterns made by stacked stones are the rare remnants of ancient Middle Easterners who left their mark on the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Researchers were able to do aerial studies of these features for the first time this year. [Aerial Images May Unlock Enigma of Ancient Stone Structures in Saudi Arabia]

New Orangutan

There are fewer than 800 individuals of the newfound Batang Toru orangutan species left in the wild.

(Image credit: Maxime Aliaga)

An individual Pongo tapanuliensis, a new species of orangutan discovered this year, peers down from a tree in the Batang Toru forest of Sumatra. Researchers determined this year that an isolated group of 800 of these orangutans are genetically distinct from other orangutans and comprise their own species. The population is threatened by illegal road construction and the illegal capturing of orangutans for the exotic animal trade. [New Orangutan Species Is World's Most Endangered Great Ape]

Pinecone Fish

Overlapping scutes make a suit of armor for the pinecone fish (Cleidopus gloriamaris), and Indo-Pacific tropical and subtropical species that also protects itself with rows of nasty, bony spikes.

(Image credit: Matthew Kolmann/Friday Harbor Laboratories)

It's a wonder this fish can flex enough to swim. This computed tomography (CT) image shows a pinecone fish, also known as a pineapple fish. These fish of the genus Cleidopus protect themselves with their nearly fully-amored bodies and spiky projections running down their sides. They also have a bioluminescent area near their jaws which lures in prey. [Armored 'Pinecone' Fish's Insides Revealed in Spooky Scan]

Spider Eats Tadpole

jumping spider eating tadpole

(Image credit: Sagar Satpute)

What's that spider eating? Yes, it's a tadpole. For the first time ever, scientists have observed a jumping spider chowing down on a tadpole. They caught this scene on camera in the Western Ghats of India on a cliff where a cascade of water was flowing. The spider took several tries to catch its meal and then dragged it to a relatively dry spot to feast. [Tiny Spider Gobbles Tadpole in Never-Before-Seen Behavior]

Lurking Danger

Waiting in the shallows, 2017 Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition

(Image credit: Nico de Bruyn)

Don't go in the water. Surfacing orcas startle a group of king penguins on Marion Island, South Africa. This photo won first prize for Ecology and Environmental Science in the 2017 Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition. [In Photos: Jaw-Dropping Images Reveal Science Is Amazing]

Maidenhair fern

Plant portrait by Karl Blossfeldt.

(Image credit: Courtesy of D.A.P.)

A new collection of the works of Karl Blossfeldt, a German photographer, sculptor and teacher, was released in 2017. And the collection showed off what Blossfeldt is best known for: extreme close-ups of plants. According to the foreword of the book, "Karl Blossfeldt: Masterworks" (D.A.P., 2017), “Producing these photographs required a great deal of talent," the foreword reads. "The first task was to capture the essence of the plant, but at what moment, and in what state, should it be captured? What idea was most associated with its image? How should buds and fruits be arranged, in order to highlight their most striking features?

In this image, young, unfurling frond of the maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum. The frond can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm (20 centimeters) tall. Rather than growing individually like other ferns, this one grows in a branching arrangement that "resembles a fan or a peacock's tail," according to the book. [See more of the amazing shots in the new Blossfeldt collection.]