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Worm brain, ocean giant and soothing Jupiter — April’s best science images

The month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.
Landscape view of the of the huge Batagaika crater in Siberia formed by melting permafrost

Credit: Katie Orlinsky for National Geographic

Permafrost crater. This aerial view shows the Batagaika crater, a massive land slump in Siberia that formed in the 1960s when deforestation caused the permafrost to melt. The tadpole-shaped crater is about one kilometre long and nearly 90 metres deep, and grows year by year as the warming climate thaws the frozen ground. The layers of sediment on its exposed walls offer a glimpse into 200,000 years of Earth’s geological history, and ice age fossils have been found buried in the sediment. This photo was taken by photographer Katie Orlinsky as part of a series on permafrost that was awarded third prize in the environment category of the 2020 World Press Photo Awards.

Video sequence - brain scan of a microscopic nematode.

Credit: Witvliet et al., 2020

Mind of a worm. This digital reconstruction shows every nerve and muscle fibre in the brain of the lab workhorse nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Researchers led by Mei Zhen at the University of Toronto, Canada, created it using software to combine many individual images captured using an electron microcrope. The colours represent different cell types — for example, pink for sensory and blue for motor neurons. The team used these imaging techniques to investigate how different parts of these worms’ brains develop as they mature from larva to adult.

Starlink satellites are visible as a row of bright lights over the horizon of the Earth with a blue and green aurora

Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Starlink express. Stargazers have photographed dozens of Starlink communication satellites — launched by spaceflight company SpaceX — have crossing the night sky. A ‘Starlink train’ of more than a dozen can be seen in this photo taken from the International Space Station — the satellites appear as horizontal dashes of light. The craft are part of a network designed to provide global Internet access, and tens of thousands more could be launched by SpaceX and other companies in the coming years. Many astronomers worry that such ‘megaconstellations’ might interfere with crucial observations of the Universe, disrupting radio frequencies used for scientific observation and raising the risk of collisions in orbit.

A biodiverse collection of ocean organisms off Ningaloo.

Credit: Greg Rouse/Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego/SOI

Deep-sea delights. Scientists exploring the deep sea off the coast of Australia have discovered up to 30 new underwater species. The findings include sponges, molluscs, crustaceans and barnacles that might be completely new to science. The project also spied some species that have been seen for the first time in Western Australia, including the octopus squid Taningia danae.

“We suspected these deep-sea areas would be diverse, but we have been blown away by the significance of what we have seen,” said Nerida Wilson, chief scientist at the Western Australian Museum who led a month-long expedition on the research ship Falkor.

With the help of an underwater robot, Wilson and colleagues completed 20 dives at depths of up to 4,500 metres in an area known as the Gascoyne Coast Bioregion. Their aim was to collect samples and video footage from previously unexplored deep-sea canyons and coral reefs.

A massive gelatinous string siphonophore which the crew estimates it to be 120+ meters in total length was discovered

Credit: ROV SuBastian/SOI

Sea spiral. One of the most striking discoveries of the Australian deep-sea exploration expedition was this string-like creature known as a siphonophore, which might be the longest animal ever discovered. Measuring 46 metres — almost twice the average length of a blue whale — it is the largest specimen of the giant siphonophore Apolemia ever recorded. Although they look, behave and move around like individual organisms, siphonophores are actually floating colonies made up of tiny multicellular organisms called zooids that are attached to one another and cannot survive independently. They feed on small fish and crustaceans, using stinging tentacles to stun and capture their prey, in much the same way as jellyfish.

NASA engineers develop a new high-pressure ventilator tailored to treat coronavirus (COVID-19) patients

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

VITAL machinery. A new high-pressure medical ventilator has been developed by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The device, which NASA has called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), was developed in just 37 days. The agency was responding to reports of a national shortage of the machines resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. VITAL can be built faster and maintained more easily than conventional ventilators, NASA says, and the agency is seeking accelerated approval from the the US Food and Drug Administration so that medical centres can begin testing prototypes.

“We specialize in spacecraft, not medical-device manufacturing,” said the laboratory’s director, Michael Watkins. “But excellent engineering, rigorous testing and rapid prototyping are some of our specialties.”

Impression of the Juno with a low glowing light in the space darkness.

Credit: Flavio Valenzi (CC BY 3.0 Unported)

Jupiter in full colour. As our Earthly lives become increasingly stressful, those in search of a soothing glimpse of a world beyond our own can head to NASA’s Junocam imageprocessing gallery, where several new snaps of Jupiter have been shared. NASA uploads raw images taken by the camera on board its Juno spacecraft, and invites citizen scientists to download and process them, and then submit their own creations. In this shot, entitled ‘Jupiter in the dark’, the characteristic swirls and stripes that make up the planet’s atmosphere have been coloured to make it pop against the darkness of space. It was submitted by Flavio Valenzi.

A medical staff wears a face masks as he walks through a disinfecting tunnel set up by North Delhi Municipal Corporation.

Credit: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Getty

Hosed down. A medic at New Delhi’s Hindu Rao Hospital walks through a disinfecting tunnel, 19 days after the government ordered the country’s roughly 1.3 billion people to stay at home in an attempt to stop coronavirus spread. As well as the lockdown, India has introduced a trace-and-quarantine strategy using a huge surveillance network: thousands of health-care workers are fanning out across the country to trace and isolate people who might have had contact with infected individuals. People are typically tested for coronavirus infection only if they develop symptoms.

Updates & Corrections

  • Clarification 13 May 2020: An earlier version of this story implied that the nematode work was led by researchers at Harvard University. In fact, the university was just one of several institutes in the collaboration.

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