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2012’s Best Science Photos (IMHO)


by Ysabel Yates

Our cups ran over with the many beautiful and amazing images scientists and satellites captured this year when they looked around and out from Earth. From things microscopic to those light years across, and from morning coffee to the deep recesses scattered around the universe, we bring you some of our favorite science pictures created in 2012.

These are in no particular order and by no means inclusive of all the best.

1. The first, above, comes from Hinode - a joint JAXA/NASA mission to study the connections of the sun’s surface magnetism. The project brings us this unique image of the transit of Venus between the Earth and sun, the once-in-a-lifetime event that occurred on June 5. Courtesy: JAXA/NASA/Lockheed Martin.

Click through to see the rest.


2. The sun put on its own show for awestruck observers. On Aug. 31, a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun’s atmosphere erupted into space. The coronal mass ejection traveled at over 900 miles per second and connected with Earth’s magnetosphere, causing aurora to appear on September 3. Courtesy NASA/SDO/AIA/GSF.


3. Space scientists this year took giant leaps to further our knowledge of Mars. One of these images, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows the magnificent details of Martian dunes in color-enhanced high resolution. The planet’s familiar reddish surface tones are visible here, but carbon dioxide in shadowed regions freezes to form a layer of dry ice, which shades parts of the dunes blue. Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.


4. Somewhere on the surface below the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA’s Curiosity Rover took this selfie on Halloween using its Mars Hand Lens Imager. The image was stitched together with 55 high-resolution images to create a full-color self-portrait. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

5. More than 200 miles above the Earth’s surface, astronauts aboard the International Space Station split their time between looking down at our planet and off to the stars. On March 16, ISS astronaut Don Pettit captured this image of star trails using a mounted camera. This composite image was created using 18 individual photographs taken with a 30-second exposure time. Courtesy NASA.

6. A viewer taking a closer look into deep space will find the Eye of Sauron. Oh, never mind. That’s not the embodiment of evil, it’s just the Helix Nebula.

This image of the nebula that is some 700 light years from Earth was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy. The colored picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters, which reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible light images of the nebula. Courtesy ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson.

7. The ESO’s Very Large Telescope generated this view of the Carina Nebula using hundreds of individual images. The image was published in February.

This is the most detailed infrared mosaic ever taken of the nebula, which at 7,500 light years from Earth is one of the closest incubators of very massive stars and contains several of the brightest and heaviest stars known. Courtesy ESO.

8. Spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope, this image is a rare view of two galaxies overlapping. The galaxies are actually separated by tens of millions of light years, which is about ten times the distance between our Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy. Courtesy NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and W. Keel (University of Alabama).

9. As we turn from space back to Earth, we remember the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour. In this image, the retired Endeavour flies over Houston on Sept.19 on the way to its new home at the California Science Center. Courtesy NASA/ Sheri Locke.

10. Satellite images released this month reveal the Earth at night in unprecedented detail. This composite image of the continental United States was assembled from data acquired in April and October by the Suomi NPP satellite, a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Defense. Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC.

11. This image of jack courting behavior captured off the coast of Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, was taken on Nov. 1. The diver in the picture is David Castro, a friend of photographer Octavio Aburto. Image courtesy Octavio Aburto/ Mission Blue.

12. Narrowing the view further, this image of the blood-brain barrier in a live zebrafish embryo won Nikon’s 2012 photomicrography competition.

According to the award citation, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists who created this picture “developed a transgenic zebrafish to visualize the development of this structure in a live specimen. By doing so, this model proves that not only can we image the blood-brain barrier, but we can also genetically and chemically dissect the signaling pathways that modulate the blood-brain barrier function and development.” Courtesy Dr. Jennifer Peters and Dr. Michael Taylor / Nikon

13. Zooming in one final time, we have this false-colored scanning electron micrograph of caffeine crystals. The image, created by Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy, was a winner of the 2012 Wellcome Image awards. Caffeine, the bitter alkaloid that acts as a stimulant, is a form of chemical defense for the plants that make it. These crystals measure about 40 microns in length. Courtesy Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy / Wellcome Image Awards.

Ysabel Yates is a science, technology and environmental reporter. Her work has appeared in Txchnologist and Ecomagination.

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