Year in review: 50 stunning science images from 2020

Written by:
December 31, 2020
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images

50 stunning science images from 2020

On Oct. 7, 2020, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their work on CRISPR. The scientists first developed the gene-editing technology in 2012 and were finally recognized for their efforts and further developments of the tool this year. A member of the Nobel Committee weighed in on the decision, saying it has “revolutionized the life sciences … We can now easily edit genomes as desired—something that before was hard, or even impossible … Only imagination sets the limits for what this chemical tool … can be used for in the future. Perhaps the dream of curing genetic diseases will come true.”

The eagerly anticipated win wasn’t the only big science news to come out of 2020. Other notable events include the lightning-fast work scientists and researchers around the world completed with regards to COVID-19, from understanding the virus to developing a vaccine. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, which would harness the power of fusion (the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and stars) as a source of safe, green, and limitless energy, got one step closer to completion when all of its parts arrived and passed testing. Major leaps were made in quantum computing technology. Scientists developed a super-enzyme that can break down plastics six times faster than anything we currently have. And so much more.

While Stacker can’t cover every major news story to come out of the scientific sphere this year, we can give you the highlights. Using news and industry sources, Stacker compiled a collection of 50 incredible images showcasing groundbreaking science-related milestones and events that took place in 2020. From research teams breaking new ground in Antarctica to the discovery of mammoth bones and Egyptian sarcophagi to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, these photos are sure to inspire you with wonder and ignite curiosity in the world around us.

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Alessandro Dahan // Getty Images

Comandante Ferraz Station in Antarctica ready for 2020 inauguration

A team of researchers and Brazilian Navy sailors arrives at the beach of Dobrowolsky Glacier to collect ice and soil samples, on Jan. 4 in King George Island, Antarctica prior to the inauguration of Brazil’s Comandante Ferraz Station. The $100 million station, which opened in mid-January, is a “first-class” replacement of one that burned down in 2012.

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JEPPE GUSTAFSSON/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

Viking-era runestone warns of climate crisis

A father and a son look at the Viking-era Rök runestone near the Lake Vattern and the town of Odeshog, in Ostergotland, Sweden, on Jan. 9. Raised in the ninth century, the Rök stone bears the longest runic inscription in the world, which scholars believe to be a grieving father’s eulogy for his recently deceased son and a warning about an impending period of extreme cold.

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SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

Catastrophic bushfires in Australia continue

Cattle stand in a field under a red sky caused by bushfires in Greendale on the outskirts of Bega, in Australia's New South Wales state on Jan. 5. The death toll from this single day of catastrophic bushfires that caused "extensive damage" across swathes of the country for months reached 24.

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Ezra Acayan // Getty Images

Taal volcano erupts in the Philippines

Residents look on as Taal Volcano erupts on Jan. 12 in Talisay, Batangas province, Philippines. Local authorities evacuated residents near Taal Volcano as it began spewing ash more than a half-mile high Sunday afternoon. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has raised the alert level to three out of five, warning of the volcano's continued "magmatic unrest."

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THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images

A deadly new coronavirus spreads

A laboratory operator wearing protective gear handles patients' samples in a laboratory of the National Reference Center (CNR) for respiratory viruses at the Institut Pasteur in Paris on Jan. 28. The CNR analyses the tests for respiratory viruses including the novel coronavirus which had broken out in China months before and had so far killed 106 people and infected more than 4,000—the bulk of them in and around Wuhan.

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Smith Collection/Gado // Getty Images

Coronavirus genome published

Close-up of letters displaying a portion of the genetic sequence of the novel Coronavirus which infected people beginning in Wuhan, China. The release of the genetic sequence of the virus in January was a key step toward developing vaccines and other treatments.

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SERGEI ILNITSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Soyuz MS-13 returns to earth

The Soyuz MS-13 capsule carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of NASA astronaut Christina Koch, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency descends beneath a parachute before landing in a remote area outside the town of Dzhezkazgan (Zhezkazgan), Kazakhstan, on Feb. 6. The crew had spent a record-setting 328 continuous days in space before their return to earth.

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MARK RALSTON/AFP // Getty Images

A memorial for coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang

A memorial for Dr. Li Wenliang, who was the whistleblower of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China and caused the doctor’s death, is pictured on Feb. 15 outside the UCLA campus in Westwood, California. The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak surpassed 1,600 in China that Sunday, with the first fatality reported outside Asia fuelling global concerns.

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IMAGE POINT FR - LPN/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

SARS-CoV-2 named COVID-19

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released the first images of the virus in February, months after it was first discovered.

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LISE ASERUD/NTB Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Svalbard Global Seed Vault set to receive major delivery

People stand in front of the entrance to the international gene bank, Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) which is just outside Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen, Norway. The Arctic "doomsday vault" was set to receive 60,000 samples of seeds from around the world on Feb. 25, as the biggest global crop reserve stocks up for a global catastrophe.

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Alan Dyer/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Monoceros the Unicorn, a nebula-rich region

This is the nebula-rich region in the constellation of Monoceros the Unicorn with the dark Cone Nebula (left of center) and the small V-shaped and bright Hubble’s Variable Nebula at the bottom. A blend of exposures shot on a very clear moonless night, Jan. 26, was stacked, aligned, and blended in Photoshop.

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Chip Somodevilla // Getty Images

A global effort to flatten the curve

Health care professionals prepare to screen people for the coronavirus at a testing site erected by the Maryland National Guard in a parking lot at FedEx Field on March 30 in Landover, Maryland. The guard, in cooperation with the state of Maryland and Prince George’s County, said the site will be able to test about 100 people a day for COVID-19 if they have been recommended by a doctor. At this point, there had been 1,413 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland and 15 deaths since the start of the global pandemic.

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MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

iCub Robot used to study cognition

A photo taken on May 21 shows "iCub," an open-source cognitive humanoid robot, at the Italian Institute of Technology ((IIT)) in Genoa, Liguria. The iCub robot was developed at IIT as part of the EU project RobotCub, with the goal of studying the brain and human cognition. Researchers intend to teach the humanoid robot, which is the size of a 3.5-year-old child, how to learn, in hopes that robots can be employed in more areas of human life.

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MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images

COVID-19 vaccine trials

This picture taken on May 23 shows a laboratory baby monkey being examined by employees in the breeding center for cynomolgus macaques (longtail macaques) at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi. After conclusive results on mice, Thai scientists from the center began testing a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate on monkeys, the phase before human trials.

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NASA

M-class solar flares spotted by NASA

On May 29 a family of sunspots—dark spots that freckle the face of the Sun, representing areas of complex magnetic fields—sported the biggest solar flare since October 2017. Although the sunspots are not yet visible (they will soon rotate into view over the left limb of the Sun), NASA spacecraft spotted the flares high above them. Scientists and space weather forecasters are keeping their eye on this new cluster to see whether they grow or quickly disappear as they may well be harbingers of the Sun's solar cycle ramping up and becoming more active.

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Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

SpaceX launches

In this NASA handout image, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on a mission to the International Space Station on May 30. The first launch of the SpaceX Commercial Crew Program, the event ushered in a new era of human spaceflight as American astronauts once again launched on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were on board the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

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JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images

Cautious reopening at Berlin’s Sealife aquarium

An octopus holds a cleaning brush during a publicity stunt at Berlin's Sealife aquarium on June 4. The center was preparing to re-open to the public on June 6, amid the COVID-19 pandemic which had forced it to shut down months earlier.

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PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images

CT scan for a 210-kilogram gorilla in South Africa

Specialists from the Johannesburg Zoo and University of Pretoria's Onderstepoort Veterinary Academy monitor Makokou, a 35-year-old male Western Lowland Gorilla, after conducting a CT scan at the Veterinary Academy Hospital in Pretoria on June 6. The scan was ordered after a biopsy had shown that the gorilla had potentially dangerous polyps growing in his nasal passages.

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JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Energy-producing algae research

Iftach Yacoby, head of the Tel Aviv University's renewable energy laboratory, examines microalgae samples while conducting research that aims to demonstrate the evolutionary capacities of plants to produce energy. Israeli scientists say they have produced hydrogen from plants, a development that they hope could eventually lead to using vegetation to produce electricity.

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PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images

Annular solar eclipse viewing from Kathmandu

A bystander wears a pair of viewing goggles to watch an annular solar eclipse in Kathmandu on June 21. The eclipse was not total but did result in the moon covering 99% of the sun.

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John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Jellyfish invade Scituate Harbor

A lion's mane jellyfish lights up as a defense mechanism as it floats upside down in the water of Scituate Harbor, Massachusetts on June 25. An invasion of lion's mane, the largest known species of jellyfish in the world, occurred this summer along the South Shore, with some even spotted as far north as Maine and south to Cape Cod.

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MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

Pink snow spotted in the Italian Alps

On July 4, Biagio di Maio, a researcher at the National Research Council, shows pink-colored snow on the top of the Presena glacier near Pellizzano. The pink color of the snow is supposedly due to the presence of colonies of algae of the species Ancylonela nordenskioeldii from Greenland. While the algae is not dangerous, it does cause the snow and ice to melt faster.

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Ethan Miller // Getty Images

Comet NEOWISE seen from Nevada

The Comet NEOWISE is seen above a bentonite clay spire in Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada on July 23. The comet is named after NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which discovered it in March. It is about three miles wide and 64 million miles from Earth. Traveling at 144,000 miles per hour, the comet is moving away from the sun, and its long elliptical orbit means it will not return to the inner solar system for 6,800 years.

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CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU/AFP via Getty Images

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project underway

The final components of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the world’s largest and most complex nuclear fusion project, arrived at the southeastern France building site on July 28, which marks a huge milestone for the $25 billion endeavor. Thirty-five nations are collaborating in the ITER energy project aimed at mastering energy production from hydrogen fusion, a potential new source of carbon-free and non-polluting energy.

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REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Indoor vertical farming technology advances

An employee works at the PlantLab production hall in Amsterdam, on July 29. The company grows crops in high-tech cultivation areas, which no longer require daylight and can be grown in stacked layers. After receiving a $24.6 million investment earlier this year, the company hopes to roll out production sites around the world.

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Sean Gallup // Getty Images

Summer heatwave hits Svalbard Archipelago

A hiker walks among winding channels carved by water on the surface of the melting Longyearbreen glacier during a summer heatwave on the Svalbard archipelago on July 31. Svalbard archipelago, which lies approximately 1,200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, experienced a summer heatwave that set a new record in Longyearbyen on July 25 with a high of 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Global warming is having a dramatic impact on Svalbard that over the past 30 years has caused significant disruptions to the entire local ecosystem.

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Joe Raedle // Getty Images

Volunteers take part in COVID-19 vaccine trials

Lisa Taylor receives a COVID-19 vaccination from RN Jose Muniz as she takes part in a vaccine study at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida. Research Centers of America conducted COVID-19 vaccine trials, implemented under the federal government's Operation Warp Speed program.

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FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR/AFP via Getty Images

Deforestation of the Amazon reaches a new high

Aerial picture of a deforested area close to Sinop, Mato Grosso State, Brazil, taken on Aug. 7. This year, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest reached a 12-year high, covering 4,280 square miles (an area about the size of the state of Connecticut).

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Daniel Acker // Getty Images

Derecho causes widespread damage across Iowa farmlands

In this aerial image from a drone, damaged grain bins are shown at the Heartland Co-Op grain elevator on Aug. 1 in Luther, Iowa. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said early estimates indicated 10 million acres, nearly one-third of the state’s land used for crops, were damaged when a powerful storm battered the region a day earlier.

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Mario Tama // Getty Images

Record-breaking temperatures in California

Visitors walk near a sign warning of extreme heat danger on Aug. 17 in Death Valley National Park, California. The temperature reached 130 degrees at Death Valley National Park on Aug. 16, hitting what may be the hottest temperature recorded on Earth since at least 1913, according to the National Weather Service. Park visitors have been warned, "Travel prepared to survive."

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Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A loggerhead hatchling begins its journey to the sea

After being checked by members of DEKAMER (Sea Turtle Rescue Centre), a hatchling loggerhead turtle prepares to make its way into the sea near Mugla, Turkey. The COVID-19 pandemic was good news for the turtles, who were able to make it from their nests to the sea without disturbances for the first time in years.

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Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Record-setting fires in Brazil’s Pantanal

An out of control forest fire, the largest ever recorded in the rich biome, burns the area of the Brazilian Pantanal in rural Pocone, Mato Grosso, Brazil, on Aug. 19. The Brazilian Pantanal—one of the largest tropical floodplains in the world—had been suffering since the end of July with the worst wildfires in its registered history. More than 12%, or 16.500 sq. km (almost the size of Kuwait) had already been burned, and the situation wasn’t predicted to get better until October when it was expected to rain.

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LAURENT GILLIERON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Stratospheric solar flight over Switzerland

A picture taken on Aug. 25 shows the sun-powered stratospheric SolarStratos plane with project initiator Raphael Domjan onboard before taking the first-ever parachute jump from a solar-powered plane above Payerne, western Switzerland. The SolarStratos, a sleek, white, two-seater aircraft with long wings, covered with 22 square meters (237 square feet) of solar panels is set to become the first manned solar plane to make a stratospheric flight, according to Domjan.

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BENOIT DOPPAGNE/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

Titan Arum flower plant blooms in Belgium

A Titan Arum flower plant (Amorphophallus titanum) is shown in bloom at the privately-owned Pairi Daiza zoo and botanical garden, in Brugelette, on Sept. 3. It takes several years for the plant, which is also known for its strong smell, to make one single flower blossom.

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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP via Getty Images

Mammoth discovery in Mexico

Paleontologists of the National Institute of Anthropology work on the preservation of the skeletons of mammoths found during a recent excavation at the Santa Lucia Military Base in the Municipality of Zumpango, Mexico, on Sept. 8. The remains of a hundred mammoths and other prehistoric animals between 10,000 and 25,000 years old, appeared in the area during excavation works by the Mexican government for the construction of the new airport in Mexico City.

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BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/AFP via Getty Images

The largest wildfire season in California’s history

The San Francisco Bay Bridge is seen along Harrison Street under an orange smoke-filled sky in San Francisco, California on Sept. 9. More than 300,000 acres burned across the northwestern state including 35 major wildfires, with at least five towns "substantially destroyed" and mass evacuations taking place

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RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images

Measuring the flight of the Andean condor

A female Andean Condor overflies the Chakana private reserve on the slopes of the Antisana volcano on Sept. 10. The nearly extinct birds can soar for 100 miles without flapping, a very efficient flight technique that helps to keep the 33-pound animal aloft.

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ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Stan the T-Rex goes up for auction

A Tyrannosaurus rex (T-Rex) skeleton, named STAN on display during a press preview at Christie's Rockefeller Center on Sept. 15 in New York City. One of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found, STAN was discovered in 1987 near Buffalo, South Dakota. The 188-bone skeleton took more than three years to excavate and reconstruct by paleontologists from the state's Black Hills Geological Research Institute, where it was exhibited until its auction.

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Kelly Barnes // Getty Images

Sniffer dogs taught to detect COVID-19

An English Springer Spaniel named Floki takes part in the COVID-19 detection training at the University of Adelaide on Sept. 18 in Adelaide, Australia. Researchers from the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Adelaide are working to train sniffer dogs to pick up on positive COVID-19 sweat samples in people. If successful, the detection dogs would be used to screen people for the novel coronavirus such as at airports, hospitals, or quarantine facilities.

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POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Largest mass whale stranding event in Australia’s history

This photograph taken Sept. 21 shows a pod of whales stranded on a sandbar in Macquarie Harbour off the rugged west coast of Tasmania. After two large pods of long-finned pilot whales (totaling about 500) became stuck on the sandbars, scientists initiated a "challenging" operation to rescue as many of the creatures as they could. In total, about 360 of the whales died due to the beaching.

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KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images

A major archaeological discovery in Egypt

A picture taken Oct. 3 shows sarcophagi excavated by the Egyptian archaeological mission which discovered a deep burial well with more than 59 human coffins closed for more than 2,500 years, displayed during a press conference at the Saqqara necropolis, 30 kilometers south of the Egyptian capital Cairo. The sarcophagi were unearthed south of Cairo in the sprawling burial ground of Saqqara, the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their exteriors are covered in intricate designs in vibrant colors as well as hieroglyphic pictorials.

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MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images

Record-breaking hurricane season continues

A man walks across the street as the outer bands of Hurricane Delta make landfall in Galveston, Texas on Oct. 9. Early this fall, Hurricane Delta churned toward the Louisiana coast packing ferocious winds and potential for a dangerous storm surge and flooding, prompting the evacuation of people still rebuilding from another devastating storm that had occurred less than two months prior.

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MARCELO MANERA/AFP via Getty Images

Drought-resistant wheat approved in Argentina

Aerial view showing wheat, genetically modified by the Bioceres agricultural biotechnology company (tallest three rows at center), planted next to natural wheat in an experimental field in Pergamino, northwest of Buenos Aires, on Oct. 15. Argentina became the first country to approve the growth and consumption of genetically modified drought-tolerant wheat, the government National Commission for Science and Technology (CONICET) said earlier this month. The drought-resistant HB4 wheat variety was developed by Bioceres, working with the National University and CONICET.

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ELAINE THOMPSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Murder hornets captured in Washington

Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, displays a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him on Oct. 24 in Blaine, Washington. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first “murder hornet” nest in the United States earlier that week and worked to wipe it out Saturday morning in order to protect native honeybees. Workers with the state Agriculture Department spent weeks searching, trapping, and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which are a threat to the honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops.

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Al Seib/Los Angeles Times // Getty Images

Ecological impact of fires on giant Sequoias

Kristen Shive, Director of Science for Save The Redwoods Shive leads a group around the base of the 3,000-year-old Stagg Tree, the fifth-largest giant sequoia on record which is as tall as a 25-story building and wider than a two-lane road. The Stagg Tree remained untouched during the California wildfire season thanks to a hose sprinkler system laid around its base by firefighters. Elsewhere, one of the monster wildfires birthed by California's August lightning blitz, the Castle fire, burned through portions of roughly 20 giant sequoia groves on the western slopes of the Sierra, the only place on the planet they naturally grow.

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Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Relocation of endangered yellow-legged frog by USGS biologists

USGS biologist Elizabeth Gallegos holds an endangered yellow-legged frog recovered from a fire-ravaged stretch of Little Rock Creek, near Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains. The frog will be released later at an extremely remote creek free of invasive predators and the threat of mudslides. The effort is part of a multi-agency rescue campaign involving many endangered species in pockets of habitat scattered throughout burned areas of Southern California.

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RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Arecibo telescope decommissioned

This aerial view shows a hole in the dish panels of the Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on Nov. 19. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Nov. 19 that it would decommission the radio telescope following two cable breaks in recent months which have brought the structure to near collapse.

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China National Space Administrat/AFP via Getty Images

An unmanned Chinese spacecraft lands on the Moon

This picture taken Dec. 1 and released the following day by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), shows an image of the moon’s surface taken by the panoramic camera aboard the lander-ascender combination of the Chang'e-5 spacecraft after landing on the moon. The feat represents the latest milestone in a mission to collect samples from the lunar surface.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Ocean research vessel Tara embarks on a new mission

People wave as the Tara yacht takes the start of its new scientific campaign on Dec. 12 in the port of Lorient, western France. The floating laboratory will spend two years studying the ocean’s microbiome, seeking to uncover how it’s been affected by environmental changes.

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Manuel Balce Ceneta-Pool // Getty Images

FDA grants emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

SPC Angel Laureano holds a COVID-19 vaccine at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Dec. 14 in Bethesda, Maryland. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller received his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, as the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history kicked off in an effort to get protection against the COVID-19 pandemic.

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