33 Science Pictures That Amazed The World In 2019

Published December 31, 2019
Updated November 7, 2023

From a 40,000-year-old wolf head preserved in Siberian ice to the first black hole ever fully visualized, this year's best science pictures left us astounded.

Supermassive Black Hole At Center Of M87
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33 Science Pictures That Amazed The World In 2019
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The new year wasn't even a day old when NASA scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland began celebrating the successful flyby of the farthest object ever visited by a human spacecraft at 12:33 a.m. As far as science pictures were concerned, 2019 was off to a heck of a start.

That object was Arrokoth — formerly known as Ultima Thule — and it gave scientists crucial information about the formation of planets and the rest of us some amazing photographs.

Now as we come to the year's end, we take a look back at the most inspirational, intriguing, and alarming science pictures from our latest orbit around the sun.

Were These Images From SpaceX Some Of The Best Science Pictures Of The Year?

People with money to burn are going to burn it, and what better way than with rockets?

Disappointed in NASA's decision to indefinitely delay a manned mission to Mars, Elon Musk took matters into his own hands. It would be several years before his then-radical idea of reusable rockets would become a reality, but in 2019, it finally did.

SpaceX's thrilling launch of the Arabsat-6A on April 11. SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket saw all three booster rockets safely land back on Earth after launching a communications satellite into orbit.

SpaceX is also a pioneer in promotional media. They livestream all of their launches on YouTube, post photos to Flickr and Instagram, and capture absolutely stunning photographs from low-Earth orbit. Their media program without a doubt is intended to inspire the kind of thrill and awe for space exploration that has been sadly lacking in NASA for the past couple of decades.

Thus, SpaceX's diligent photo documentation makes them a no-brainer for our 2019 science pictures list.

Not to be left out, other private companies such as United Launch Alliance, Blue Origins, and Virgin Galactic all made progress towards making human space travel a more routine endeavor, though they all still have a ways to go.

The Best Science Pictures In Paleontology

Dogor Wolf Dog

Centre for Palaeogenetics/TwitterScientists have named this 18,000-year-old mummified mutt Dogor, which means "friend" in Yakutian.

Several archeological and paleontological discoveries have also made our list of the best science pictures of the year.

From the forensic reconstruction of the face of a female Viking warrior — complete with a major laceration on her face that may or may not have killed her — to the recovery of an extremely well-preserved ancient puppy, scientists have been able to fill in critical gaps in our understanding of historic peoples and species.

Deepsea divers recorded an unprecedented video of a giant squid's floating egg sac, scientists in North Carolina discovered a tree in a swamp that is older than Christianity, and a couple of species previously believed to be extinct made their return, including the Fernandina Giant Tortoise of the Galápagos Islands.

Not all the science pictures of the animal world were cause for celebration, however.

Emaciated grizzly bears in British Columbia broke our hearts as climate change continues to disrupt ecosystems across the globe and it seemed we couldn't go more than a week or two without new photos of dead whales or other marine animals washing ashore with their stomachs full of tens of pounds of plastic.

Documenting The Accelerating Climate Crisis

Sao Poalo In Darkness From Amazon Fires

PLANET LABS/Twitter; StretfordTalks/TwitterSmoke from fires set deliberately in Brazil's Amazon rain forest grew so thick that it blotted out the sun and turned the afternoon into night in São Paulo.

Some of the most stunning science pictures of the year were those that illuminated the climate crisis. July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded according to NASA and NOAA, and the increase in temperature was felt most dramatically in the Arctic.

The annual summer glacier melt was exacerbated this year by a heatwave in northern Europe in July and the beginning of August. Video of raging torrents of meltwater cutting trenches through glacial ice in Greenland left many speechless.

Meanwhile, typical stretches of white ice from horizon to horizon on the Greenland ice sheet were broken up by lakes and rivers of blue-green meltwater on the surface of the second-largest ice sheet in the world.

All of that meltwater eventually made its way to the ocean where it will add to the rise in sea level, most noticeably demonstrated by the incredible pictures in Venice last month as the Alta Acqua high tides of the Venetian lagoon resulted in the worst flooding the city had seen in half a century.

And The Best Science Picture Of The Year

Katie Bouman Studies M87

In April, humanity was given its first-ever image of a black hole thanks to the painstaking work of the Event Horizon Telescope project and a Post-Graduate computer scientist at Caltech by the name of Katie Bouman. The picture on the right was taken just after her algorithm successfully rendered the unmistakable image of a supermassive black hole at the heart of galaxy M87.

While the climate crisis is unquestionably alarming, 2019 also showed that human ingenuity is capable of overcoming extraordinary obstacles.

One of the most important science pictures of the year is probably that taken by the Event Horizon Telescope of the supermassive black hole (SBH) in the heart of galaxy M87.

Though the M87's SBH is a monster by any measure — it has a mass seven billion times that of our sun — it is relatively small in dimension. The event horizon, the boundary around the object beyond which light is unable to escape, is only about five times the diameter of our solar system. What's more, M87 is 55 million light-years away from us, making M87's SBH all but impossible to see under any circumstances.

With such a narrow visual target to pinpoint and the relative absence of detectable radiation from a black hole in general, it would take a telescope the size of the Earth itself to reach the resolution necessary to be able to take a picture of M87's SBH.

The apparent impossibility of building such a telescope didn't discourage the hundreds of scientists who collaborated for several years to do exactly that. By using a network of radio telescopes, computer algorithms, and a precisely-coordinated effort, the Event Horizon Telescope project produced the first-ever image of the shadow of a supermassive black hole's event horizon.

An achievement in its own right, the scale of the challenge and humanity's ability to overcome it makes that one image not just the most significant science picture of 2019, but also proof that no matter the challenge, we can rise to the occasion when we work together for the common good.

Now that you've checked out some of the most intriguing science pictures of 2019, you can read more about the stories behind many of the photos in our gallery in this year's science news roundup. If your appetite for science pictures hasn't been satisfied yet, definitely head over to our gallery of photos from the Hubble Telescope to see the awe-inspiring beauty of our universe.

Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Silverman, Leah. "33 Science Pictures That Amazed The World In 2019." AllThatsInteresting.com, December 31, 2019, https://allthatsinteresting.com/science-pictures-2019. Accessed May 25, 2024.