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100 Best Science Photos of 2018

Sea stack on Reddit

Dún Briste

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Standing starkly amidst of a sea of waves is Dún Briste, a sea stack found off the western coast of Ireland. A photo of the jagged rock tower rose to viral-status on Reddit earlier this year, with a caption claiming the sea stack took "millions" of years to form. That's more than a wee bit off, though: Maria McNamara, a paleobiologist at the University College Cork, in Ireland, told Live Science that, "rather, [it likely formed in] tens to hundreds of thousands of years." That doesn't make it any less impressive, however. The rock formed during the Carboniferous, a 60-million-year-long period lasting from about 359 million to 299 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Gorgeous toenail fungus

toenail fungus, trichophyton rubrum

(Image credit: Wenjun Li and Joseph Heitman - Duke University, and Valerie Lapham - North Carolina State University)

Can athlete’s foot be pretty? It depends on the angle: When researchers stuck the fungi responsible for the itchy infection under the microscope, the results were rather beautiful. The researchers weren’t in it only for the photos, however: In their study, they found that the species that causes toenail fungus doesn’t reproduce sexually. Instead, they clone themselves.

Penguin supercolony

This aerial image taken from a quadcopter reveals an Adélie penguin breeding colony on Heroina Island, Danger Islands, Antarctica.

(Image credit: Thomas Sayre McChord, Hanumant Singh, Northeastern University, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Squee! Lots and lots of penguins were discovered nesting on Antarctica's Danger islands, scientists reported this year. They estimate, based partially on poop stains (yes, poop) seen in aerial snapshots, that about 1.5 million Adélie penguins are living and breeding on the islands. The supercolony had gone unnoticed for nearly 3,000 years, researchers said.

Glacier blankets

White blankets draped over the Rhone Glacier in the Swiss Alps.

(Image credit: Urs Flueeler/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock)

One could only hope to look so glorious beneath a cozy blanket. But these aren't just any blankets that were draped over Rhône Glacier in the Swiss Alps this year: The white cloths are meant to reflect the sun's light before it could wreak its warming havoc on the glacial ice. As is the case for many glaciers, as the globe warms, this one has retreated, by a lot — as much as 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) since 1856. Though the luxurious covering may slow this decline, it can't stop it completely, glaciologists said.

Photo coincidence

The two photos are nearly indistinguishable, even side-by-side.

(Image credit: Ron Risman and Eric Gendron, republished with permission)

Notice anything interesting about these two photos? They look to be the exact same photo with different lighting or processing, perhaps. And while either image would justify a "wow," it turns out both images are jaw-dropping for more than their visual aesthetics: They were taken by two different photographers, Ron Risman and Eric Gendron, unknowingly standing 100 feet from each other with their cameras aimed at the same spot at the exact same instant. As Live Science's Rafi Letzter reported this year, this photo coincidence is mind-blowing: "Shoot a moving scene in burst mode, and you'll see that photos taken just a fraction of a second apart look wildly different from one another."

Weirdest animal feet

Platypus

(Image credit: Alamy)

Animal feet caught our eye here at Live Science this year for their amazing beauty (and downright oddness) as well as their many uses as digging tools, grasping suckers or killing machines. Shown here, a platypus foot. As if the body of the duck-billed mammal weren't weird enough, with its flattened, beaver-like tail and bill that could have been borrowed from a mallard. Their feet are super weird too: Not only are their puppies webbed but males sport pointy spurs loaded with venom, possibly used during combat with rival males.

Dreamy minke whale

A minke whale swims beneath sea ice in Antarctica's Ross Sea.

(Image credit: Antarctica New Zealand)

In what looks like a stereotypical hallucination of a whale floating beneath puffy clouds, rare footage released in March reveals a very real minke whale swimming with sinuous grace beneath a blanket of floating ice chunks. This might be the first underwater video of a minke whale in sea ice in the Ross Sea, said Regina Eisert, a marine mammal expert at the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand, who captured the footage while trying out a prototype of an underwater camera

Supersize whale

Sperm whale with diver

(Image credit: Picture Adventure Exped/Barcrof/Getty)

This image of a diver swimming beneath a sperm whale captures scale like no other: Humans are but tiny "gnats" compared with the sperm whale, which can reach 40 feet (12 meters) long and weigh up to a whopping 130,000 pounds (59,000 kilograms). This year, scientists figured out why these marine beasts haven't gotten any bigger, say, supersize sperm whales. It turns out, it would be just about impossible for an ocean-bound creature to eat enough food to support a body larger than today's whales.

Spiny lumpsucker

(Image credit: Leo Smith/The University of Kansas)

If there ever lived a demon fish, here's what it would look like. But, alas, this fish is no demon. Leo Smith, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at The University of Kansas, captured the eerie image showing the armor-studded skeleton of a Pacific spiny lumpsucker (Eumicrotremus orbis), its empty eye sockets seemingly fixed upon you as its entire body glows red under fluorescent light. Turns out, when this fish is alive, it's totally adorable, with the appearance of a bug-eyed golf ball, Live Science reported.

Lava dome fountain

Lava dome fountain

(Image credit: USGS)

No, it's not a massive, irritated zit on the surface of the ocean; this bizarre, fiery blob is a "lava-dome fountain." Normally, volcanoes erupt lava in powerful jets that look like fountains gone wild. But in this photo — captured Oct. 11, 1969, in Hawaii — the lava spurted out symmetrically, forming an aesthetically pleasing lava-dome fountain. The amazing photo resurfaced this March, when the U.S. Geological Survey tweeted out the photo with the hashtag TBT, for Throwback Thursday.