No images were more captivating this week than those released from our reconnaissance of the last great world in our solar system, Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft completed its nearly decade-long journey to the dwarf planet, cruised past it at 35,000 miles per hour, and will beam its images and data back to earth over the next 16 months. We watched a flickering glimmer
transform into a complex, icy world with craterless great plains
the size of our Rockies, and five equally awe-inspiring moons
. What will we explore next
Super Blood Moon Eclipse
Jose Antonio Hervas pieced together more than 200 photographs to create this image of the super blood moon eclipse during the fall. It is the rare time lapse image of what happens when a lunar eclipse occurs while the moon is closest to earth. The next lunar event like this will not happen until 2033.
Wellcome Trust announced its 2015 finalists for the biomedical research charity’s annual photography contest. This image of a cross-section of a mouse’s brain, shows just how spectacular biology can be–and how tough the contest’s competition is.
Cays Mark The Spot
The Bahamas is home to more than 700 islands, islets, and cays. A NASA astronaut took this picture of a chain of cays just west of Great Exuma Island that helps astronauts recognize that area in the Atlantic Ocean. Though the cays are separated by deep tidal channels, the rest of the surrounding water is less than 25 meters deep.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
The Great Red Spot, a storm that’s twice as wide as the Earth itself, has been waging in Jupiter’s skies for at least the past 150 years (that’s how long we’ve recorded it). Its winds can reach more than 400 mph, dwarfing Earth’s strongest recorded hurricane at half that speed. Images like this one could help scientists understand more about weather on Jupiter and here on Earth. But they still don’t understand what in Jupiter’s atmosphere makes the spot red. The color could have something to do with ammonium hydrosulfide, but that’s tough to study since the chemical is unstable on Earth. For now, it’s a beautiful mystery.
Wildfires Rage Across the West
Wildfires raged in the West this year as California experienced its fourth year of drought. This photo of the Rocky Fire near Clearlake, California, shows one of the largest fires that burned in the state, covering more than 69,000 acres. The majority of the wildfires in the Western U.S. are in California, Oregon, and Washington, but active fires were also reported in Arizona, Colorado, and Idaho, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Dynamic Dunes On Mars
Curiosity is exploring sand dunes that surround Mars’s Mount Sharp, marking the first time we’ve ever investigated active dunes on another planet. The rover is analyzing samples from the dunes. Its findings could provide NASA scientists with clues about Mars’s winds, which shift the dunes by as much as three feet per year.
The Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina) can forage for food on sand that reach temperatures of 70°C (158°F) because its shiny coat keeps it cool. Engineers at Columbia University discovered tiny, triangular hairs on the ant’s back that reflect visual and near-infrared light. But the silver ant’s belly is free of hairs, they found. This makes sense since reflecting heat and light from the sand underneath them would just make the ants hotter. These hairs could be replicated to self-cool any number of surfaces, from solar panels to rooftops.
A drone captured this traffic snarl in Beijing, China. The road was clogged with thousands of cars for over 6 miles as a result of the Golden Week national holiday.
The Titanic of the Great Lakes
The remains of the Rising Sun, a 133-foot wooden steamer that sailed in 1917, was just one of the many shipwrecks spotted by the U.S. Coast Guard in Lake Michigan this past April. The water was incredibly clear during the seasonal transition, as winter ice melts and summer algae still has yet to grow. Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Wilson told NPR that while it’s not uncommon to spot sunken ships on routine patrols, the number they saw on the April 19 flight, or “Shipwreck Sunday,” was unusually high.
Catch Me From My Good Side
This Rosetta image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken from 128 kilometers away. The European Space Agency has processed the image to bring out details of the comet’s activity, and you can see that around the illuminated side of the nucleus. This breathtaking picture shows different regions of the comet, including Hapi in the foreground, and the steep cliffs of Hathor as well as the region’s transition into Anuket. This comet model shot is 11 kilometers (or about seven miles) across.
Perseids Meteor Shower
Every August the Perseids meteor shower lights up the night sky, raining the Earth with debris left behind from the comet Swift-Tuttle. The meteor shower was first observed in 36 AD, and gets its name from how it seems to originate from the constellation Perseus. The above image was taken in Llucmajor, Spain.
Expedition XLV: The Science Continues
The six astronauts embarking on the year-long International Space Station Expedition 45 mission posed for a Star Wars-themed poster. From the light sabers to the Death Star included in the background, there’s a lot of nerdery to revel in.
Led Zeppelin sang about a stairway to heaven, but artist Cai Guo-Qiang created a fiery ladder to the sky. The Sky Ladder is a 500-meter long firework system lined with quick-burning fuses, hauled up by a huge white helium balloon. Guo-Qiang attempted the Sky Ladder project in Bath, Shanghai, and Los Angeles; however, he was finally able to make it happen on June 15 in Huiyu Island, a small fishing village in China. The installation’s explosive event lasted a total of 150 seconds. “Behind Sky Ladder lies a clear childhood dream of mine,” said Guo-Qiang in a newsletter. “The ladder rose toward the morning sun, carrying hope.”
Second Largest Diamond Found
Lucara Diamond Corp., a Canadian diamond mining company, hit the jackpot when it found a 1,111 carat diamond in November. Just smaller than a tennis ball, the rock was unearthed in the Karowe mine in Botswana. This was the largest diamond found in the last century.
When Ahmed Mohamed brought his homemade clock to school, he was arrested by school officials who thought the clock could have been a bomb. After the news broke, Ahmed received an outpouring of support from public figures, including Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. His plight sparked the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag on Twitter.
Closeup On Sputnik Planum And Mountains
New photos of Pluto’s surface show an icy planet that looks a lot like Earth. Close-ups taken by the New Horizons spacecraft show the mountains surrounding a plain named Sputnik Planum. Unlike those on Earth, the glaciers are made of nitrogen, not water.
Bridge Over Nothing
The world’s longest glass suspension bridge opened in the Shiniuzhai National Park in China. The bridge spans 984 feet, but all that stands between travelers and the 590 foot drop is an inch of glass. And a solid steel supporting structure, just in case.
A ski resort in Alberta, Canada created large-scale art using snowshoes and a compass. The images could only be seen from an aerial view and sometimes took up about 11 hours to make. The artist, Simon Beck, has been making these designs for more than 10 years.
Life on the International Space Station sure has its perks. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly snapped this photo of an aurora. He’s made it through most of his year in space, and will keep posting beautiful photos for us until next March when he comes back to earth. The red portion of the aurora is due to high-altitude oxygen molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere smashing into charged particles emitted from the sun.
This picture of a weasel “riding” a woodpecker became an instantaneous Internet meme. The weasel was probably attacking the woodpecker, but it’s hard not to be amazed, regardless.
Live Long And Prosper
After Leonard Nimoy’s death this year, the world reacted with tributes and support for the science fiction icon. Astronaut Terry Virts posted this picture on Twitter from the International Space Station as it passed over Massachusetts, Nimoy’s birthplace.
Endangered African Penguins
An experimental three-year fishery closure around Robben Island in South Africa has increased the survival of endangered African penguin chicks by 18 percent. The fishing of anchovies and sardines off Cape Town is believed to have contributed to a 69 percent decline of the penguin population from 2001 to 2013. Although the study published in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters shows that the implementation of a marine “no-take zone” had a positive impact on the penguin population, current fishing pressures may still impede the population from recovering further.
The occurrence of “hair ice” has mystified scientists in the past, but now a research team has been able to recreate conditions and generate the special ice, which can be .02 millimeters in diameter and 20 centimeters long. Hair ice only grows on dead wood and in the presence of fungus. The authors claim that this makes it “one of the most exciting types of ice.”
Blimp On The Loose
A surveillance blimp escaped from a military compound in Maryland in October. The 200-ft long aircraft floated over to Pennsylvania, chaperoned by two fighter jets for security. By the time it finally grounded, the blimp had taken a 3-hour-long journey that downed multiple power lines. It remains unclear how the blimp broke loose.
The Driest Place On Earth Blooms
The Atacama Desert in Chile typically receives little to no rain each year, but the effects of El Niño this year changed that. Some parts of the desert received 14 years worth of typical rainfall in just one day, resulting in a sea of pink flowers.
A Transit In Action
The Cassini spacecraft captured this near perfect example of a transit this past May. A transit occurs when one celestial body moves in front of another celestial body. This particular transit occurred as Saturn’s moon Dione crossed in front of the planet. Scientists use transits to accurately determine the orbital parameters of Saturn’s moons.
Scott Kelly’s Good Morning
One NASA astronaut captured sunlight from space and turned it into Twitter gold. Scott Kelly started his year-long tenure at the International Space Station in March 2015. Besides providing valuable information about the health effects of long-term space travel, Kelly provides first-hand documentation of his amazing view.
A Japanese theme park announced its debut of a hotel run by a robot staff this summer. The robots are able to interact with human guests, and patrons can expect other cutting edge technology during their stay.
As other areas of Louisiana get swallowed up by water, new land is forming in Atchafalaya Bay. The NASA Earth Observatory compiled images of the delta from 1984 (top image) to 2014 (bottom image) to show the gradual formation of land.
Two new species of peacock spiders were discovered in Australia. Nicknamed “Sparklemuffin” (pictured) and “Skeletorus,” these spiders are the most recent in a batch of new species identified in recent years.
Some cows win blue ribbons; Blosom wins world records. The 6-foot, 2-inch tall bovine took the Guinness World Record for tallest cow ever, and won our award for “Most Oblivious Guinness World Record Holder.”
When scientists decided to peer into the bones of some 75 million-year-old dinosaurs that weren’t even very well preserved, they didn’t expect to see anything too extraordinary. Instead, they found the first evidence of fossilized dinosaur blood cells. In fragments of a dinosaur’s claw, the scientists found blood cells that were almost chemically identical to emu blood cells (emus are thought to be close relatives of dinosaurs). As if that discovery wasn’t exciting enough, the scientists also found evidence of collagen (complete with preserved amino acids), cartilage, tendons, and other connective tissue.
This year, limpet’s teeth became the strongest biological substance, bumping spider’s silk down to second place. Here’s a view of the super small teeth attached to the sea snail’s tongue.
Pluto Strikes a Pose
Two months after its flyby of the Pluto system, the New Horizons spacecraft started sending its data and high-resolution images back to Earth. Among the images was this majestic photo of Pluto eclipsing the sun. The version on the left has been minimally processed, while the image on the right has been processed to reveal the different layers of Pluto’s atmosphere. It will take NASA a year to transfer all of New Horizon’s photos and data.
Looking Down At Us
Ever gaze down from an airplane and marvel at how surreal the built landscape looks? Photographer Alexander Heilner had the same thought on a flight in 2007. Now he takes aerial photos of manmade developments to capture our stamps on Earth, including this one of Intrepid Potash Mine, near Moab, Utah. “I think it’s important that our eyes are wide open, that we pay attention to how the land gets used,” he told WIRED.
Wild Photos Of Wildlife
This photograph of a Bryde’s whale swallowing hundreds of sardines in one gulp won the underwater category of London’s Natural History Museum’s 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. A gallery of winning photos, chosen from 42,000 entries, will be on exhibit at the museum through April 2016.
Beyond The Naked Eye
This image of the eye of a honeybee (Apis mellifera) covered in dandelion pollen took first place in Nikon’s 2015 Small World Photomicography Competition, beating out more than 2,000 entries. The contest invites people to submit images of anything visible under a microscope. See more of this year’s stunning images here.
On Nov. 1, NASA uploaded a half hour video of the sun in stunning, Ultra-HD. Members of NASA’s production team created the movie by piecing together thousands of images of the sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Every 12 seconds as it orbits the sun, the SDO takes ten images simultaneously, each at different wavelengths of invisible ultraviolet light, which monitor temperature changes on the sun. The production team converted each image to a different color according to its wavelength. Each minute of the half hour video took the team 10 hours to make. So in this case, go ahead and stare at the sun.
The Waking Giant
After a 43-year nap, the Calbuco volcano in southern Chile woke up with a bang. The eruption surprised locals, but the government was able to quickly evacuate about 4,000 people within a 12-mile radius of the volcano. Out of 90 volcanoes in Chile, this one is considered one of the three most dangerous. Luckily, no injuries or deaths were reported.
Photographer Marc Simon Frei took some shocking photos of the high-voltage electric storms created by a Tesla coil.
Agriculture In Saudi Arabia
Europe’s new satellite, Sentinel-2A, uses a multispectral camera to monitor agriculture in places such as Saudi Arabia as well as to chart changing lands, such as forests to track wildfires and rates of deforestation. The hope is to sustainably manage natural resources and water quality. “Its imagery enables us to improve the quality of life of our citizens and protect our environment,” said Mauro Facchini, Head of the Copernicus Unit at the European Commission in a press release.
A photographer in Red River, New Mexico, captured this set of rainbow-like ice halos. They are caused when light runs into ice crystals in the atmosphere.
Check Out This Hot New Fish
The Internet went crazy over the opah, which researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say is the first warm-blooded fish ever discovered. Unlike their cold-blooded friends, opah generate heat as they swim, distributing the warmth throughout their bodies via special blood vessels. Their unique gills minimize heat loss, allowing them to stay warm even 250 feet below the surface. Before, warm-bloodedness is what distinguished mammals and birds from fish and reptiles, but this discovery certainly changes things. “There has never been anything like this seen in a fish’s gills before,” said Nick Wegner, lead author of the report published in Science magazine.
This year’s only total solar eclipse happened Friday, March 20. The full eclipse was only visible from the Faroe Islands and the Svalbard archipelago, where this photo was taken.
Scientists have discovered seven new species of teensy frogs in the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. The frogs are part of the genus Brachycephalus, and their bright colors likely indicate neurotoxins in their skin, researchers say. These adorable little guys are less than a centimeter long, and because they live in an isolated area, they are particularly vulnerable to environmental threats like climate change. This is probably not the last you’ve seen of them, though: “Such high success in uncovering new species might indicate that the total number of Brachycephalus is still underestimated,” the researchers wrote in the journal PeerJ.
Periodic Table of Legos
LEGOs aren’t just your basic building blocks, as this picture shows. LEGO fan Jeremy Moody found pieces in all 182 colors that LEGO has ever produced and placed them together on one chart. Many colors were part of special edition sets that are no longer available today.
The New-Old Apollo Albums
An independent archivist named Kipp Teague has assembled and uploaded more than 11,000 high-resolution versions of unprocessed photos from NASA’s Apollo moon missions during the 1960s and ’70s on Flickr. The high-resolution photographs capture up-close scenes on the moon, stunning look-backs at Earth, and candid moments shared between astronauts in the capsules, including a few selfies from space.
Bright Lights, Big Missile
Curious reports lit up social media in November as witnesses in California claimed to see UFO lights in the sky. The lights turned out to have come from a missile test launch off the coast of Southern California. A photographer captured the image under time-lapse.
A new species of anglerfish was found in the deep waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. The 95-millimeter fish was found at a crushing depth of around 1,500 meters where the pressure is greater than a ton. If Gonzo the muppet were a fish, this is what I imagine he would look like.
Pluto In Color
Even though it looks like it was taken on a flip phone, this is actually the first-ever color image of everyone’s favorite dwarf planet. It was taken by NASA’s approaching New Horizons spacecraft from a distance of 71 million miles. The smaller blob is Pluto’s largest moon Charon, which is about the size of Texas. This was a preliminary reconstruction by the New Horizons science team. Later NASA released more high-resolution Pluto photos from New Horizons, such as this one.