Amazon fires to black holes: 50 stunning science images from 2019

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December 13, 2019

Amazon fires to black holes: 50 stunning science images from 2019

Scientific breakthroughs work slowly, revealing themselves only after years of setbacks and small victories.

In the life sciences, researchers are making rapid progress in treating deadly diseases like cancer and improving gene-editing technologies. Cloning technology is also becoming more sophisticated, which allows scientists to create genetically identical research animals or allow companies to clone pets.

In space, scientists are using telescopes and computers to see objects light-years away. This year showed that even black holes are within the reach of imaging software. And space agencies are also trying to bring people and equipment to some of these distant places. NASA has been testing and developing technologies for space exploration on the moon and mars.

Through each milestone, cameras, satellites, and telescopes manage to capture moments big and small, from iterative successes to watershed moments. Climate change has lent itself to a myriad of stunning, if often dystopian, images. Photographs show Midwestern towns submerged underwater after spring floods and Venice flooded to several feet above sea level. Destructive wildfires burned lands in California and the Amazon, and drought has scorched Botswana and southwestern Australia. 2019 provided more visual reminders of what a future on a warmer planet will look like.

Stacker compiled a collection of 50 incredible images showcasing groundbreaking science-related milestones and events that took place in 2019. This year, historic images included animal clones, byproducts of climate change from floods to wildfires, and the first image of a black hole.

Read on to see how science-related discoveries and events shaped the year.

First monkeys cloned from a genetically modified animal

On Jan. 24, 2019, Chinese scientists revealed that they had cloned five macaque monkeys for research on sleep disorders. The scientists engineered the original monkey, from which they had cloned the others, to disable a gene necessary for sleep-wake cycles. This marked the first time researchers cloned a genetically edited monkey and the beginning of their plans to create genetically identical primates for research.

Chinese spacecraft lands on the moon's far side

On Jan. 3, 2019, China's National Space Administration landed a spacecraft and rover on the far side of the moon, the first country to do so. The far side of the moon can't be seen from Earth, and China's probe has taken the first close-up images of the far lunar surface.

Bucket wheel excavator mines lignite in Germany

Germany intends to go carbon-neutral by 2050. This pictured bucket wheel excavator operates in the Welzow-Sued coal mine in northeastern Germany, where discussions about shuttering coal mines to meet the 2050 goal are dividing residents.

Experiments show that plants have proprioception

Scientists from the French National Institute of Agricultural Research announced in February that plants can sense and respond to their position. In animals, this is called proprioception. Even when a pot hangs horizontally, and the plant is surrounded by light on all sides, it will still grow upright.

50,000 gray cranes make a migration stop in Israel's Hula Valley

Created in the 1990s after the government re-flooded drained swampland, the Agamon Hula Lake now serves as a migration stopover for gray cranes. Gray cranes migrate from Europe to Africa each year, but more are now opting to winter at Agamon Hula Lake.

Preparing blood bags for CAR T-cell therapy

CAR T-cell therapy, or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, fights some blood cancers by genetically programming the T-cells in a patient’s blood to recognize the patient’s cancer cells. In this photograph, a lab tech prepares blood for the genetic modification process. The first effective CAR T-cells were developed in the lab in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the FDA approved the treatment, the first gene therapy approved to treat any illness. Now, scientists are seeing if they can expand CAR T-cell therapy to treat other cancers.


Pier at the former Aculeo Lake

Boats used to dock at this pier in Aculeo Lake, Chile; just a few years ago, the lake covered an area of over five square miles with water 20-feet deep. But because of a 10-year drought, increased water consumption, and irrigation, this lake has dried up. Scientists estimate that since 2010, the drought, which is in part because of climate change, has caused about half of the lake's water loss.

Wheke, the giant squid

Paris' National Museum of Natural History hosted a taxidermy workshop in March, featuring a restored giant squid. The squid was fished from New Zealand seas in 2000, then gifted to France and "plastinated," a process involving replacing the squid's fluids with polymers for preservation. Museum taxidermists improved on the original job to prepare the squid for exhibition in the museum.

SpaceX tests a spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts

On March 2, 2019, the privately owned SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft toward the International Space Station. The mission, called Demo-1, served as a test to prepare for launches with NASA astronauts. Since March, SpaceX has also launched networked satellites and previous launches have delivered supplies to the ISS.

Agronomist Wael Musalam in his azolla plant aquarium

Israel’s restriction on imports, economic conditions, and an Israeli naval blockade in the Gaza Strip have forced fishermen to adjust, developing fish farms instead of fishing. But because of import restrictions, fish feed prices have soared. This year, farmer and agronomist Wael Musalam started growing the azolla plant, an aquatic fern, to produce nutritious feed for fish farmers. The plant is commonly found in Latin America, and Musalam thought its qualities as a water-surface-growing, cost-cutting, environmentally friendly food source could help Palestinian farmers—so far, it has.

A crowned sifaka with her cub

Poppy, a female crowned sifaka, lives at France's Mulhouse Zoological and Botanical Park with her cub. Members of the lemur family, crowned sifakas are an endangered species native to northwestern Madagascar. Zoos across Europe are attempting to protect the species through an ex-situ conservation program, a conservation program occurring outside the sifaka's natural habitat, but a lack of females and troubling infant mortality rates have made this difficult.

Scientists monitor student brainwaves to improve teaching.

Portable headsets measure the electromagnetic brain activity of each of these students to see how the brain reacts to different mental exercises. These Costa Rican students, along with students from five other countries, are participating in a study that hopes to use brain data to improve teaching methods. The study launched in San Jose, Costa Rica March 7.

A wind farm in California’s Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley, nestled between two mountains, forms a natural wind tunnel perfect for a wind farm. Developers have been replacing the 1980s-era turbines with newer, bigger, more efficient ones. They have until the end of this year to make replacements and receive a federal tax credit, which will expire in 2020.

Rain and snowmelt flood Missouri farm

Snowmelt from the March "bomb cyclone" that hit the Midwest combined with rains to bring heavy floods to the region. The water burst through levees along the Missouri River, flooding surrounding roads, homes, and farms. Flooding lasted through the spring for the regions along the Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi Rivers, and caused billions of dollars in damages.

First image of a black hole

On April 10, the National Science Foundation released the first-ever image of a black hole. An international network of telescopes (collectively called the Event Horizon Telescope) and hundreds of researchers helped create this image of the black hole in the galaxy Messier 87. A halo of dust and gas swirling at the speed of light surrounds the black hole in the image, created by an algorithm developed by computer scientist Katie Bouman.

First 3D-printed human heart

On April 15, scientists from Tel Aviv University announced that they created the first 3D-printed heart made of human tissue. While it's too small for any human and can't beat, it contains the anatomical machinery a heart needs, representing a significant step in 3D-printing human organs.

Super bloom carpets California hills

In April 2019, a wet winter made way for a super bloom of poppies and wildflowers in Lancaster, Calif. Super blooms typically occur once every 10 years, and tens of thousands of tourists descended on the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve to take pictures with the flowers. The amount of tourists overwhelmed small towns unprepared to suddenly double in population, and also created risks for poppies, which die quickly when people step on the flowers or roots.

A Martian landslide

Steep troughs cut into the volcanic landscape on Mars. Landslides aren't uncommon on this slope, where bedrock and finer material slough down the cliff. Photo credits here go to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been searching for evidence that water once persisted on the planet's surface.

Caterpillar hunter beetles

These beetles are just a handful of about 1.5 million beetle specimens at the State Museum of National History Stuttgart. At the museum, entomologists are working to protect local insect populations in response to a 2017 a study that revealed Germany's nature reserves had lost about 76% of its insect biomass. The entomologists have since authored a plan which may soon become law, to address issues affecting the insects, like habitat loss and pesticide use.

The Red Sea's resilient coral

At the southern tip of Israel, corals in the northern Red Sea seem to cope with warming waters and acidification. Researchers at the nearby Interuniversity Institute of Marine Sciences are studying what makes these corals so resilient. This knowledge could be applied to other coral reef ecosystems.

The hydrogen-powered Energy Observer

This hydrogen-powered catamaran sailed by Stockholm, Sweden this past May, on year three of its six-year journey around the world. This vessel, the Energy Observer, uses seawater to make hydrogen without releasing greenhouse gas emissions. On this six-year mission, expedition staff is taking the Energy Observer to 50 different countries to test the vessel's technology and learn about new renewable energy solutions.

Hologram of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Bearded Man'

This hologram was just one part of an immersive exhibition chronicling Leonardo da Vinci's life and work. A hologram of da Vinci recounts episodes from his life for guests and a virtual reality station gives visitors the chance to experience da Vinci's Renaissance. The exhibition ran at Milan's Cattedrale of Fabbrica Del Vapore this June through September.

A reservoir of copper mining waste in Rancagua, Chile

Chile produces about a third of global copper, the mining of which produces toxic waste. Dams accompany mining sites to trap the waste, but the chemicals used to extract copper can pollute surface water and groundwater, harming human health. Currently, Chile is the world's top producer of mining waste. This image, taken May 31, 2019, shows copper mining byproducts from the Minera Valle Central mining company.

A biohut off the coast of southern France

In May, Ecocean, a French sustainable marine management company, installed this biohut off the southern coast of France to study fish migration. Ecocean's biohuts originally served as a refuge for juvenile fish, allowing them to eat in peace, away from predators. Coastal development has altered or destroyed natural fish habitats, which is why Ecocean stepped in with these artificial habitats.

Researcher Damien Chevallier observes a leatherback sea turtle

In French Guiana, leatherback sea turtle numbers are declining. As researcher Damien Chevallier told the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the international French news agency, in the 1990s, female leatherbacks would lay up to 50,000 eggs each season, but in 2018, scientists found less than 200 eggs, only three of which are likely to reach sexual maturity and lay eggs themselves. Chevallier is studying French Guiana leatherback turtles with tracking devices attached to their shells.

A robotic hand that can feel touch

At Amazon's June 2019 re:MARS conference covering robotics and artificial intelligence, Shadow Robot SynTouch showcased their robotic hand. The hand has sensors that can both feel touch, and transmit the tactile sensation back to the user, who wears the hand like one wears a glove. In the future, companies might develop these technologies for prosthetic hands, or to allow people to operate robotic hands remotely and dexterously, to handle radioactive material, for example.

Storms in Jupiter's northern hemisphere

At the end of May, NASA's Juno spacecraft passed by Jupiter's northern hemisphere and captured four images used to create this composite. A citizen scientist named Kevin M. Gill used Juno's data to create and enhance this image showing the tumultuous weather on Jupiter. Juno is orbiting Jupiter to help astronomers understand the planet and its origins.

A NASA barge carries 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen

At NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, a liquid oxygen tank was loaded onto the Pegasus barge in June. From New Orleans, the Pegasus will carry the oxygen tank to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where scientists will test the oxygen, seeing if the supercooled fluid generates enough thrust to propel a rocket to the moon. An identical tank carrying the same amount of liquid oxygen will be used in NASA's Space Launch System during future space exploration missions.

NASA tests Mars rover technology in Iceland

To prepare for Mars missions, NASA sends its rovers to Iceland. The famously volcanic country provides an earthly analog for the Martian surface. This summer, a remote-controlled prototype rover collected high-resolution images and data of the Lambahraun lava field, a test that will inform operations of NASA's Mars 2020 team.

Biodegradable plastic created from Opuntia cactus juice

Mexican scientists Sandra Pascoe Ortiz has developed biodegradable plastic made from cactus juice. This innovation, announced in July, is still confined to laboratory research, but Pescoe Ortiz is testing applications for the product. If companies start producing biodegradable plastic, it would allow any plastic that gets into the ocean to dissolve without contaminating the water with toxins found in conventional plastics.

Geologist Milagros Carretero inside Europe's largest geode

Milagros Carretero is the coordinating geologist at Pilar de Jaravia. In Pulpi, southern Spain, this geode was discovered only 20 years ago in an abandoned silver mine. In a research paper published in Geology this October, scientists theorize that the geode formed from a combination of larger crystals "eating" smaller ones.

Humpback whales swim near Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord

Humpback whales in the Atlantic spend summers off the coast of southern Greenland, feeding on krill and schooling fish. In this photograph, two whales are swimming near the Ilulissat Icefjord, the UNESCO-protected mouth of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. Early analyses from scientists show that Greenland may have lost a record amount of ice this year, raising the average global sea level by over a millimeter.

Flamingo chicks in the Fuente de Piedra Lake

Spain's Fuente de Piedra Lake serves as a breeding ground for flamingos. Scientists and volunteers tag and measure flamingos and their chicks to monitor the species' evolution.

The first Atlantic coral reproduced in a lab setting

In August, scientists from the Florida Aquarium announced that for the first time, they had reproduced Atlantic Pillar corals in the lab. The scientists gave the corals an environment that mirrored their natural habitat, including sunrises, sunsets, moon phases, appropriate water temperature and quality. This technique could help scientists repopulate Florida's reefs, which are on the decline thanks to climate change.

Algae covering a pond on Louisiana's Avery Island

Avery Island, La. is the one place where the McIlhenny Company makes Tabasco hot sauce. But rising sea levels are overtaking the surrounding marshlands as a rate of 30 feet per year.

Smoke from the fires in Brazil's Amazon basin

Tens of thousands of fires have roared through the Amazon this year. In August 2019, there were over 30,000 fires, about three times the amount during August 2018. Wildfires are part of healthy ecosystems, even in the Amazon, but about 80,000 wildfires have affected the Amazon this year, many caused by humans clearing land for farming, which is far above normal levels.

Cattle stuck in the mud during Botswana's drought

Lake Ngami in northwestern Botswana typically hosts thousands of cattle, a diverse bird community, and the unique barbell fish, which can survive for months in the lake's mud when the water dries up. But recent droughts have strained these populations, and cattle especially find it hard to navigate through the mud.

Young Indian rhinoceros with her mother, Henna

Henna, a female Indian rhinoceros in the Beauval Zoo in France, gave birth to a daughter at the end of August 2019. Indian rhinos, also known as greater one-horned rhinos, are native to India and Nepal. Indians have hunted this species for their horn, but Indian rhino numbers are on the rise.

China's first cloned kitten

This is Garlic, who became China's first cloned cat when born on July 21. Its owner, Huang Yu, paid about $35,000 to clone his late cat, who also went by the name of Garlic. The company that cloned Garlic, Sinogene, has been offering pet cloning services since 2015.

A Kenai Mountain glacial terminus

Climate change has been especially harsh to Alaska’s cryosphere. Since 1815, Exit Glacier in the Kenai Mountains of Alaska has been retreating. Although it started off slow, shrinking at a rate of three feet a year, in 2016 alone it lost 300 feet of ice.

Worker harvests salt from Vietnam’s Hon Khoi fields

From January to June, workers harvest salt from the Hon Khoi fields, but market fluctuations and climate change are making a once-reliable (though laborious) occupation unpredictable, and workers are worried.

An infinity chamber at Berlin's House of Futures

Berlin's House of Futures, Futurium, officially opened Sept. 5, 2019. Futurium hosts exhibitions, experiments, workshops, and debates about science and culture, politics, business, and society. Futurium also features a lab where visitors can take part in hackathons, use 3D printers and robots, and try out ideas in the media lab.

Sheep eat their feed in drought stricken New South Wales

The people of New South Wales, Australia are in the midst of one of the worst droughts on record, which began in 2017. This drought has been a wake-up call for some farmers, who acknowledge that climate change will force them to change what they grow and how.

Comet 2I/Borisov passing through the solar system

Around the middle of October 2019, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of 2I/Borisov. The comet came from outside the solar system and is just the second known interstellar object to pass through it.

Paris Zoo's resident blob

On Oct. 16, Paris Zoological Park unveiled a new organism: the blob. The blob resembles a fungus, but had some animal-like functions. It's a mobile creature that has nearly 720 sexes, can heal itself when cut in half, and has some learning abilities, even though it doesn't have a brain.

An air taxi test flight

At the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Singapore this fall, the German company Volocopter tested their air taxi. This electrically powered aircraft can fly with a pilot or autonomously, and might one day offer an alternative to ground transportation. But cities aren't quite ready for this reality, and skeptics question safety, costs, and whether air taxis will just move traffic congestion from the ground to the air.

Strong winds blow embers from the Easy Fire

Each year the Santa Ana winds bring hot, dusty air from the desert to the Pacific coast, drying out plants, trees, and grasses as they go. These winds help create conditions for wildfires in California, and particularly strong Santa Ana winds helped blow embers from trees during the Easy Fire in October 2019. The Easy fire in Simi Valley, a city in Southern California, burned about 1,860 acres.

A Lake Titicaca frog at a Peruvian zoo

Peru's Huachipa Zoo announced the birth of this Lake Titicaca frog Nov. 5. These frogs (which are also called giant frogs, or scrotum frogs) are critically endangered because of pollution in Lake Titicaca and because they're hunted and consumed as an aphrodisiac.

Mercury's solar transit

On Nov. 11, NASA photographed Mercury during its transit across the sun. The last time Mercury moved across the sun was in 2016, but the next transit won't happen until 2032.

St. Mark's Square in Venice submerged in historic floods

Venice recently experienced its worst "acqua alta," flooding over two feet above sea level because of extremely high tides and bad weather, in 50 years. This time, the floodwaters reached about six feet above sea level, damaging the crypt and mosaic floor in St. Mark's basilica.

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