The Arctic skies light up in a blaze of blue and green when solar wind blasts the atmosphere with charged particles. Storms and wildfires leave debris and ash in their trails. And ecosystems and fellow animals are increasingly transformed by human activity.
Looking at the world through the lens of science brings into focus creatures so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye, and galaxies so large they make our world seem no bigger than a microscopic organism.
That creates an opportunity for some pretty stunning photos.
These are some of the most striking science and nature images we encountered in 2017. Some are news photos shot this year, while others made appearances in 2017 photo contests.
NASA’s Juno probe sent back stunning images of our solar system’s giant planet.
We’ll never think of tapeworms the same way after seeing this monster from Nikon’s Small World image contest, which celebrates microscopic photos.
Natural events like the volcanic eruption of Bali’s Mount Agung in November caused quite a stir.
Photographer Tim Flach published his new book “Endangered” with stunning images showing the faces of animals on the verge of extinction.
2017 was one of the worst years on record for wildfires, especially in California.
This shot of Ruacana Falls in Northern Namibia won the International Landscape Photographer of the Year competition, which announced its winners in January.
The struggle to survive on Earth is encapsulated in this shot of killer whales suddenly appearing near a huddle of king penguins.
The “Great American Eclipse” created a frenzy of excitement in August.
This devastating photo shows a dehorned rhino that was killed by poachers. It took home the top prize from the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.
This was the last full image the Cassini spacecraft captured of Saturn before plunging into the planet to end its mission.
Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean before hitting the Virgin Islands and Florida Keys in early September, kicking off the most intense September for hurricanes in recorded history.
Pollution issues returned this year. In this image, a massive flock of seagulls surrounded this boat on the Yamuna river in New Delhi, while the rest of the world was obscured by smog.
Photos of the brilliant colors created by the Northern Lights never get old.
Biplab Hazra shocked the world with this photo of elephants being attacked by a mob in West Bengal, India. The image won the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Photography contest.
In November, the Hubble Space Telescope captured the cosmic knot created by the merging of two galaxies in the Cancer constellation. It kind of puts everything in perspective.