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100 Best Science Photos of 2018

Animal x-rays

(Image credit: Oregon Zoo)

Fluffy on the outside, creepy on the inside? An X-ray of this bufflehead duck shows the edgier side of this normally endearingly pudgy-looking bird. The skeletal image was one of many animal X-rays posted on Twitter by the Oregon Zoo — as a Halloween treat. "To get these extraordinary images, the veterinary staff turned to digital radiography, a type of X-ray imaging that uses digital image-capture technology instead of printing images to film," Live Science reported on Oct. 31.

Orange airglow

AIrglow Earth

(Image credit: NASA)

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured this mesmerizing shot of the the blue planet transformed to a vivid shade of orange. The luminescent orange “airglow,” which makes Earth look like a giant orange lollipop, forms as a result of chemical reactions that occur high in the planet's atmosphere. Airglow is usually only visible at night, as it's 1 billion times less intense than sunlight. This particular shot was captured 250 miles above Australia on Oct. 7.

Antarctic glacier

Beneath the Antarctic ice lie the remnants of "lost" continents.

(Image credit: Vipersniper/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Beneath Antarctica's icy veneer lies a graveyard of lost continents. These ancient cores of continents, called cratons, reveal that the coldest continent was once a part of a much larger supercontinent known as Gondwana, according to a study published Nov. 5 in the journal Scientific Reports. Gondwana broke up 180 million years ago, but the telltale signs of this ancient past are revealed in height differences between East Antarctica and West Antarctica. The Eastern portion of the continent has thicker crust than the western portion — because it is a mix of old cratons, Live Science previously reported. Above, the jagged, forbidding glaciers of Antarctica glow an eerie blue.

Silly animals

Comedy Wildlife Photography

(Image credit: Barcroft Media Ltd.)

What do manspreading squirrels, hugging komodo dragons and hyenas with wings have in common? They are all among the finalist photographs captured for the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. The awards aim to celebrate the sillier side of the animal kingdom. Amongst the favorites: Other finalists include a bear nosediving into the snow, a shocked lemur and a deer with a truly dopey expression.

Feather boa

Two divers were surprised by this gorgeous "feather boa" off northern New Zealand.

(Image credit: Steve Hathaway/Caters News Agency)

In October, divers near northern New Zealand spotted this floating "feather boa" undulating through the sea. The gorgeous ribbon of silver is called a pyrosome and isn't a single creature, but rather, a colony of tiny animals called tunicates. Tunicates, which can either be free-floating or anchored to the seafloor, feed on plankton. Pyrosomes can be made up of different species of the tiny animals, but the large ones are often formed by the species Pyrosoma spinosum, which are bioluminescent. Colonies can grow up to 60 feet (18 meters) in length and be wide enough for humans to swim through.

Bizarre microbe

(Image credit: The Simpson Lab, Dalhousie University)

Scientists recently detected two previously unknown species of microbes so unusual that the researchers had to reorganize the tree of life to make room for them. The bizarre microbes, found in a Canadian dirt sample, belong to a group with the tongue-twisting name hemimastigote. They were previously classified as a phylum within a much larger super-kingdom, however, new genetic analysis of the microbes reveals that the microbes are so distinct, they warrant a super-kingdom of their own. Under the 3D magnification of scanning electron microscopy, the creatures somewhat resemble hairy pumpkin seeds.

Antarctic island

Deception Island, Antarctic volcano

(Image credit: Antonio Álvarez Valero)

The remote Deception Island, off Antarctica, may look calm and quiet, but its cold, silent exterior hides an explosive past. About 4,500 years ago, the entire island, which is an active volcano, exploded. The violent eruption of rock and magma reshaped the island and left it with its distinctive horseshoe shape, researchers reported Nov. 22 in the journal Scientific Reports. The explosive island sent as much as 14 square miles of rock skyward, making it the largest volcanic explosion in Antarctica in the last 11,650 years, Live Science previously reported. Here, an image into the island's caldera, as seen from above.

Lung-shaped blood clot

A man coughed up a large blood clot that was in the shape of his bronchial tree, or the lung's branched airway passages.

(Image credit: The New England Journal of Medicine ©2018)

A blood clot briefly took over the internet this December, when doctors snapped an image of an anatomically precise one. The clot, which formed in a man's bronchial tree, or branched airways of the lungs, shocked doctors when the man coughed it up, perfectly intact. The doctors think the clot formed because of medications the man was taking for heart failure. Sadly, the man died one week later.

CRISPR on video

Stills from the video that shows CRISPR in action.

(Image credit: Crispr-Cas9 by Mikihiro Shibata and Hiroshi Nishimasu under CC BY 4.0)

It's 2018, so you're probably familiar with CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that allows scientists to "cut and paste" genetic code to their own specifications. (If you need a reminder, look no further than the allegedly gene-edited babies from China.) But though scientists knew the tool worked, they'd never directly seen it in action until this year, when a team of researchers in Japan captured a molecular movie of the tool chewing up some DNA.

Mini placenta

(Image credit: Centre for Trophoblast Research)

When you think of a placenta, you may not think of beauty. (More likely, a bloody mass comes to mind.) But when scientists grew mini placentas in lab dishes, the results were much more photo-friendly — and functional. The tiny organs (called organoids) were able to secrete hormones that could trick a pregnancy test.