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Electric algae, capsized icebergs and cosmic pillars

January's sharpest science shots, as chosen by Nature's art team.

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The world’s oldest snakes, a superstar squid hunter, exoplanets and more have made the cut for the first Nature images of the month for 2015.

Squid hunt

Kent Nishimura

Margaret McFall-Ngai, a zoologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has spent most of her career exploring the relationship between Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) and the Vibrio fischeri bacteria that live inside these animals. In this picture, shot for a News Feature in Nature, McFall-Ngai collects squid specimens in Kaneohe, Hawaii. For more, see 'Here's looking at you, squid'.

Exoplanet excursions

  1. Even exoplanets need tourist boards. A NASA team created these retro-styled travel posters for some of the worlds that have been discovered orbiting distant suns. One poster, released on 30 December, encourages those with a hankering for space travel to visit Kepler-186f — the first Earth-sized planet to be found in the 'habitable zone'. This is the region around a star where conditions mean that liquid water could exist, so life (as we know it) might be possible. NASA says that Kepler-186f could also have red grass as a result of the sunlight from its red dwarf star.

    JPL-Caltech/NASA

  2. The 200-light-year journey to Kepler-16b might wear you out, but on arrival, visitors could find that they have two shadows — the planet orbits two stars. With temperatures twice as low as on the Arctic islands of Svalbard, it is also really, really cold…

    JPL-Caltech/NASA

  3. Skydiving on HD 40307g might be flirting with death. This planet has a mass eight times that of Earth, and consequently has much stronger gravity — meaning that you would reach a much higher terminal velocity as you plummeted towards its surface.

    JPL-Caltech/NASA

Torture chamber

Chris Gunn/NASA

At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, sits the giant Chamber A — a huge testing facility that simulates the devastating vacuum and cold of space. In this image, engineers prepare the chamber to test the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that is due to launch in 2018.

Bloomin’ heck!

Kin Cheung/AP

The glittering lights of Hong Kong over the water at night have been joined by an eerie glow. The fluorescent blue is courtesy of a bloom of Noctiluca scintillans algae, also known as sea sparkle — a deceptively attractive name for something that is probably caused by pollution from farms.

Sharper image

  1. In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of the towers of gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula that came to be known as the ‘Pillars of Creation’. Earlier this month (5 January), this updated version of that now-iconic image was released at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.

    NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State Univ.)

  2. The original 'Pillars of Creation' image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.

    NASA, Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State Univ.)

Iceberg capsize  

alexcornell.com

Like many things that float on water, icebergs can capsize. Photographer Alex Cornell captured this haunting image of an upended 'berg in Cierva Cove, Antarctica, in 2014.

Hiss-toric record

Julius T. Csotonyi

The world’s oldest known snake fossils — dating back some 170 million years — were revealed in a paper in Nature Communications this month1. This artist’s impression shows Parviraptor estesi swimming in a freshwater lake.

Staying dry with lasers

Droplets bounce off laser-treated platinum

As winter sets in across much of the Northern Hemisphere, staying dry amid regular downpours becomes a constant challenge. Although many researchers have developed surfaces that repel water, often these are formed using a coating, which can rub off. Researchers from the University of Rochester in New York used a different approach for the 'superhydrophobic effect' shown here: they used lasers to etch a metal surface, forming tiny structures that strongly repel water2.

M. Mann/Univ. Rochester

Journal name:
Nature
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nature.2015.16829

References

  1. Caldwell, M. W., Nydam, R. L., Palci, A. & Apesteguía, S. Nature Commun. 6, 5996 (2015).

  2. Vorobyev, A. Y. & Guo, C. J. Appl. Phys. 117, 033103 (2015)

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