Science isn't all about examining graphs and charts. In this weekly column, staff writer Andrea Alfano puts together the most striking science images from the past week's news for your viewing pleasure. Scroll down to find phenomenal images and fascinating facts about the science behind them.
Whether studying the blood vessels in a mouse's ear or the bizarre behavior of a droplet of water, scientists served up some stunning shots this week. There was even beauty to be found in the patches of cells in our own bodies that may serve as a gateway for brain-destroying pathogens.
Scientists aren't so focused on their results that they can't stop to appreciate the beauty in their work, too. Jaewoo Kim, a doctoral student at the Department of Creative Engineering at Pohang University of Science in Korea, saw a cherry blossom in this photoacoustic tomography image of the blood vessels in a mouse's ear. He won the silver prize at the Light Image Contest held by the Optical Society of Korea for this striking image.
It looks like a soap bubble floating in space, but this colorful orb is actually the ghostly remnants of a dying star. Measuring a staggering four lightyears across, this strange-looking object is a planetary nebula known as the Southern Owl Nebula. This shot captured by the ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile provides the best view of the nebula so far.
This is a pancake bounce. Physicists observed this strange phenomenon while studying how droplets of water bounce off different surfaces. When a droplet hits a bunch of straight posts, it does, more or less, what you are probably accustomed to seeing a water droplet do. However, when a droplet hits the tapered posts shown in the image above, it forms this bizarre pancake shape that hovers in the air for a split second.
A video comparing the two outcomes shows just how much of a difference this seemingly subtle difference makes to the drop's behavior. The different shapes of the posts change the way air cushions form as the droplet hits the surface, and those air cushions shape the droplet as it bounces off.
In addition their aesthetic appeal, these regions of the small intestine – known as Peyer's patches – play an important role in your body's immune system. They are the first line of defense against bugs carried into the body in food, but a new study shows that one particularly nasty type of pathogen may be exploiting these patches so that it can ultimately gain access to the brain.
Those pathogens are known as prions, and they are the culprits behind Mad Cow Disease, which becomes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Once prions get into the brain, they eat away at it and, in the case of CJD, almost always kill the host.
No matter how often you look up at the moon in the night sky, you won't see this side of it. This striking image shows the "dark side" of the moon, which is never visible from Earth. NASA's EPIC camera, aboard the Dscovr satellite orbiting a million miles from Earth, captured the shot.
Scientists still aren't sure how to classify the bizarre ancient organisms known as rangeomorphs. They are covered in patterns reminiscent of ferns and other plants, and they "don't look like anything else in the fossil record," according to Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in Cambridge University's Department of Earth Sciences. Some consider them to be examples of some of the first animals, but no one can say for sure.
This week, Mitchell and her colleagues explained in a paper published in the journal Nature that showed that these particular rangeomorphs, known as Fractofusus, reproduced in way similar to that of some modern plants such as strawberries. They would send out "runners" from which new organisms would grow.
Clearly, this little ant is not going to be very successful at moving that giant Cheerio on its own. A new study showed that ants of this particular species, known as longhorn crazy ants, have an organized system for accomplishing such tasks.
Since it's hard to see where you're going when you're a tiny ant carrying a giant piece of cereal, the ants basically take turns leading the group. Ants who have been watching where everyone's going from a bit of a distance will join in to help steer everyone in the right direction. Once they themselves have lost track of where they're going, they are quick to defer to new leader ants that have just grabbed onto the load.
This lovely pattern is a bunch of liver cells that scientists grew from stem cells. The new method used to produce them could help provide liver cells for drug testing and other purposes, since the only current source – donated livers – is not nearly plentiful enough. The scientists figured out how to create liver cells using genetically engineered skin cells, as well as embryonic stem cells, which have proven to be more controversial.
The name "Lagoon Nebula" and the dreamy, fluffy-looking clouds of colorful gases make this region of space seem inviting. However, the Lagoon Nebula is, of course, better enjoyed from a distance. Harsh winds from scorching stars, funnels of noxious gas and the immense energy of star formation are part of what make this nebula so incredibly beautiful.