Wow! The Most Amazing Images in Science This Week
Pufferfish love circlesIn 1995, divers noticed a beautiful, strange circular pattern on the seafloor off Japan, and soon after, more circles were discovered nearby. Some likened these formations to "underwater crop circles." The geometric formations mysteriously came and went, and for more than a decade, nobody knew what made them.
Finally, the creator of these remarkable formations was found: a newly discovered species of pufferfish. Further study showed these small pufferfish make the ornate circles to attract mates. Males laboriously flap their fins as they swim along the seafloor, resulting in disrupted sediment and amazing circular patterns. Although the fish are only about 12 centimeters (5 inches) long, the formations they make measure about 2 meters (7 feet) in diameter.
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Pakistan's earthquake islandThe Earth performed the ultimate magic trick last week, making an island appear out of nowhere. The new island is a remarkable side effect of the deadly Sept. 24 earthquake in Pakistan that killed more than 500 people.
A series of satellite images snapped a few days after the earthquake-triggered island emerged offshore of the town of Gwadar reveals the strange structure is round and relatively flat, with cracks and fissures like a child's dried-up mud pie.
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Petrified birdLake Natron in Tanzania is one of the most serene lakes in Africa, but it's also the source of some of the most phantasmagorical photographs ever captured — images that look as though living animals had instantly turned to stone.
The alkaline water in Lake Natron has a pH as high as 10.5 and is so caustic it can burn the skin and eyes of animals that aren't adapted to it. The water's alkalinity comes from the sodium carbonate and other minerals that flow into the lake from the surrounding hills. And deposits of sodium carbonate — which was once used in Egyptian mummification — also acts as a fantastic type of preservative for those animals unlucky enough to die in the waters of Lake Natron.
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Supervolcanoes on Mars?The surface of ancient Mars may have been rocked repeatedly by giant supervolcanoes, which unleashed colossal and explosive eruptions that forever changed the face of the Red Planet, scientists say.
By examining an extremely old part of Mars called the Arabia Terra region, scientists have found what could be the remnants of a supervolcano — the unofficial way to describe a huge, explosive volcano that produces more than about 240 cubic miles (1,000 cubic kilometers) of volcanic material when it erupts.
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Blacktip sharkThey lurk in nearly ever seascape across the globe, have been around since the dinosaurs, and range from 7 inches to 50 feet long. Yet for all their amazing ecology, sharks have had a rough run in the public eye.
"One thing that I have learned during my decade documenting sharks is that they resonate in a different way with each person," photojournalist Thomas P. Peschak writes.
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And here's another of Peschak's stunning shark images. This image highlights how harmful pollution is to marine life. As filter feeders, whale sharks are prone to gobble up plastic during their feeding sweeps.
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Milky Way Stuns in Southern SkyThe southern night sky above Ofu Island in American Samoa is a sight to behold.
Folks in the Southern Hemisphere get a brighter, richer view of the Milky Way due to their location on the globe. If you want to see such a sight from American soil, head to the National Park of American Samoa, where Ofu Island is located. This park is the only U.S. national park found in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system. The name "milky" comes from its appearance as a dim but glowing band across the night sky. Individual stars make up the band, but they are indistinguishable to the naked eye.
Ofu is one of three islands of American territory in American Samoa. Ofu and its twin Olosega are parts of a volcanic doublet of the Samoan Islands formed from shield volcanoes. The two islands have a combined length of 3.7 miles (6 kilometers).
There are other reasons to look up when visiting Ofu Island. The forests here are home to a unique species of megabat — yes, a megabat — known as the Samoa Flying-fox. It looks just like it sounds.
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Yacht passes Northwest PassageWith help from a Canadian icebreaker, a research ship exploring the Arctic Ocean crossed the frozen Northwest Passage on Sept. 28. The escort keeps the expedition on track for its 7-month Arctic journey, according the Tara blog. The iced-over Northwest Passage — the first time it's frozen shut since 2007 — meant researchers aboard Tara were considering waiting through the winter at a northern port or retracing their path next year, the blog said.
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Cloudy alien worldScientists have created the first-ever cloud map of a planet beyond our solar system.
Although the roughly Jupiter-size Kepler-7b lies far closer to its star than scorching-hot Mercury does to the sun, astronomers using NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have determined that clouds exist high up in the western portion of the exoplanet's atmosphere.
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Moonlit nightThis majestic photo of the bright moon over the Atlantic Ocean was submitted by reader Scott MacNeill, who captured the stunning scene on one of the last nights of summer. MacNeill snapped the photo from Brenton Point in Newport, R.I., as the crisp autumn air wafted over the water.
"I sat on this cliff for about an hour with the wind in my hair mesmerized by the beautiful blue-grey moonlight casting shadows on the cliffs that danced with the sway of the tides," MacNeill told LiveScience in an email. "Welcome Autumn!"