The extent of Arctic sea ice hit a record low this year, pegged at 3.41 million square kilometres on 16 September by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. This is 3.29 million square kilometres less than the average extent recorded between 1979 and 2000.
Anna Henly, Winner, The World in Our Hands Award/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012/BBC Worldwide/Natural History Museum
BLOOD, BRAIN AND BEAUTY
A filigree of blood vessels makes up the blood–brain barrier, which helps to protect our grey matter from infection. This picture of the developing barrier in a live zebrafish embryo, taken by Jennifer Peters and Michael Taylor of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, won first prize in the Nikon Small World competition.
Jennifer L. Peters/Michael R. Taylor/St Jude Children’s Research Hospital/Nikon Small World
NOT IN KANSAS ANY MORE
Nebraska, actually. The United States saw its share of extreme weather this year, from the most extensive drought in half a century to the violence of Superstorm Sandy. Fortunately, this tornado-spawning mesocyclone in June passed farm buildings in Gurley without giving them a one-way trip to Oz.
This solar filament, some 350,000 kilometres long, erupted from the surface of the Sun on 31 August. Seen in the extreme ultraviolet by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite, the eruption became a coronal mass ejection moving at about 1,400 kilometres per second — its particles grazed Earth’s magnetosphere several days later, sparking an auroral display.
SDO, AIA Team/GSFC/NASA
AND THIS IS ME ON MARS
Since it landed on 6 August after its ‘7 minutes of terror’ descent, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has delighted scientists and the public with streams of data and images from the red planet.
Malin Space Science Systems/JPL-Caltech/NASA
This specimen of Nereis pelagica was found in the White Sea off the Russian coast. Photographer Alexander Semenov says that the predatory worm was about 25 cm long and as thick as a finger. It is not known whether he still has nightmares about it.
FROM THE WOMBS OF BATS
These apparitions — seemingly dreamed up by Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger — are embryos of the black mastiff bat (Molossus rufus). Biologist Dorit Hockman of the University of Cambridge, UK, took the picture using a standard dissecting microscope for inclusion in a system that documents embryo development.
Dorit Hockman/Univ. Cambridge/2012 Photomicrography Competition/Nikon Small World
This image of the Thor’s Helmet Nebula (NGC 2359) was taken by the Very Large Telescope array on Mount Paranal in Chile, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the European Southern Observatory this year. The organization’s next major project — the Atacama Large Millimeter Array — is due to be completed in 2013.
A view you don’t see every day of something you probably do. These caffeine crystals, imaged under an electron microscope and false-coloured by Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy at University College London, form part of a cluster just a few tens of micrometres in length.
Annie Cavanagh/David McCarthy/Wellcome Images Awards 2012/Wellcome Images
On 14 October, the world watched in awe as Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner leapt from his balloon-borne capsule some 39 kilometres above New Mexico. Baumgartner (shown here during a test jump) broke the speed of sound and set a new record for the highest skydive.
Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool
NO MATCH FOR SIZE
This dwarf chameleon (Brookesia micra) from Madagascar was formally recognized as a new species in February. Admittedly, this is a juvenile, but adults are not much larger: males reach just 16 millimetres in length and females grow to a whopping 30 mm, making this the smallest lizard in the world.
With every moment of our lives seemingly Instagram’d, Facebooked and Twitpic’d, has the power of the photographic image faded like a Polaroid ravaged by sunlight? Not a bit of it. The camera is always on hand to record the wonder of the natural world and the thrill of exploring it. This year it showed us a man falling to Earth faster than the speed of sound; the nightmarish denizens of the deep oceans; and the delicate tracery of a brain’s protective shield. These, and more, are some of Nature’s favourite pictures of 2012.