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.
This week in science, we saw an insect that looks like it's disguised as a robot and a robot that looks like it's trying to pass itself off as an insect.
The seemingly unnaturally shiny ant on the left is a Saharan silver ant, and its flashy appearance actually serves a critical purpose. Researchers reported in the journal Science earlier this week that the silvery hairs coating the ants' exoskeleton have special properties that keep the ants cool in the blistering Sahara heat. They found that the hairs are structured in a way that allows them to control a broad range of light waves, not just visible light.
The ants' silver hairs are so effective for cooling that the findings could lead to new coating materials for passive radiative cooling of objects that are modeled off the ants' strategy.
Hallucigenia, the alien-looking creature illustrated above has 7 pairs of legs, 3 pairs of tentacles, and rows of spines along its back. And presumably, it has a head, too. But this half-billion-year-old worm, preserved in fossils found in western Canada's Burgess Shale, has such an unusual body plan that for decades, scientists weren't completely sure which end was the head and which was the tail. This week brought a definitive answer, as researchers looked more closely at the fossils and discovered that one end bears needle-like teeth.
Four galaxies huddle together in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. They belong to a larger group of galaxies called the Hickson Compact Group 16. Because compact groups contain such unusually dense clusters of galaxies, they are filled with strange and fascinating phenomena.
The rectangular robot above is terrible at negotiating dense clusters of obstacles, such as the piles of rubble in a disaster area. But with the addition of a "terradynamic" shell, the robot is able to easily scuttle through clutter simply as a result of the shell's shape. This simple and elegant solution was actually borrowed from the lowly cockroach, and researchers hope the bio-inspired design will one day help robots tasked with searching for survivors after disasters and monitoring environmental conditions.
The scientific explanation for the shimmering rings of color in this image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory sounds about as fantastical as the rings look. What you are seeing are "echoes" of X-ray light produced by a neutron star. But apparently that's not enough fantasy for the researchers studying the system, who have taken to calling it the "Lord of the Rings."
The geometric shapes in the image above are not snowflakes, but common moon jellies. The jellyfish look so different from one another because they've lost different numbers of limbs, but they've managed to keep at least one thing consistent among them - symmetry. Scientists reported this week that when these eight-limbed sea creatures lose a limb, they don't regrow them like many invertebrates do. Rather, they reorganize their bodies such that they stay symmetrical.
Previous work by planetary scientists has shown that volcanoes ravaged Venus's surface earlier in the life of the planet. But this week researchers used images from the Venus Express spacecraft to show that some volcanoes are likely still exploding on Venus even today. They say that understanding Venusian volcanoes may help scientists better understand the evolution of planets like Earth.