Skip to main content

100 Best Science Photos of 2018

Slurpee waves

The air was so cold on Jan. 2, 2018, that the waves froze on Nobadeer Beach in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

(Image credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh/jdnphotography.com)

The cold that gripped the U.S. East Coast this past winter created a gorgeous phenomenon along the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts — slurpee waves. As if frozen mid-break, these waves were surfable, according to photographer and surfer Jonathan Nimerfroh, who captured the surreal photos.

Bomb cyclone

bomb cyclone

(Image credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project/Twitter)

A rotating winter storm that churned its way across the U.S. East Coast in January made for some stunning satellite images, like this one captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-East satellite. The storm was also an opportunity to learn about a phenomenon described by some pretty cool words — bomb cyclone and .... wait for it, bombogenesis. A bomb cyclone occurs when the atmospheric pressure inside a weather system drops rapidly, causing that system or storm to rapidly increase in strength; the result can be hurricane-level winds and heavy snow over a broad area. And the process that creates the wicked storms is called bombogenesis.

Creepy viper fish

Viper dogfish head

(Image credit: Hsuan-Ching Ho)

Hello, nightmares! Scientists pulled up this rare shark — known as the viper dogfish (Trigonognathus kabeyai) — during a routine fish survey off the Taiwanese coast in January. The ink-black sharks have gnarly needle-like teeth; creepy, glass-like eyes; a glowing belly and a potentially extendable jaw. The species wasn't discovered until 1986, and even today, so little is known about these alien-like creatures that scientists are unsure whether they're endangered or just incredibly hard to find.

Birds of paradise

A male bird of paradise shows off its optical illusion-like plumage during season 1 of BBC's "Planet Earth."

(Image credit: BBC)

Black doesn't get much blacker than the plumage of male birds of paradise, and this year, a new study revealed how these birds pull it off. It turns out that the jet-black feathers of these rainforest birds are differently shaped, on a microscopic level, compared with regular black feathers. That unique nanostructure of the feathers makes them particularly prone to scattering and reabsorbing light, and that in turn makes them not only black, but so black that they appear suck light away.

Pelican spider assassins

(Image credit: Hannah Wood, Smithsonian)

As Live Science reported in January, this spider is likely the weirdest assassin you'll ever see. And assassin it is: Rather than spinning webs, at night, this spider stalks the silk left behind by other spiders, slowing scuttling (often upside down) on its back six legs while its two front legs sweep through the air feeling for prey. Once it arrives at another spider’s web, this assassin can wait for hours for the perfect moment to strike and use its beak-like pincers called chelicerae to impale the unwitting spider. When not in assassin mode, the spider tucks its pincers against the long, neck-like appendage that connects the arachnid's head to its body — pelican style.

Spiral bee hive

(Image credit: Tim Heard)

The Australian stingless bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) in this image, captured by entomologist Tim Heard and posted to Reddit in January, worked together to build this spiral nest that looks delectable enough to eat (or maybe not). The spiral-shaped towers are called brood combs, and they link together hundreds of egg chambers, forming a staircase of developing young. "A fully developed nest consists of 10-20 layers. Each layer is one circle of a continuous spiral," Heard, of The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia, told Live Science.

Mohawk fish

red handfish

(Image credit: Auscape/UIG/Getty)

In January, divers discovered a new population of rare, Mohawk-wearing fish that appear to “walk” on the seafloor. The fish, called red handfish Thymichthys politus), are extremely endangered. Previously, scientists only knew of one population of between 20 to 40 of the punkish-looking swimmers, which live off the southeastern coast of the island of Tasmania. The new population lives nearby, but researchers stayed mum on the exact location, in order to protect the fish. The discovery essentially doubles the number of red handfish scientists think are left on the planet.

WWII motorcylce cemetary

(Image credit: Tobias Friedrich/UPY 2018)

An undersea "graveyard" of British World War I motorcycles is both haunting and beautiful. The image earned photographer Tobias Friedrich the top prize this year in the Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY). In the image, derelict Norton 16H motorbikes recline in the foreground on the deck of a British munitions ship that German bombers sank in the Red Sea on Oct. 6, 1941. The seemingly perfectly-aligned cycles, which were part of the ship's lost cargo, had long captivated Friedrich, who painstakingly figured out how to capture the entire deck in one image.

Baby antelope

New born saiga calf nestling in the arms of a scientist.

(Image credit: Courtesy of the Joint saiga health monitoring team in Kazakhstan (Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity, Kazakhstan, Biosafety Institute, Gvardeskiy RK, Royal Veterinary College, London, UK))

In May of 2015, in a matter of three weeks, 200,000 endangered saiga antelope dropped dead. That was 62 percent of the world's saiga population that had just keeled over. It wasn't until this year that scientists pinpointed the culprit: A bacterium that usually lives (without causing any problems) in the antelopes' guts, but warm, moist weather triggered its overgrowth. That's how Pasteurella multocida found its way into the antelopes' bloodstream and killed them. Shown here, a totally adorable newborn antelope resting in a scientist's arms.

Nervous system

(Image credit: Museum of Osteopathic Medicine)

Ever wonder what you'd look like as just a nervous system? Wonder no more: Back in 1925, two medical students in Kirksville, Missouri -- M.A. Schalck and L.P. Ramsdell -- took on the challenge of dissecting the body's nervous system in one piece. Their work is still on display at the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine at A.T. Still University in Missouri, and a photo of it went viral on Reddit this year.

Super blue blood moon

super blue moon

(Image credit: VCG/Getty)

A Super Blue Blood Moon lunar eclipse graced the heavens and dazzled Earth-bound humans during the early morning hours of Jan. 31, an event that hadn't happened in 152 years. Here's what that mouthful of a night-sky event means: A supermoon, which is a full moon at a time when the orb is near perigee, or at its closest point in its orbit to Earth, occurred at the same time that the moon passed through the Earth's shadow (a lunar eclipse). This was also the second full moon in January, meaning it's called a blue moon. Rather than appearing a blue hue, though, the moon shone a reddish color due to how the sun's reflected light gets filtered by our atmosphere.