Science is beautiful. Here are the most mesmerizing, bizarre, gorgeous, or downright fascinating science images from 2014.
How better to kick off io9's Year In Review than with fifty of our favorite photos and videos from 2014?
Above: A Stunning View of Sunlit Seas on Titan | As NASA's Cassini spacecraft soared past Saturn's moon Titan, it recently caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas. In the past, Cassini had captured, separately, views of the polar seas and the sun glinting off them, but this is the first time both have been seen together in the same view.
Let us introduce this collection by stating the obvious: This is not a comprehensive list. What you'll find here are photos that engaged our minds, and videos that set our pulses racing – a carefully curated collection of the weird, the wonderful, and the truly awesome. Here you'll find imagery that moved us, inspired us, and shook us to our core, and a few that made us laugh in sheer amazement.
But the experiences brought on by these images are, of course, subjective, and so this list is incomplete. With that in mind, we invite you to share the images you think we missed in the comments below. Be sure to include a brief description, and a link to where we can learn more.
Witness the Birth of a Snowflake
One of the more technically creative time-lapses we've seen in a long while, Snowtime is a 2-minute "microscopic time-lapse" by Vyacheslav Ivanov that captures the mesmerizing bloom of budding ice crystals in all their hexagonal glory.
Dreadnoughtus, a Newly Discovered Supermassive Dinosaur
In September, a newly discovered dinosaur named Dreadnoughtus schrani laid claim to the title of world's largest terrestrial animal, thanks to the recovery of its "exceptionally complete" remains from Southern Patagonia, Argentina by a team led by Drexel University paleontology Ken Lacovara. Here, Lacovara's son, Rudyard, poses with the dinosaur's 5.6 ft (1.7-meter) scapula, the longest yet reported for any titanosaur. The image is one of several incredible photographs in a series by photographer Robert Clark.
Earth and the Moon, in a Single Frame
China's Chang'e 5 test vehicle captured this rare glimpse of the Moon's far side in October, from just past the halfway point on its lunar-looping test flight. Incredibly, the spacecraft managed to include Earth in the frame as well, producing what is destined to become an iconic image of our planet and its natural satellite.
The First-Ever Footage of a "Black Seadevil"
On November 17th, researchers with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute acquired footage of Melanocetus (aka "the Black Seadevil"), a species of anglerfish never before filmed alive in its natural, deep-sea habitat.
Stare Into the Heart of the Biggest Sunspot in 24 Years
On October 25th, giant sunspot AR 2192 – the largest sunspot astronomers have observed in nearly a quarter century – erupted in an X3.1-class solar flare, one of the most powerful flares documented this year.
Google Executive Alan Eustace Crushes Felix Baumgartner's Free-Fall Record
Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at Google, fell from the top of the stratosphere on the morning of October 24, plummeting nearly 26 vertical miles in the span of about 15 minutes. In doing so, he broke daredevil Felix Baumgartner's 2012 record for world's highest-altitude free fall by more than 1,000 feet.
The Great Lakes Experience Their Deepest Freeze in 20 Years
In February, for the first time since 1994, 88% of the surface of the Great Lakes froze solid.
You've Probably Never Thought About How Marble is Harvested, but it's Beautiful
Ever wondered how marble is quarried? The process, documented earlier this year in astunning short film by Italian filmmaker Yuri Ancarani, is utterly transfixing.
Who Owns Copyright on a Selfie Taken by a Monkey?
It's an old photo, but the legal issues surrounding it were unmistakably 2014 in tone. The photo above is of a female crested macaque in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. She picked up David Slater's camera and managed to snap a selfie, which has since gone viral, and was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia claim the the photo "is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested." Slater, however, disagrees. "A monkey pressed the button," he told The Telegraph, "but I did all the setting up."
Marvel at the Awesome Sight (and Sound) of a Volcanic Blast
Earlier this year, while vacationing in Papua New Guinea with his wife, Phil McNamara captured this captivating footage of Mount Tavurvur ejecting untold heaps of lava, rock, and ash hundreds of meters into the air. Between the striking burst of clouds above the volcano and the jarring boom of the delayed shockwave, it's one of the most dramatic eruption videos we've ever seen. Watch it here.
This Photo of Super Typhoon Vongfong Looks Fake. It's Not.
NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this incredible photograph of super typhoon Vongfang on October 9th, from aboard the International Space Station. "I've seen many from here," Wiseman said of Vongfong, which had recently become the largest, most powerful storm of 2014, "but none like this."
Mesmerizing Anatomical X-Ray GIFs
San Francisco based graphic designer Cameron Drake converted some X-ray footage into a series of GIFs for one of his recent projects. The resulting animations are really quite beautiful.
The Deepest into Space Anyone Has Ever Seen
Using a naturally-existing zoom lens in space, the Hubble telescope in January took the deepest look into a cluster of galaxies ever taken in space to grab these pictures of galaxy cluster Abell 2744.
A Gruesome Epidemic is Ravaging Starfish Populations
A mysterious illness has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of starfish on North America's west coast, and its symptoms are horrifying. Dubbed "sea star wasting syndrome," the arms of an infected individual will twist into knots, develop lesions, and finally crawl away in opposite directions until they tear away from its body, allowing its insides to spill out. Last month, researchers announced they had found the culprit: It's a virus.
New Images Reveal the Shape of our Galaxy's Magnetic Field
The European Space Agency reports that this image, captured by the Planck spacecraft, is among the first to reveal the shape of the Milky Way's magnetic field. The colors show temperature, with dark red the hottest and dark blue the coldest. And the relief lines reveal the shape of the vast magnetic field that envelops our galaxy and protects us from some of the high energy particles zooming through deep space.
This is How the Sun Sees You
Artist Thomas Leveritt used a specially equipped video camera to demonstrate the UV-blocking power of sunscreen to passersby in Brooklyn, New York. The effect was dramatic. The resulting short film may be the most convincing endorsement of sunscreen we've ever seen.
An Historic Image of Planet Formation Around a Young Star
Earlier this year, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) captured the sharpest picture ever of a protoplanetary disc surrounding a young star. The image, which bears a striking resemblance to prior artistic impressions, is set to revolutionize our understanding of how planets form. The picture is one of ALMA's first observations to be made at its near-final configuration, as this remarkable device is still being calibrated. The new image was taken as part of the testing and verification process for the telescope — so the best images are still to come.
A Volcanic Vortex Spirals Out of an Icelandic Eruption
This swirling whirl of ash, volcanic gas, and flaming doom was imaged above the Holuhraun fissure eruption in Iceland in September. Despite our obsession with calling all things whirly some variety of tornado , it's not a tornado at all, but a dust devil that incorporated bits of its environment that make it far more flashy.
Clues to Humanity's History Discovered in an Underwater Cave
During the last ice age, an enormous stretch of fertile grassland connected Eurasia and the Americas. Known today as Beringia, this lost landscape was home to a small but important population of humans. Now, the skull you see here, which was discovered in a flooded cave in Mexico, has provided researchers with new clues about what happened to the Beringians once they came to America. At over 12,000 years old, the skull belongs to the oldest complete skeleton of its kind ever discovered, and is helping researchers piece together the history of these early settlers. [PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC]
An Ultra HD Time-Lapse of Earth
It's strange, but we can be surprisingly blasé about space-imagery, our appetites glutted by a steady stream of "mesmerizing," "humbling," and "mindblowing" footage of our planet. It takes more than a view from the ISS to give us pause. So trust us when we say that this video is definitely worth the watch.
Drone Footage of Killer Whales is the First of its Kind
Earlier this year, researchers came together to investigate the health and habits of killer whales using a custom-built, remotely operated hexacopter. The study, which resulted not only in incredible footage but fascinating observations, was the first to incorporate a drone in the monitoring of killer whales.
This is Why You Don't Hide Under a Tree During a Lightning Storm
In June, the US National Weather Service released this staggering footage of a lightning bolt making matchsticks of a tree in Upstate New York.
Real Life Mosquito Tornado is far More Terrifying Than Sharknado
While visiting Leziria Grande at Vila Franca de Xira in Portugal recently, photographer Ana Filipa Scarpa noticed something off in the distance that resembled a funnel cloud. But it wasn't a tornado, or even a funnel for that matter. Rather, it was something... alive.
A Stunning Example of Collective Intelligence
Individual ants are not very smart, but ants working together in a colony are capable of extraordinary feats. Case in point: This remarkable video, in which a colony of ants has transformed into a daisy chain to pull a dead millipede – behavior which, prior to the video's release, had never been seen before.
These Wasps Built Their Colony on a Window
Here's something you don't see every day: A glimpse at the internal structure of a rather large (and rather occupied) wasp nest. Put down the flamethrower and check it out. Trust us on this one, you'll want to see this.
A 14,000-Volt Electrical Shock Gave a Man Star-Shaped Cataracts
In a January issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers recount the fascinating case of an electrician who, after sustaining a 14,000-volt shock to his left shoulder, presented with "bilateral stellate anterior subcapsular opacities of the lens." Translation: Starburst-shaped cataracts.
California's Drought was Very, Very Bad
California's ongoing drought is its worst in at least 1,200 years. This year, its severity was documented in photographs like these. The first image shows Folsom Lake near Sacramento on July 20, 2011. The second image shows Folsom Lake on January 16, 2014. And things only got worse as the year progressed.
A Close-Up View of One of the World's Most Venomous Spiders
Entomologist Alex Wild captured these incredible photographs on a recent visit to the venomous chemistry lab (!) of David Wilson, a researcher at James Cook University's Centre for Biodiscovery and Molecular Development of Therapeutics. Read the story behind the shot here.
This ISS Experiment Looks Like a Miniature Star Factory
Flame Extinguishment-2 (FLEX-2) is the second iteration of an experiment designed to test how burning droplets of fuel behave in space. But unlike other fire experiments aboard the ISS, FLEX-2 requires the flaming droplets to be suspended, free of other objects (like, say, a candle wick) to better study the rate at which fuel mixtures evaporate and burn, and the conditions required for soot to form. According to NASA, "understanding these processes could lead to the production of a safer spacecraft as well as increased fuel efficiency for engines using liquid fuel on Earth."
Bee Portraits are a Glimpse into a Gorgeously Weird World
It's not very often that you get a chance to take a very, very close look at a bee. But these captivating macro pictures of bees, wasps, and more show us just how much we've been missing out on.
Have you ever wished you could see what the International Space Station looks like from inside a floating ball of water?
Triple Lightning Strikes 3 of Chicago's Tallest Buildings at Once
Photographer Craig Shimala was filming a time-lapse of a derecho over Chicago on the night of June 30th when a triple lightning strike touched down on three of the city's tallest buildings: Willis Tower, Trump Tower, and the John Hancock Building. Watch the video footage here.
The First Vine From Space is of a Never-Setting Sun
Crew members aboard the ISS can observe as many as 16 sunrises and sunsets in a 24 hour period. But, as astronaut Reid Wiseman noted in the first Vine ever composed in space, the view from low-Earth orbit changes considerably when the Space Station's course falls into alignment with the day/night terminator line, i.e. the barrier between light and dark on the surface of the Earth.
Google Strapped a Camera to a Camel to Put the Desert on Street View
How do you map a desert when it's not exactly the best place to drive one of Google's Street View cars? Camel-cam, that's how.
Giant, Worm-Slurping Leech Filmed for the First Time
For the first time, filmmakers in the forests of Borneo's Mount Kinabalu documented the so-repulsive-it's-captivating behavior of a large, red, worm-guzzling predator. While it remains unclassified by science, the animal is known to the area's tribespeople, fittingly, as the "Giant Red Leech." See the footage here.
This is a Praying Mantis Wearing 3D Glasses
Scientists at Newcastle University are outfitting praying mantises with the world's smallest 3D glasses, to better understand how these notoriously dextrous predators perceive depth.
SpaceX Conducts its First Falcon 9 Reusable Flight Test
You thought SpaceX's Grasshopper was impressive? Grasshopper was just the beginning. Behold, the first flight test of the company's Falcon 9 Reusable Launch Vehicle.
The Curiosity Rover Snaps a Stunning Photo of a Martian Sunset
In April, the Curiosity rover snapped this shot of the sun setting behind Gale Crater's western rim. And as you can see, the sunsets on Mars are quite different from what we see here on Earth.
Incredible Footage Of A Live Oarfish
In April, vacationers on a Shedd Adventure trip to Baja caught a glimpse of a rare oarfish making its way through shallow waters. Simply put, their video is our best glimpse of these elusive creatures to date.
Documenting the Ancient Tradition of Honey Hunting in Nepal
Twice each year, the Gurung tribespeople of Central Nepal risk their lives collecting wild honey from the world's largest hives high up on Himalayan cliffs. Travel photographer Andrew Newey recently spent two weeks capturing this ancient but dying art.
NASA Observes a Solar Explosion in Unprecedented Detail
In May, NASA's sun-observing IRIS spacecraft got its first close-up look at a colossal coronal mass ejection erupting from the sun, and boy howdy was it beautiful.
An Astronaut's View on His First Spacewalk
This photo was taken in November by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on his first-ever spacewalk outside the International Space Station. Joining him was NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, who was also on his first foray outside ISS.
Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown by a Balloon and a Minivan
2014 was a big year for YouTube science channels, and this simple but effective demonstration – delivered by Destin on his channel, Smarter Every Day – was one of our favorite episodes of the year. If you don't already know why a helium balloon tethered to the floor of a minivan has the power to make your jaw drop, you're going to want to see this. Seriously – set aside five minutes of your time, have a seat and watch. You won't regret it.
Melting Sea Ice Forces 35,000 Walruses Onto a Beach
This photo, taken by Corey Accardo from a NOAA research flight over Alaska's north in late September, shows an estimated 35,000 walruses crowded onto a beach – a record number for the survey program. As global warming contributes to the melting of Arctic sea ice habitats, Pacific walruses are foraging in more coastal areas and using beaches for resting. It's a problem that's getting progressively worse, leading to a completely new behavior for the species.
You Know How This Experiment Ends (But You Should Watch It Anyway)
Most people know that any two objects dropped in a vacuum will fall at the same rate. Some of you have probably even seen this demonstrated in person. But you've probably never seen this classic experiment reproduced in the world's biggest vacuum chamber – and you really should.
An Uncrewed Antares Rocket Explodes on Launch
On October 28th, an uncrewed Antares rocket from Orbital Science Corp. exploded seconds after launch. It was to be the first of two major blows to the burgeoning industry of commercial space flight; later than week, Virgin Galactic's sub-orbital space plane, SpaceShipTwo, would be lost in a disastrous test-flight, claiming the life of one test pilot and severely injuring another.
Chemical Reactions Shot in Ultra HD Look Like Alien Life
hemical reactions are those magical moments when the matter that surrounds us suddenly bursts into life. A stunning collaboration between Tsinghua University Press and University of Science and Technology of China now showcases eight different types of these reactions in exquisite detail.
The Rosetta Mission Lands on a Comet
On August 6, after traveling through space for more than a decade, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft rendezvoused with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On November 12th, Rosetta's Philae lander successfully landed on the comet – the first such landing in human history. For these momentous achievements, the Rosetta mission gets two images: A photo taken by Philae from the surface of 67P/C-G, and a selfie of Rosetta in orbit around the comet.
What did we miss? Share your pick of images and videos in the comments below. Be sure to include a brief description, and a link to where we can learn more.