Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie

By Ben Wolford on December 10, 2013 5:31 PM EST

Sometimes science isn't interesting because it doesn't make any sense. Sure, there's somebody in Cambridge, Mass., who gets amped on quantum physics breakthroughs, but you and me and the guy at the deli across the street want to know when they're coming out with teleportation.

But sometimes science hits even the densest of us hard, turning us back into little kids, sitting in class, listening to the teacher tell us why volcanos spit lava and the moon changes shapes. That's kind of what the photos are for. They let the MIT physicist and the deli guy get excited about the same thing. We've picked out a few of our favorites from 2013. And not just earth and space science, but biology and technology, too. It's been an interesting year.

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1. The Glorious SpaceX Launch

In November, SpaceX launched its first commercial satellite into orbit, solidifying the company's stake in the space transit industry. People in Broward County, 170 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Fla., said they could see the rocket streak out over the ocean."

SpaceX launches its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 28.
SpaceX launches its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 28. Photo: SpaceX

2. Best Picture of Saturn, Ever?

NASA released a dazzling picture of what it called "the jewel of the solar system," Saturn. It's a gorgeous view of the rings, spanning more than 400,000 miles of space. The planet appears black because it's eclipsing the sun for the space probe Cassini, which took the picture. The coolest part is that earth and our moon appear in the bottom right quadrant, nearly microscopic in the background. Click here to see the photo in high resolution and labeled.

On July 19, NASA took this picture of Saturn, which shows the earth in the distant background.
On July 19, NASA took this picture of Saturn, which shows the earth in the distant background. Photo: NASA

3. Green Alien Skies In the Great White North

Earlier this year, Alaska and Canada were treated to the sun's ions dancing in the grips of the earth's magnetism. A man hiking outside Fairbanks, Alaska, snapped this picture.

A man hiking on the Wickersham Dome trailhead outside Fairbanks, Alaska, took this picture on March 16.
A man hiking on the Wickersham Dome trailhead outside Fairbanks, Alaska, took this picture on March 16. Photo: Flickr/FairbanksMike

4. The Two-Headed Shark

In other news, scientists confirmed the discovery of the first ever two-headed bull shark. A fisherman who caught a mother found this mutant fetus in her uterus. It quickly died, but scientists say it probably would've died just as quickly in the wild.

On March 25, scientists announced the first discovery of a mutant bull shark fetus with two heads. Photo: Michigan State University
On March 25, scientists announced the first discovery of a mutant bull shark fetus with two heads. Photo: Michigan State University

5. The Comet of the Century: ISON

The comet ISON (RIP) pretty much dissolved as it passed by the sun earlier this month. But before it died, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this awesome picture of the comet and everything behind it. By focusing the lens on the stars and galaxies in the background, ISON is blurred. But, honestly, pictures of tiny spiral galaxies are way cooler.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this picture of the comet ISON on April 30 with stars and galaxies in the background. Photo: NASA
The Hubble Space Telescope captured this picture of the comet ISON on April 30 with stars and galaxies in the background. Photo: NASA

6. Curiousity's Mars Selfie

Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover, discovered an ancient freshwater lake and the possibility of lifeforms there, scientists announced this month. But one of the first things it did was take a self portrait for inspection (and maybe vanity) purposes.

NASA's Curiosity poses for a picture on Mars. Photo: NASA
NASA's Curiosity poses for a picture on Mars. Photo: NASA

7. Mt. Etna's Vivid Eruption

In September, Europe's most active volcano, Mt. Etna, erupted, sending bright orange lava into the night sky and waking up the neighbors for miles around.

In this photo from Reuters, two people watch the eruption of Mt. Etna on Sept. 16.
In this photo from Reuters, two people watch the eruption of Mt. Etna on Sept. 16.

8. A New Island Forms Right Before Our Eyes

Then, in November, another volcano erupted, this time half a world away near the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. It added new earth to a string of Japanese islands.

Japan's newest island forms off the coast of one of its distant southern island chains. Photo: Reuters
Japan's newest island forms off the coast of one of its distant southern island chains. Photo: Reuters

9. The Ugliest Animal To Ever Make It On The Internet (And That's Saying A LOT)

OK, don't look at this next one for too long or while eating. It's called the blobfish, spawned in the graciously dark waters deep off the coast of Australia. In September, the Ugly Animal Preservation Society awarded it the distinction: "world's ugliest animal." As you can see, blobfish here was none too pleased.

The Blobfish this year was named ugliest animal. But his mother loves him. Photo: Flickr
The Blobfish this year was named ugliest animal. But his mother loves him. Photo: Flickr

10. Small Is Beautiful

Nikon, the camera maker, again held its "Small World" competition for awesome pictures of microscopic things. The winner, Wim von Egmond, took a picture of a marine diatom, a helix-shaped oxygen-producing organism. He found this one on plankton in the North Sea. See all the top entries here.

This Chaetoceros debilis (marine diatom), a colonial plankton organism, is 250 times magnified. Photo: Wim von Egmond
This Chaetoceros debilis (marine diatom), a colonial plankton organism, is 250 times magnified. Photo: Wim von Egmond

11. The Death of a Star

This is what it looks like when a star dies. A new image taken by the Very Large Telescope in Chile shows the deep reddish hues of a the matter left from a supernova explosion, the great last gasp of a star. This entire nebular cloud is 14,000 lightyears across and is located 160,000 lightyears away from earth.

This photo, released Nov. 27, shows matter left over from a star explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our nearest galactic neighbors. Photo: European Southern Observatory
This photo, released Nov. 27, shows matter left over from a star explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our nearest galactic neighbors. Photo: European Southern Observatory

12. Stealth Incarnate: The Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer

This baby is called the Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer, one of the Navy's latest and quietest toys. The ship was floated off its dry docks in October, when this photo was taken. The Navy says its 007 appearance are less for aesthetics than for stealth. Radio waves bounce off the ship at odd angles, making it difficult for radars to detect.

The Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer should be operable by 2016, the Navy says. Photo: U.S. Navy
The Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer should be operable by 2016, the Navy says. Photo: U.S. Navy

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