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The top 10 science images of 2016
(Left to right): Anup Shah/Visuals Unlimited, Inc.; ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo; Ernest Wright, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

The top 10 science images of 2016

This year was full of amazing scientific breakthroughs and some cool science news stories, but the scientific images of 2016 were equally remarkable. Here are some of our favorites.

A maverick scientist becomes a guinea pig

Spencer Lowell

A variety of creatures across the animal kingdom navigate by sensing Earth’s magnetic field—a talent known as magnetoreception. Joe Kirschvink, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, is trying to figure out whether humans can do the same. Here he is, about to be exposed to custom magnetic fields generated by an array of electrical coils, while an electroencephalogram machine records his brain waves.

An adorable assassin

Natural History Museum, London UK

This cute little Solenodon is a close cousin of the “island murderer,” otherwise known as the genus Nesophontes, which were prolific killers of insects across the Caribbean. Scientists are using fossilized DNA to trace the history of Nesophontes, 5 centuries after they went extinct.

Ear in a dish

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

A new ear may be just a 3D printer away. That’s the promise of the integrated tissue-organ printer, which laces artificial body parts with living cells to produce specimens like this one.

Namibian clouds could help solve global warming puzzle

Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

The coastal fog above provides a beguiling backdrop for the thorniest problem in all of climate science: how haze and clouds interact to influence global warming. In August, NASA aircraft began to tackle this mystery by studying a natural atmospheric laboratory off the coast of Namibia, where a layer of smoke from fires in Africa wafts over a low cloud deck.

Polio returns to Nigeria

UMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

Nigeria was about to declare victory over polio, thanks to successful vaccination campaigns like the one depicted. Then, in mid-August, the country reported two polio cases in children, after having gone 3 years without a case of the wild virus. Now, experts are concerned about a new outbreak.

A ‘disaster machine’ gets its close-up

Robert Sullivan

How can we best prepare for a cataclysmic event? Disaster machines—such as this “Wall of Wind” at Florida International University in Miami, which can blow as fiercely as a category-5 hurricane—are helping scientists understand some of the world’s most destructive natural phenomena.

A bonobo gets an eye exam

Anup Shah/Visuals Unlimited, Inc.

Humans aren’t the only primates that may need reading glasses. One of our closest cousins, bonobos, lose their vision as they age. Here are a couple of the apes engaged in an act of grooming, which looks suspiciously like a trip to the optometrist’s.

The lovely lichen

Timothy Wheeler/

Lichens are a bizarre life form. A symbiotic partnership between fungus and an alga, scientists are still probing their mysteries. This specimen, Hypogymnia imshaugii, was attractive enough to make the cover of Science in July.

Feasting off the dung of dinosaurs

Rainer von Brandis/iStock

Dung beetles, like this one, are famous for eating the poop of cows, elephants, and other animals. But 115 million years ago, they feasted on dinosaur dung. And when the ancient beasts disappeared, so, too, did some of these beetles.

Peering beneath the surface of the moon

Ernest Wright, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Forget about the dark side of the moon—what lies beneath its surface? Clues to mysterious impact crater rings, according to this subsurface map obtained from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission. The data could provide insight into other comet and asteroid strikes across the solar system.