The phrase "mushroom cloud" rarely brings joy, but this impossibly symmetrical mushroom monstrosity is a pure, fluffy delight. This storm cloud (check out the also-symmetrical rain pouring out from under it) was snapped on an Alabama beach in 2016 by local Rick Geiss, but it went viral on Twitter this year.
Don't be alarmed, but the sun is constantly exploding. Normally we can't see it, but earlier this year, researchers are NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory used computer models to capture snapshots of this unseen solar energy, with stunning results. The computer-enhanced ultraviolet photo shows a model of the sun's magnetic-field lines swirling out of the stars surface. Each white line represents a powerful electromagnetic eruption resulting from the high-energy interactions between the ultra-hot, supercharged particles that make up both the sun's magnetic field and the plasma writing around the star's surface.
Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster got a ride into space as the test cargo for the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch back in February. Usually, first launches involve adding on hunks of metal as extra lift weight. This time, the Roadster served as that hunk of metal, with added pizzazz. It also made for some pretty striking photos that were so crisp even Musk said they looked fake. Part of the reason for that is that light travels through the vacuum differently than it travels through air or water. In addition, Earth's atmosphere is filled with particles, such as soot, dust and water droplets, that aren't present space, and can alter how colors appear.
This turtle has the whole world on its shoulders. Or, more precisely, on its back. The amazing photo, taken by Washington College's Turtle Task Force, made the rounds on Twitter in November. The group spotted the turtle while researching turtle migration. She had just emerged from a muddy hole in the dirt by a dried-up lake. The turtle weighed about 13 pounds (6 kilograms), while the pack of dirt on her back weighed about 18 pounds (8 kg).
The Cassini-Huygens mission sent back this image in September of a giant, hexagonal vortex that formed around Saturn's north pole as it entered summer. Researchers aren't sure what caused the vortex, but think it could be a massive structure towering through the gas giant's atmosphere. The warm polar vortex resembles another previously discovered hexagon formation also located at the planet's north pole, but lower in the atmosphere.
The Delaware-size iceberg that calved off Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017 was on the move again this summer. The trillion-ton chunk of ice performed a graceful northerly pivot over the course of July and August, satellite imagery reveals. The iceberg will probably bump around in its current location near the ice shelf that calved it for at least a few months, periodically getting stuck on shallow seamounts on the ocean floor. Once it makes its way into warmer waters, it will break apart and melt.
Deep biosphere worms
Life on Earth takes billions of shapes, but to see most of them you'll have to dig deep below the planet's surface. Take, for example, this deep-dwelling roundworm from the genus Poikiloaimus. It was discovered in the Kopanang gold mine in South Africa, nearly one mile beneath the Earth's surface. In a statement this year, the Deep Carbon Observatory, a group of scientists dedicated to studying life below the surface, dubbed the Earth's deep biosphere a "subterranean Galapagos." They estimate the mass of life in this deep, dark biosphere utterly dwarves the life roaming on the surface.
Eel in seal nose
It's unclear who's having a worse day in this photo: The seal with an eel stuck in its nose, or the eel stuck in a seal's nose. Either way, eels getting stuck in seals' noses turns out to be a thing that happens, albeit rarely, and researchers aren't really sure why. Researchers in Hawaii snapped this photo of a young monk seal with an eel hanging out of its right nostril, and the internet went wild.
Sun's north pole
This time of year may have you thinking of the North Pole, but if that winter imagery is too chilly for you, try this: A composite photo of the sun's north pole. The images, taken by the European Space Agency (ESA) and posted online in December, offer a glimpse of the sun that has never been seen directly. That's because satellites can only see the solar disc — the circular profile of the sun that we can see plainly from here on Earth. The composite photo was taken using time-lapse photography that captures the swirling, changing atmosphere that crowns the top of the sun.
Frozen Siberian islands
Chilling between the Arctic Ocean and Siberia's frigid northern seas are an extremely cold and remote cluster of rocks known as the New Siberian Islands. Seen from above, the islands look like a jigsaw puzzle of cracking ice. On Dec. 1, the NASA Earth Observatory posted a photo of the freezing, ice-ringed islands. The image shows the frozen seas surrounding the bleak, rocky cliffs.