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Pictured here is the shadow of the "event horizon" or the limits of the supermassive black hole at the heart of galaxy M87. Don't worry — it's nearly 55 million light years from Earth.Event Horizon Telescope collaboration
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Commercial space flight continued to make significant advances this past year, with some major milestone achievements for companies like SpaceX and Boeing.SpaceX
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A 518-million-year-old Daihua fossil was discovered in China this year.
A likely ancestor of the modern-day comb jellies and several other seemingly unconnected species, the discovery suggests that corals, comb jellies, sea anemones, and jellyfish are more closely related than previously understood.Yang Zhao
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Archeologists discovered a 1,000-year-old burial site for a female Viking in Norway that was loaded with weapons such as a sword, an axe, a shield, a spear, and arrows. Because the skeleton in the grave was a female, her status as a warrior had been questioned by establishment figures.
After a precise facial reconstruction of the woman revealed the presence of a gnarly wound on her face — though not necessarily enough to have been fatal — archeologists are more convinced than ever that the woman was one of a growing number of viking warrior women buried with the same honors given to their male counterparts. National Geographic
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This summer, a record heatwave in the northern latitudes caused a massive ice melt in Greenland, home to the second-largest ice sheet in the world after the Antarctic ice sheet.
In just a single day, Greenland lost 10 billion tons of ice to surface melt, with the total ice loss for the month of July 2019 — the hottest month ever recorded, according to NASA — reaching a staggering 197 billion tons. According to the Danish Meteorological Institute, one billion tons of ice is the equivalent of about 400,000 olympic sized swimming pools. Steffen Olsen/Twitter
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In October, Google and NASA announced that they had achieved "quantum supremacy" with Google's Sycamore quantum computer. Quantum supremacy is the point at which a quantum computer successfully carries out a computing task that is practically impossible for even the fastest classical supercomputer to complete.
Google's published results indicate that their quantum system carried out a task in 200 seconds that would take the fastest computer in the world more than 10,000 years to perform. Google's quantum computing rival, IBM, disputes Google's results and the rivalry between the two is bound to intensify as we transition into the quantum computing era.Google/IBM
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Pictured is the colorful Indian giant squirrel (Malabar giant squirrel) in Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Karnataka. The popularity of these colorful animals skyrocketed this year after the internet got wind of them in a series of adorable photos.Yathin S. Krishnappa/Wikimedia Commons
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An Airman carries a training dummy into a transportation isolation system March 5, 2019, during an exercise at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. Engineered and implemented after the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, the TIS is an enclosure the Department of Defense can use to safely transport patients with highly contagious diseases.
In November 2019 the World Health Organization pre-qualified the first-ever vaccine for the Ebola virus for use in at-risk countries struggling with outbreaks of the virulent disease.U.S. Department of Defense
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Miss Virginia Pageant contestant Camille Schrier, 24, performs a chemistry experiment for the talent showcase portion of the competition.
A graduate of Virginia Tech with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology, Schrier's science experiments appear to have impressed both the audience and the judges as she took home the title of Miss Virginia this year.John Herzog/Miss Virginia
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The Fernandina giant tortoise of the Galapagos was last seen in 1906 and was long believed to be extinct, so it was a shock to everyone at the Island's National Park this year when conservationists stumbled upon an adult female tortoise.
Believed to be over 100 years old, the tortoise was brought to a sanctuary and breeding center for giant tortoises of the Galápagos Islands. How the tortoise escaped notice for more than a century isn't clear, but park officials are on the lookout for more Fernandina giant tortoises on the island.GNPD/W. Tapia
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A young sperm whale was found dead on a beach in Palermo, Italy in May of this year. It was later revealed that the whale had a large amount of plastic in its stomach, the fifth such whale that Greenpeace Italia has seen this year. It is estimated that more than 100 million marine animals die every year from plastic contaminating our oceans. Greenpeace Italia/Facebook
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ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has observed the central part of the Milky Way with spectacular resolution and uncovered new details about the history of star birth in our galaxy. Thanks to the new observations, astronomers have found evidence for a dramatic event in the life of the Milky Way: a burst of star formation so intense that it resulted in over a hundred thousand supernova explosions.ESO
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As climate change continues to accelerate, the year-round snow and ice that has typically blanketed the slopes around Mt. Everest is melting at an alarming rate — and revealing the bodies of fallen climbers who were frozen beneath the snow and ice.
In some cases, the corpses of fallen climbers — like the body of Tsewang Paljor, also known as “Green Boots” — are used as markers for sherpas and climbers making their ascent to the summit.Nirmal Purja MBE:"Project Possible 14/7"/Instagram
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Ancient scrolls from the first century A.D. — and possibly even earlier — might soon reveal their long-hidden secrets thanks to artificial intelligence.
Turned into charred lumps of carbon by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., there is no way to unravel the ancient scrolls without destroying them. But with the help of an AI algorithm and high-energy X-rays, researchers hope to digitally unravel the scrolls in order to read them.Diamond Light Source/Digital Restoration Initiative/University of Kentucky
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Supermassive black holes are perhaps the most exotic structures in the known universe, wielding such awesome power that their gravity can rip apart entire stars with ease.
Such was the case in January of this year when astronomers observed a supermassive black hole in the Volans constellation — approximately 375 million light-years from us — tearing apart a star about the size of our sun. NASA even produced an animation to demonstrate the black hole's awesome power. NASA/Goddard Pace Flight Center
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As climate change threatens the polar bear's arctic habitat, the animals have become one of the most endangered species of fauna on earth. The resulting disruption to the polar bears' food supply has led many to grow bolder and enter human-occupied areas looking for something to eat.
For instance, one village in Russia was overrun earlier this year by more than fifty tired and hungry polar bears who dug through the towns trash and even entered into people's homes, desperate for sustenance. muah_irinaelis/Instagram
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Earlier this year, the Paris Zoological Park unveiled their latest attraction — "the Blob." Formally named Physarum polycephalum and more commonly known as "slime mold," this unicellular organism as no mouth, no eyes, 720 sexes, and can detect and digest any food it comes across. Paris Zoological Park/Facebook
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SpaceX's Dragon Crew capsule performed a successful automated docking maneuver with the International Space Station over the summer, bringing NASA one step closer to returning manned space flight to American soil. SpaceX
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Since the agricultural revolution around 12,000 B.C., bread has been a staple of the human diet. Recently, a researcher-turned-baker took quite a gamble and successfully baked a sourdough loaf from 4,500-year-old yeast.Seamus Blackley/Twitter
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The gemstone carmeltazite is similar in appearance and chemical composition to ruby and sapphire but is yet unlike any other sapphire found in the world. In fact, the mineral has otherwise only been identified in outer space. "Carmel Sapphire," as it is known, was recently discovered within the volcanic rock of Mount Carmel in Israel.Shefa Yamim
Working off of the Escherichia coli genome since E. coli is capable of full functionality with a very limited number of genetic instructions, the researchers spent the better part of two years reading and redesigning the E. coli genome before moving on to creating an entirely synthetic version of its DNA.University of Cambridge
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The Raikoke Volcano erupted this year after 95 years of inactivity. Located on Russia's Kuril Islands, Raikoke was beneath the International Space Station when it erupted, giving astronauts on board the station the opportunity to photograph a volcanic eruption from a unique vantage point.NASA Earth Observatory
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Earlier this year, scientists were able to extract blood and urine from an exquisitely-preserved foal that was buried underneath the Siberian permafrost for roughly 42,000 years. The scientists hope that with the animal's blood they can clone it and bring its species back from extinction.Semyon Grigoryev/NEFU/The Siberian Times
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This year, scientists were able to witness the extraordinary return of the Aldabra Rail Bird, a flightless bird that went extinct around 136,000 years ago when its habitat was submerged under the Indian ocean.
The bird managed to re-evolve itself from its predecessor species in a rare phenomenon known as "iterative evolution," which allows a species to go extinct and evolve back into existence multiple times.Wikimedia Commons
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Arrokoth — formerly known as Ultima Thule — is a trans-Neptunian body in the Kuiper Belt that was visited by NASA's New Horizons probe on New Year's Day, 2019. It is also the farthest astronomical object ever visited by a human spacecraft and the data gathered during the flyby has deepened our understanding of planetary formation. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko
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Researchers diving in the Norwegian Sea came upon this mysterious floating blob while searching for a World War II shipwreck. Turns out it's an egg sac for the giant squid.YouTube
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This 2,624-year-old tree in the Black River region of North Carolina has been dated using both traditional dendrochronology (or counting the rings inside of it) and radiocarbon dating. It is the oldest known cypress tree and the fifth-oldest tree in the world.Twitter
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An exceptionally well-preserved wolf-head was dug up from the permafrost of Siberia this year and scientists estimate that the wolf lived 40,000 years ago.
While the Siberian permafrost continues to melt as a consequence of climate change, the tundra increasingly exposes the millennia-old remains of animals and humans alike.Albert Protopopov
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Tourists pause for a selfie at the flooded St. Mark's square in Venice, Italy in November 2019. Venice saw record high tides that resulted in the worst flooding the city has seen in over 50 years. Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images
Scientists recently uncovered a 28,000-year-old corpse of a woolly mammoth that — thanks to the incredible preservative properties of the Siberian permafrost — shows signs of biological activity in its organic material. The researchers hope that their findings will bring us closer to bringing the mammoths back from extinction.Kindai University
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A thin-looking mother bear looks for food with her cubs in British Columbia, Canada. The salmon that bears feed on to prepare for winter hibernation have seen their spawning grounds disrupted due to climate change and over-fishing, leaving the bears that depend on them for food especially vulnerable. Rolf Hicker/HickerPhoto/Facebook
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NASA's Opportunity rover was finally retired after 15 years of operation when a worldwide dust storm engulfed Mars for weeks on end, cutting the rover's solar panels off from the sunlight it needed to remain functional.
After months of attempting to recover the robot, NASA officially declared "Oppy" dead on Feb. 13 of this year. The last panorama taken by the rover shows its final resting place in the aptly- named Perseverance Valley.NASA/JPL-Caltech
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
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.
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
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
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.