Suns, sloths and spy satellites — June’s best science images

The month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

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A beewolf with an egg releases nitric oxide, made visible as brights spots using a fluorescent dye

Credit: Erhard Strohm

Preserved prey. The European beewolf (Philanthuis triangulum), is a solitary wasp that hunts down honey bees and leaves their bodies next to its eggs to feed its young. And it knows how to keep its kids’ dinner fresh, according to a paper published on 11 June in eLife4. The researchers found that beewolf eggs produce nitric oxide, seen here as bright yellow spots covering the dead bee. This gas kills mould fungi, ensuring that prey is preserved for when the larvae hatch.

Men work inside a HL-2M Tokamak nuclear fusion reactor, dubbed as the "artificial sun", under construction in Chengdu, China

Credit: Liu Haiyun/Chengdu Economic Daily/Reuters

Artificial Sun. These workers are inside a nuclear-fusion reactor under construction in Chengdu, China. The HL-2M Tokamak device — also known as an artificial Sun — will heat plasma to temperatures of up to 200 million ºC. It should be completed by the end of the year, according to the China National Nuclear Corporation.

An aurora photographed from the International Space Station

Credit: NASA

Light show. As the aurora australis danced across Antarctica, astronaut Christina Koch snapped this mesmerizing picture from the International Space Station. “Years ago at the South Pole, I looked up to the aurora for inspiration through the 6-month winter night,” she tweeted. “Now I know they’re just as awe inspiring from above.”

Chevron shapes in southeast Hellas Planitia plain of Mars

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Martian signs. It’d be a great marketing ploy for the next season of Star Trek: Discovery — but this familiar emblem spotted on Mars was in fact created by natural processes. It is the outline of a dune that has long since disappeared, and was formed by lava that surrounded the dune and solidified before the sands were blown away. This picture was taken by the HiRISE camera on-board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the red planet since 2006.

dogs haul a sled through meltwater on coastal sea ice in northwest Greenland, June 13, 2019.

Credit: Steffen M. Olsen/NYT/eyevine

Early melt. Climate researchers working in Greenland — and their dogs — were left wading through water after unusually warm June temperatures caused the surface of the sea ice to melt earlier than normal. Scientists were not the only ones affected by the flooding, researcher Steffen Olsen noted on Twitter: the sea ice is used by local communities for transport, hunting and fishing.

Skull morphology of (top) beluga, (middle) MCE1356, and (bottom) narwhal.

Credit: Mikkel Høegh Post

The narluga. A strange skull that had left biologists scratching their heads for nearly 30 years belonged to a beluga–narwhal hybrid whale, according to research published on 20 June in Scientific Reports1. Researchers extracted and sequenced DNA from the skull (middle), which was originally discovered in Greenland in 1990 and seemed to have a mixture of beluga (top) and narwhal (bottom) features. By comparing the DNA against the genomes from those two cetaceans, the team worked out that the animal had a narwhal for a mother and a beluga for a father. This is the first time that a hybrid ‘narluga’ has been discovered.

Indian residents get water from a community well in Chennai after reservoirs for the city ran dry

Credit: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty

Severe drought. Residents in the drought-struck city of Chennai in India draw water from a community well. A delayed monsoon in June saw the country’s sixth-largest city suffer from a water crisis, with reservoirs drying up and residents queuing for hours to get water from government tankers.

A spy satellite photo from 1975 of the Himalayas on the border of Sikkim, India and eastern Nepal

Credit: National Reconnaissance Office/U.S. Geological Survey

Ice spy. Declassified spy satellite images from the cold war era are helping researchers to track ice loss in Himalayan glaciers. Using photos taken by US intelligence agencies in the 1970s — as well as more recent satellite data — researchers built up digital models of ice thickness in the region. The analysis, published in Science Advances on 19 June2, showed that the average rate of ice loss has doubled in the period 2000–16 compared to 1975–2000.

The world's oldest sloth hanging off a branch

Credit: picture alliance/dpa

Old sloth. Paula the two-toed sloth celebrated her 50th birthday this month. According to the zoo in Halle, Germany, where she lives, Paula is the oldest sloth in the world. Even older, albeit dead, sloths also made headlines this month, after researchers managed to extract proteins from over a dozen ancient sloth fossils, one of which dates back more than 128,000 years3. The analysis suggested that the sloth family tree needs considerable rewriting.

A visualisation mapping SHIV infection in the body

Credit: Carly Ziegler, Alex Shalek, Shaina Carroll (MIT) and Leslie Kean, Victor Tkachev and Lucrezia Colonna (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) / Wellcome Photography Prize 2019

Cell circles. HIV researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, created these visualizations of the genomic data in about 100,000 macaque cells, which to help them see how the virus manifest in animals. Each dot represents one cell and the lines reflect how similar connected cells are. In the top-right circle, each shade represents one of more than 200 different cell types: for instance, brain, gut or lung. In the bottom-left, colours highlight cells from different tissues: for example, lymph nodes (blue) and bone marrow (red). The bottom-right shows cells from monkeys with SIV, the simian version of HIV. Red cells are infected, whereas blue cells are uninfected, and distinguishing between them helps to show how the body reacts to antiviral treatment.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02074-w


  1. 1.

    Skovrind, M. et al. Sci. Rep. 9, 7729 (2019).

  2. 2.

    Maurer, J. M., Schaefer, J. M., Rupper, S. & Corley, A. Sci. Adv. 5, eaav7266 (2019).

  3. 3.

    Presslee, S. et al. Nature Ecol. Evol. 3, 1121–1130 (2019).

  4. 4.

    Strohm, E., Herzner, G., Ruther, J., Kaltenpoth, M. & Engl, T. eLife 8, e43718 (2019).

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