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Blackbirds, brains and bleached anemones — July’s best science images

Composite image of the July 2nd solar eclipse seen above the La Silla Observatory

Credit: Petr Horálek/ESO

Evening eclipse. Just before the Sun set on 2 July, observers at La Silla Observatory in the Atacama Desert, Chile, were treated to the sight of a total solar eclipse. This composite photo shows the path of the setting Sun and the moment that it was completely obscured by the Moon.

A red-winged black bird with breath forming "smoke rings" as it sings

Credit: Kathrin Swoboda/Audubon Photography Awards

Bird breath. On a cold Virginia morning, amateur photographer Kathrin Swoboda snapped this red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) blowing out what look like smoke rings. The rings are actually formed by the warm, condensed breath of the bird as it sings. The photo won Swoboda the grand prize in the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards.

Highly detailed MRI scan of a human brain

Credit: B. L. Edlow et al.

High-resolution brain. Researchers have imaged an entire human brain in greater detail than ever before. Scientists have developed a specially designed container and custom electronics to conduct magnetic resonance imaging on the organ, donated by a 58-year-old woman. The scan took 100 hours and generated 8 terabytes of data, the researchers report in a paper posted on 31 May on the preprint server bioRxiv1. The resulting image has a resolution of 100 micrometres; previously, only small regions of the brain had been imaged in such detail.

Time lapse animation of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory installing legs and wheels on the Mars 2020 Rover

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rover assembly. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, install legs and wheels on the agency’s Mars 2020 rover. The assembly takes place in a clean room, and the team members wear ‘bunny suits’ to prevent any contamination. The mission will launch in July 2020, and the rover will land on Mars in February the following year.

A fish hides within a bleached sea anemone in the Central Red Sea

Credit: Morgan Bennett-Smith, KAUST Reef Ecology Lab

Bleached anemone. Just like coral, sea anemones can be bleached by excess exposure to heat and light. This anemone in the Red Sea has lost the algae it once hosted — which provided it with oxygen and food — and has become colourless. Bleaching events are becoming more common with the warming climate. This image by Morgan Bennett-Smith won the ‘Human Impact’ category in Ocean Conservancy’s 2019 photo contest.

The Washington Monument performs a light show called 'Apollo 50: Go for the Moon'

Credit: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/VCG via Getty

Moon light. July marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, with commemorative events taking place around the world. In Washington DC, a celebratory light show at the Washington Monument included this life-size projection of the Saturn V rocket used during the Apollo missions.

A newly identified species of pocket shark

Credit: Michael Doosey/Tulane University

Pocket shark. A diminutive shark discovered in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is a completely new species, researchers have determined. Pocket sharks get their name from the small pockets, located near their gills, that produce luminous fluid. They are very rare: the only other known specimen was caught in the Pacific Ocean in 1979 and given the scientific name Mollisquama parini. But scientists have found that the new shark is different in important ways: it has fewer vertebrae, for example. On that basis, they have christened it the American pocket shark, or Mollisquama mississippiensis.

Credit: Institute of Marine Research

Radioactive submarine. A Soviet submarine that sank 30 years ago in the Norwegian Sea is still leaking radiation, researchers have found. The nuclear-powered Komsomolets caught fire and sank in 1989, killing 42 crew members. Scientists from Norway’s Institute of Marine Research in Bergen used a remotely operated vehicle to take samples of water from the ship. The level of radioactive caesium in some of the samples was 800,000 times higher than the level elsewhere in the ocean, but the researchers say that the isotope is quickly diluted and poses no danger to sea-life or people.

A praying mantis wearing 3D glasses

Credit: Newcastle University, UK

Mantis vision. Despite possessing a tiny brain, the praying mantis is able to use depth perception to calculate how far away its prey is. Now, with the help of some miniature 3D glasses, researchers have figured out how mantis vision works. The team fitted mantises with the glasses and had them view 3D images on a screen. By varying the location of the images and recording brain activity in the insects, the team identified neurons that were tuned to specific locations in space, according to a paper published on 28 June in Nature Communications2.



  1. 1.

    Edlow, B. L. et al. Preprint at bioRxiv (2019).

  2. 2.

    Rosner, R., von Hadeln, J., Tarawneh, G. & Read, J. C. A. Nature Commun. 10, 2845 (2019).

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

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