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100 Best Science Photos of 2018

Daredevil raccoon

(Image credit: Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/Zuma)

If we only knew what this little raccoon was thinking after it climbed 23 stories up a vertical concrete wall in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June: The masked adventurer looks to be thinking, "What … have I gotten myself into?" The daredevil captivated the internet as it made the treacherous climb, stopping to rest on various window ledges and ultimately reaching the building's roof at around 3 a.m. local time the following day. In total, the raccoon had spent nearly 20 hours scaling the concrete building.

Honey badger

Honey badger fights antelope.

(Image credit: Dirk Theron/Caters News)

In other daredevil news from the year, a fearless honey badger took on a South African oryx, an antelope about 10 times its size, in Etosha National Park in South Africa. Fortunately for us, Dick Theron was visiting the park at just the right time, and he captured some stunning and sadly hilarious images of the "David and Goliath" battle — including this one of the wee honey badger getting a mighty head-butt from its opponent. "It kept on charging at the oryx, then the oryx would hook the badger between its horns and toss him five or six meters (16 to 19 feet) into the air," Theron said, as reported by the Daily Mail in July. The honey badger "just got up, shook itself and then charged at the oryx again!"

Giant iceberg

An iceberg just grounded outside the village of Innarsuit in northwestern Greenland, shown here on July 13, 2018.

(Image credit: Karl Petersen/AFP/Getty Images)

In July, residents of a small town in Greenland got a big visitor in the form of a massive iceberg, which parked itself just off the shores of the village. The iceberg, photographed on July 13 next to the village of Innaarsuit, measured a staggering 656 feet (200 meters) wide and rose about 328 feet (100 m) above sea level, according to satellite data, and was thought to weigh more than 12 million tons (11 million metric tons), according to The New York Times. Thirty-three of the village's 169 residents had to be evacuated because, if the iceberg had disintegrated, massive chunks of ice falling into the bay could've sent powerful waves washing into the town.

Drinking turtle tears

(Image credit: Phil Torres)

Talk about basking in someone else's sadness … these colorful butterflies in the Peruvian Amazon lap up the tears of turtles there. But of course there's no weird psychological analysis needed. Instead, the butterflies are after the sodium in the turtle tears. The tropical entomologist who caught the tear-sippers in action, Phil Torres, called the phenomenon "one of the most bizarre, strange, beautiful, fascinating things I have ever seen in my entire life," in a video he posted to his YouTube channel in July.

Penguin leap

Adelie penguin dives off iceberg in Antartica.

(Image credit: Vincent LECOMTE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Scientists revealed a depressing statistic this year: Just 13.2 percent of the world's oceans (which cover 70 percent of the planet's surface) remain truly wild. That's about 20.8 million square miles (54 million square kilometers) that are unadulterated by human activity. And most of these wilderness patches are in the Arctic, Antarctic or around remote, Pacific Island nations, the researchers said. So, at least for now, this penguin may have a spot to bask free of human mucking.

Lunar eclipse

This composite image of the July 27 lunar eclipse, shot from Australia, reveals the Earth's shadow in a whole new way.

(Image credit: Tom Harradine)

This year saw the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century. On June 27, our planet moved between the moon and sun. In part, because the moon passed straight through the center of Earth's shadow, it was a long show, taking nearly 4 hours from the moment Earth's shadow darkened the leading edge of the moon to the moment the moon's full shine returned. To capture the enormity of this astronomical phenomenon, amateur astronomer Tom Harradine arranged several different photos taken during the lunar eclipse, to reveal the full scale of the Earth's shadow in space.


(Image credit: Brent Cizek)

That’s a duckload of baby ducks! In June, nature photographer Brent Cizek snapped this shot of a mama duck followed by what looks like a small army of ducklings at Lake Bemidji in northeastern Minnesota. Cizek counted at least 50 ducklings in his original photo, but when he returned to the lake for later visits, he spotted as many as 76 tiny beaks to feed. The photographed dubbed the duck Mama Merganser, nodding to her species, the common merganser (Mergus merganser). (The ducklings are also common mergansers.) Experts say that it’s unlikely all the ducklings are Mama’s offspring, and more likely, she’s helping out other duck moms on the lake.

Algae bloom swirls

Algae bloom swirls.

(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

If Dr. Seuss splashed around in an ocean, this is what it might look like: a sea of tu swirls decorating its surface. NASA's Operational Land Imager on the Landsat-8 satellite spied a particularly intense algal bloom in the Baltic Sea in July. As for what created the sea art, scientists suspect a mix of blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) and a chlorophyll-rich phytoplankton called diatoms. The chlorophyll pigment from both is what creates the gorgeous aqua color. As for the swirl, the bloom appears to traces the edges of a vortex created by an ocean eddy, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.

Mendocino wildfire

A firefighter douses flames while battling the Ranch Fire near Clearlake Oaks, California, on Aug. 4, 2018. The Ranch Fire is part of the Mendocino Complex, which is made up of two blazes, the River Fire and the Ranch Fire.

(Image credit: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images)

The Mendocino Complex wildfire tore through northern California this past August, burning nearly 460,000 acres (about 186,000 hectares) of land and making it the state's largest fire in history. The fire was actually two separate fires — the Ranch Fire and the River Fire — that merged in August. Both fires had started burning in July. The Mendocino Complex Fire bumped down the previous record holder for largest fire, the Thomas Fire, which set its record only eight months earlier. In the photo above, a firefighter battles flames near Clearlake Oaks, California on Aug. 4.

Steve aurora

skyglow steve

(Image credit: Ryan Sault / Alberta Aurora Chasers)

This mysterious and majestic ribbon of purple light slashing across the Canadian sky has a fittingly mysterious and majestic name: STEVE. The shimmering band of light was given this name by skywatchers back in 2016. At the time, they thought Steve was just another part of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. However, scientists have since learned that Steve is something completely different — and something "completely unknown" to science. That's because Steve doesn't contain the telltale traces of charged particles blasting through the Earth's atmosphere that auroras do. So for now, we just have to call it STEVE: "Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement."