BYD9J8 THE WHITEST INSECT IN THE WORLD Look closely - the unique structures of the tiny scales on the Cyphochilus beetle makes it the. WENN Ltd / Alamy

Aurora Floors Astronaut

Halfway through his 166-day mission on the International Space Station, astronaut Reid Wiseman has already tweeted some amazing images, from gorgeous weather patterns to more banal (but still awesome looking) repairs on the ISS. But even he was incredulous when he glimpsed a huge aurora glowing many miles above the Earth. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this” he tweeted. Although most of us haven’t seen one quite like this, auroras aren’t uncommon; when enormous amounts of radiation erupt from the sun, the radiation reacts with the upper parts of Earth’s atmosphere, causing the glow that we know as an aurora. To see more of Wiseman’s photos, follow him at @astro_reid.

A Sponge Like A Brain

For all the models of the brain that scientists have made, they still have limitations: models with living cells are tough to detect in real-time (useful for studying things like concussions), and the cells tend to die fairly quickly. Researchers at Tufts University tried a new method, putting mouse neurons in absorbant silk scaffolding. Turns out it’s adding that third dimension that made the difference; the neurons formed connections with one another like they would do in a real brain, and they stayed alive longer than they do in typical models. To test how the model brain worked when injured, the researchers dropped heavy objects on it (of course). The model’s reaction was in line with previous findings, the researchers published in a paper this week in the _Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, _so they hope to use it for more studies in the future.

The Menagerie On Display For The Annual Weigh-In

Once per year, zoo workers come out in full force to weigh and measure all of the animals. At the London Zoo, the weigh-in was held this past week for all 16,000 animals. It’s like an annual checkup for the animals, just to make sure they’re healthy and doing well. The information is also cataloged to make research easier, especially for endangered species. Plus, it’s another opportunity for unabashed residents, like this squirrel monkey, to be in the spotlight.

Destruction Made Beautiful

Summer often means forest fires for the west, and this year has been particularly brutal. Uncommon lightning storms combined with unprecedented drought led to wildfires that were nothing like well-seasoned firefighters had seen before. This image is a long exposure of the El Portal wildfire, which raged in California from July 14-24. It’s under control now, but at its peak the fire covered more than five square miles of Yosemite National Park.

Land On The Border Line

Little kids raised looking at maps may be surprised to learn that most borders aren’t lines etched into the Earth’s surface. Except for those times when they are. This is the area surrounded the border in China’s northwest city of Qoqek and Khazakstan’s far eastern region. From this perspective, the major difference on either side of the border is the use of land. China has 1.3 billion people, and less than 12 percent of its land is arable, so massive irrigation efforts help farmers get the most out of what they have. The green land on the Chinese side of the border is a result of this irrigation. The farms on the Khazakstani side are not irrigated, as the rectangular plots are the same color as the surrounding landscape, so these modest farms would rely on rain for their water.

Laughing Gas Of Lore And Legend

Nitrous oxide (N2O), mostly commonly known as laughing gas, first appeared on the scientific stage in the late 1700s, when pneumatics researchers Thomas Beddoes and Humphry Davy tried some for themselves and raved about its hallucinagenic effects. In the centuries since, their accounts have been called into question, but laughing gas has been used as an anaesthetic, mostly in dental procedures as it’s not strong enough to knock you out during other types of surgery. Still, even back in the day people got a real kick out of laughing gas; this satirical print depicts researcher Humphry Davy administring laughing gas to a woman as a “Prescription for Scolding Wives.”

Early Ankylosaurs Were Huge

Built of heavy bone armor and moving on short, powerful legs, ankylosaurs were herbivorous dinosaurs that were masters of defense. The earliest remains date from the Jurassic (201-145 million years ago) and have been found on every continent but Africa, even Antarctica. Scientists recently uncovered a very well-preserved specimen of a new species in China, Chuanqilong chaoyangensis, dating from the early Cretaceous (146-100 million years ago). The most notable element was its size; even though ankylosaurs were evolutionarily fairly young, this specimen measured almost 15 feet in length. The paleontologists who discovered it say that this finding is in line with the theory that dinosaurs became incredibly large and diverse in the Cretaceous.

Hebes Mensa Is Falling Down

On Mars, Hebes Mensa is a mesa that rises three miles above the depression Hebes Chasma. When the Mars Express spacecraft captured an image of it recently, astronomers were suprised to see that part of the mesa had collapsed, shown here in a unique horseshoe shape. No one is quite sure why, or where the material that once filled the chasm has gone. The prevailing theory for the last mystery is that the salty lower sedimentary layers have been seeped into underground aquifers and dissolved in melting ice. The mesa’s collapse may give researchers more clues.

Fiddling Through Brain Surgery

In 2009, concert violinist Robert Frisch noticed that his hands started shaking. He was soon diagnosed with an essential tremor, a nervous condition sometimes caused by a genetic mutation (scientists don’t know the cause behind incidents in people with no mutation). But studies had shown that small changes to some areas of the brain could reverse the condition — an ideal scenario for someone whose profession relies on his steady hands and fingers. So this past spring Frisch had surgery to install a pacemaker to stimulate his brain and reduce the tremor. Since areas of interest are extremely small and every brain is a little different, the surgeons had to test parts of Frisch’s brain by stimulating them with electrodes to see the effect. Which is why they asked Frisch to play the violin during his own surgery. His bow was equipped with an accelerometer so the doctors could see how quickly or slowly his hands were moving in response to stimulation in his brain. The surgery was successful, and Frisch is performing again with his orchestra.