Amazing images: The best science photos of the week

    Photographs of museum specimens in ultraviolet light revealed the platypus's secret glow.

    (Image: © Mammalia 2020; 10.1515/mammalia-2020-0027)

    Each week at Live Science we find the most interesting and informative articles we can. Along the way, we uncover some amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover the most incredible photos we found this week, and the remarkable stories behind them.

    Return of the wolf spider

    Great fox-spiders immobilize their prey by injecting them with venom that liquifies the internal organs of the insect. 

    (Image credit: Surrey Wildlife Trust)

    A 2-inch-long (5 centimeters) spider thought to be extinct in Great Britain is actually alive and thriving on a British military base. 

    A program manager at the Surrey Wildlife Trust rediscovered the great fox-spider (Alopecosa fabrilis) on an undeveloped portion of a military installation in Surrey, England, after a two-year search. The last time the spider was seen before this in Britain was in 1993, or 27 years ago. 

    The great fox-spider is a wolf spider, a family of arachnids that hunts down its prey rather than building webs. The spider is nocturnal, which makes it an elusive quarry for spider enthusiasts. According to The Guardian, the investigator used aerial photography of the military installation to find bare patches where the spiders like to hunt. Ultimately, he found several male spiders, one female and possibly some immature spiderlings.

    [Read more: Rare wolf spider presumed extinct turns up on British military base]

    Land and sky of lava

    An artist's depiction of K2-141b, showing molten rock evaporating into a thin atmosphere in the region closest to the exoplanet's star.

    (Image credit: Julie Roussy, McGill Graphic Design and Getty Images)

    Scientists think they have identified a lava world so dramatic that it might boast a thin regional atmosphere of vaporized rock where it is closest to its star.

    That exoplanet is called K2-141b and was originally discovered in 2017. The world is about half again as big as Earth but orbits so close to its star, which is one class smaller than our own, that it completes several loops each Earth-day with the same surface permanently facing the star. Now, scientists predict those factors mean that two-thirds of the surface of K2-141b is permanently sunlit — so much so that not only is part of the world covered in a lava ocean, but some of that rock may even evaporate away into the atmosphere.

    “All rocky planets­, including Earth, started off as molten worlds but then rapidly cooled and solidified,” Nicolas Cowan, a planetary scientist at McGill University in Canada and a coauthor on the new paper, said in a statement. “Lava planets give us a rare glimpse at this stage of planetary evolution.”

    [Read more: This bizarre planet could have supersonic winds in an atmosphere of vaporized rock]

    Iceberg showdown

    Iceberg A68a (shaped like a pointing finger) is bearing down on the island of South Georgia, putting thousands of animals at risk.

    (Image credit: Copernicus Sentinel 3 Mosaic / Polar View)

    The world’s largest iceberg may be on a collision course with a wildlife haven in the South Atlantic Ocean, researchers at the British Antarctic Society (BAS) reported. If the gargantuan berg becomes grounded near South Georgia island (a British overseas territory and one of the South Sandwich Islands), it could crush animals and block off foraging routes for thousands of penguins and seals — potentially disrupting the island’s ecosystem for a decade or more, according to BAS scientists.

    The iceberg in question is known simply as A68a. The massive slab calved from Antarctica‘s Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017, initially measuring more than 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) in area — an ice raft large enough to hold the five boroughs of New York City five times over. Satellite images show it currently on a direct course with South Georgia, a small, mountainous island that serves as the breeding ground for hundreds of thousands of seals and penguins.

    “Ecosystems can and will bounce back of course, but there’s a danger here that if this iceberg gets stuck, it could be there for 10 years,” Geraint Tarling, an ecologist with BAS, said in a statement.

    [Read more: The world’s largest iceberg is on a collision course with an Antarctic penguin refuge]

    Celebrity shark visits Florida

    Unama'ki seen just below the surface here.

    (Image credit: Robert Snow/Ocearch)

    One of the largest great white sharks ever tagged was just spotted swimming south of Miami, Florida, according to NBC Miami. Unama’ki “pinged” at 5:46 a.m. ET off of Key Largo, south of Miami on Thursday (Nov. 5) , which means that its dorsal fin broke the surface of the water, sending a signal to a satellite, alerting researchers of its whereabouts, according to a previous article from Florida Today

    Unama’ki was first tagged in Nova Scotia in September; in the indigenous language of the Mi’kmaq people, her name means “land of the fog.” With a length of 15 feet and 5 inches (4.7 meters) and a weight of 2,076 pounds (942 kilograms), she is the second largest white shark ever tagged by Ocearch, a nonprofit organization that tags and tracks large marine animals. 

    Researchers hope that Unama’ki will lead them to a site where she gives birth and thereby reveal a previously unknown white shark nursery, according to Ocearch

    [Read more: Massive great white shark Unama’ki spotted south of Miami]

    No limb to stand on

    The ancient child's skull and jaw are fragmented. Note that the diagonal lines show where ochre was found.

    (Image credit: Sofia Samper Carro/ANU)

    Archaeologists have discovered the rare burial of a young child who was laid to rest 8,000 years ago without arm and leg bones, a new study finds. 

    The child, who was no older than 8, was buried on what is now Alor Island, Indonesia. During the burial ceremony, the long bones in the child’s arms and legs were removed and disposed elsewhere, and part of the child’s face was painted with red ochre, a pigment often used in burials across the ancient world.

    This isn’t the only burial from this region with missing arm and leg bones. “The lack of long bones is a practice that has been documented in several other burials from a similar time period in Java, Borneo and Flores, but this is the first time we have seen it in a child’s burial,” said lead researcher Sofia Samper Carro, a lecturer of archaeology at Australian National University in Canberra. “We don’t know why long bone removal was practiced, but it’s likely some aspect of the belief system of the people who lived at this time.”  

    [Read more: Rare ancient burial contains child whose arms and legs were removed]

    Message from a dead star

    An illustration of a magnetar -- the highly magnetized corpse of a collapsed star -- bursting with energy. Scientists think they could be responsible for fast radio bursts (FRB)

    (Image credit: McGill University Graphic Design Team)

    Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are some of the most energetic — and most brief — blasts of light in the universe. These mysterious radio wave pulses  appear and disappear in milliseconds, yet pack more energy than the sun unleashes in three days. Now, after 13 years of searching, researchers have finally traced one back to its origins for the first time.

    In a series of three papers published today (Nov. 4) in the journal Nature, researchers from the United States and Canada report the detection of an FRB that originates not in some far-flung galaxy, but 30,000 light-years away in the northern sky of the Milky Way. Not only is this the first FRB ever detected within our own galaxy, but also the first to originate from a known object in the universe — in this case, a highly-magnetized stellar corpse known as a magnetar.

    This burnt-out star — named SGR 1935+2154 — provides the first concrete evidence of the origins of FRBs after more than a decade of mystery, Daniele Michilli, a co-author of one of the new studies, told Live Science.

    [Read more: Mysterious ‘fast radio burst’ traced to a known object in the Milky Way for the first time ever]

    Artistic reconstruction of a vicuña hunt in Wilamaya Patjxa.

    (Image credit: Matthew Verdolivo (UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services))

    Silently moving in the wilderness of the Andes mountains, ancient hunter-gatherers stalked a herd of vicuña. The hunters threw stone projectile points with ease, hitting some of the beasts and leading the rest to scatter. The vicuñas, wild ancestors of alpacas, fell and the skilled hunters — both females and males — went to examine their wins.

    This somewhat hypothetical account is in stark contrast to the accepted history of such hunter-gatherers: ancient men hunted big game, while women gathered herbs and plants. But a recently discovered 9,000-year-old burial of a female hunter, and analyses of other hunter burials, suggests that early hunter-gatherer women in the ancient Americas hunted big game just as much as men did, according to a study published on Nov. 4 in the journal Science Advances.

    The burial site included a “rich artifact assemblage,” researchers said, including a hunting toolkit with projectile points and flakes. The burial is thought to belong to a hunter-gatherer who, based on examination of tooth development, died between the ages of 17 and 19. A detailed analysis of proteins in the young hunter-gatherer’s teeth confirmed that she was a female.

    [Read more: Ancient burial of fierce female hunter (and her weapons) discovered in Peru]

    Long-lost chameleon, ready for her closeup

    When the female Voeltzkow's chameleon gets stressed, she displays a pattern of red dots and a streak of purple against a background of black and white.

    (Image credit: Kathrin Glaw)

    More than a century after it was last seen, a spectacularly colorful chameleon is back. 

    Conservationists announced the rediscovery of the Voeltzkow’s chameleon (Furcifer voeltzkowi) on Oct. 30 in the journal Salamandra. The animal, endemic to Madagascar, was last seen in 1913 — and until now, no one had ever seen a female Voeltzkow’s chameleon. The females turn out to be a striking sight. They can change colors, and at their most brilliant display a pattern of red dots and a streak of purple against a background of black and white. 

    “The Voeltzkow’s chameleon adds color and beauty to the planet, and reminds us that even when all seems lost, a great adventure can rekindle hope even for species we haven’t seen since Woodrow Wilson was president,” Don Church, the president of Global Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement. “Now we have so much to learn about this extraordinary reptile, including how we can best save it from extinction.”

    [Read more: ‘Lost’ chameleon rediscovered after a century in hiding. And it’s spectacular.]

    Flying into the inferno

    Manam Volcano in Papua New Guinea, as seen from space on June 16, 2010.

    (Image credit: Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory)

    With an estimated 300 active volcanoes on Earth, the challenge is how to monitor them all to send out early warnings before they erupt. Measuring volcanic gas emissions is also no easy task.

    Now researchers have designed specially-adapted drones to help gather data from the active Manam volcano in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

    The drones could help local communities monitor nearby volcanoes and forecast future eruptions. Their measurements could also tell us more about the most inaccessible, highly active volcanoes on the planet and how volcanoes contribute to the global carbon cycle.

    [Read more: Drones are flying straight into volcanoes, for life-saving science]

    The glow of the platypus

    Photographs of museum specimens in ultraviolet light revealed the platypus's secret glow.

    (Image credit: Mammalia 2020; 10.1515/mammalia-2020-0027)

    Duck-billed, egg-laying platypuses just got a little weirder: It turns out their fur glows green and blue under ultraviolet (UV) light.

    Under visible light a platypus’s extremely dense fur — which insulates and protects them in cold water — is a drab brown, so the trippy glow revealed under UV light on a stuffed museum specimen was a big surprise. 

    Biofluorescence — absorbing and re-emitting light as a different color — is widespread in fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles. But the trait is much rarer in mammals, and this is the first evidence of biofluorescence in egg-laying mammals, also known as monotremes, scientists reported in a new study.

    [Read more: Platypuses glow an eerie blue-green under UV light]

    Originally published on Live Science.

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