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.

Drugs, chaos, and snakes were just a few of the sources of amazing science images this week. As always, we got some breathtaking perspectives from space, plus some inspiring science-based art. New technnology also gave us an unprecedented glimpse into the inner workings of the brain.

Astronaut Scott Kelly bid the Earth goodnight earlier this week with this spectacular shot that features the Nile River illuminated "like a jewel." Kelly has been living aboard the International Space Station for several months already, and will remain there for a full year in total. He has beamed a bounty of amazing photos back to Earth already, so we surely have many more incredible images to look forward to from Kelly in the months ahead.

The four seemingly psychedelic images above are actually models of the extremely complex physical phenomenon of chaos. A relatively young field of science, the study of chaos began in the second half of the 20th century and aims to describe the complex interactions between events in the universe with mathematics. The classic example of chaos is "the butterfly effect" – the idea that the gentle flutter of a butterfly's wings in Canada might set off a hurricane in Florida weeks later, for example. It's a mind-bending concept that physicists are still struggling to puzzle out, but the models they come up with are fascinating and often beautiful, too.

Snakes' most famous feature is, of course, their lack of a feature common to most vertebrates: limbs. This week, a group of scientists published a paper describing a new fossil they uncovered in Brazil. While it has been known for some time that snakes once had limbs that disappeared over the course of evolution, this incredibly well-preserved fossil provides insights into what proto-snakes might have used their stubby little legs for. The features of the four limbs present on this fossil suggest that this snake ancestor used its limbs for burrowing.

The works of science-based art above are part of an exhibition called Radical Elements. They were all created by artists in the Studio Art Quilt Association who channeled a single element from the peridiodic table for the project. From left to right, the quilts shown here represent iridium, carbon, and gadolinium.

These stunning objects are crystallized forms of hard drugs, beautifully prepared and photographed by Maurice Mikkers. The top row, from left to right, shows MDMA, LSD, and GHB. The bottom shows DMT, amphetamine, and 2CB. Upon learning that many hard drug users simply order these substances online, Mikkers purchased a tiny amount of MDMA not to consume, but to crystallize. He wrote in a fascinating piece on Medium that, "the first drug visualisation of MDMA got me 'hooked' on the beauty of its microscopic; crystals, structures and colours."


The European Space Agency shared this image from its Sentinel-2A satellite this week. It shows patches of irrigated land in the Saudi Arabian desert. The red is false coloration that highlights where plant growth is occurring. The circular shapes are a result of the long pivoting water pipes that rotate to water the crops. Sentinel-2 can see where forests have been cut, where meadows are lush and where they are barren, and other environmental data as part of an effort to minimize deforestation and use natural resources efficiently around the world.

Each color in this 3D model represents a different type of cell in the mouse brain. Researchers developed a new tool that allows them to peer into the brain at an unprecedented resolution. So far, they have only used it to study the mouse brain, but they were able to capture nanoscale details. They hope that the new technology will allow them to see precisely what a neurological disorder looks like in the brain, amongst other potential discoveries.

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