Stunning Solar Flares And Other Amazing Images From This Week

They're better than fireworks--and last longer, too.

A solar flare is a burst of radiation that erupts from the sun’s atmosphere across every wavelength of the spectrum. Solar flares are scary, and awesome, but rarely do they look so delicately beautiful. This is a composite image taken over the course of three days by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The red, green and blue colorization, added later, is used to designate three different wavelengths of light that act differently during a solar flare.
This is Venus, a loving, affectionate cat from North Carolina. She has recently become an Internet celebrity because of her unique markings and eye colors. She is actually a chimera, one organism composed of genetically distinct cells. Venus became a chimera before she was born, when two fertilized eggs merged together.
Have you ever thought about what the most biologically productive region of the world might be? The world’s rainforests, maybe? At certain times of year, it’s actually the Midwest of the US, the “corn belt” where so much of the nation’s grain is produced. And that means that more photosynthesis is going on in the Midwest than anywhere else in the world. A group of researchers determined this by looking at satellite images gathered from 2007 to 2011. During photosynthesis, a plant cell emits part of its energy as fluorescent light, and the researchers were able to measure the composite strength of this light to determine a region’s biological productivity.
If you’ve every tried to take a picture of that beautiful constellation, you know that the sky is notoriously difficult to photograph. It only really works with long exposures, so that means that the best images have to be composites of the same patch of sky. But researchers at MIT have upped the ante: using a sophisticated algorithm, they’re crowdsourcing images of the sky via websites like Flickr, Bing and Google to create the best possible composites of the sky. And the outcome has been impressive; the bottom three images here, of galaxy NGC5907, display many of the same features as an image taken by a 50 cm telescope (top left image) over 11 hours.
To raise awareness about air pollution, Moscow-based artist and engineer Dmitry Morozov invented a bizarre “smelling” device that he calls digioxide. It’s a handheld device that is equipped with sensors for pollution gases and dust particles in its artificial nose, and it’s hooked up to bluetooth. The results are digitized and then printed as an abstract image from the device’s mobile printer, which “can be left as an evidence on the place, or given as a present to a passerby.”
Starting from preschool, most people learn to hold and wield a pair of scissors. But chances are you’ve never seen anyone with quite so elegant a mastery as Cliff Denton. He’s one of the last remaining “putters,” literally “a putter-togetherer of scissors.” In this short video you can see him calmly, meditatively, hammer and assemble a perfect pair of hand-made scissors.
Think those pants are so last season? You should try sticking some grass in your ears, like chimps in Zambia. According to a recent study, chimps in one particular group started sticking grass in their ears after one female, Julie, did so first. In this fairly literal case of “monkey see monkey do,” they left the grasses in even during grooming, and continued the trend even after Julie’s death. The researchers hypothesize that, like humans, chimpanzees will repeat an activity that is beneficial to them in some way, and their fashion sense makes them part of a group.
It’s thunderstorm season, and Chicago’s weather is weirder than ever. Local videographer Craig Shimala captured these three simultaneous lightning strikes on the three tallest buildings on the Chicago skyline: Willis Tower, Trump Tower and the John Hancock Building. Insert pun about “shockingly” good shot.
This image is one of the several floating sculptures, photographed in the shallow waters of Crete, by artists Mathieu Goussin and Hortense Le Calvez. Their eerie, evocative work is inspired by climate change and sea level rise, but it takes on a different resonance in light of a study, published this week. The researchers claim that much of the plastic we assume to be in the ocean has, in fact, disappeared. The study authors speculate that animals are probably eating the plastic, but the full effects of this inference are still unknown.
This week, NASA launched a flying-saucer shaped vehicle to test some new technologies to be used on a spacecraft to Mars. Its new kind of parachute and an inflatable Kevlar ring could be useful in slowing the spacecraft’s descent onto the Martian surface. Even though the parachute didn’t fully deploy, NASA is still calling its test launch a success because researchers better understand how these technologies would work on a real mission.