Our favorite Science photos of 2019

A selection of the most stunning pictures of the year

An underwater glimpse of spawning salmon. A moon flying through Saturn’s rings. An artificial lung printed in a lab. These were some of our favorite Science images of 2019, curated from the thousands of photos that graced our website and magazine this year. Here are the pictures that captivated us the most.

a strong cumulonimbus cloud pushes upward and flashes with lightning
a mine worker carries a heavy bag on his back as he walks along a cliff edge
aerial view of a boat driving through an algae bloom
a man looks upward to a skylight through a glacier
salmon swim in a river
Gao Caixia in an environmental growth chamber with wheat plantst
a small moon is seen through Saturn’s rings
a table in the shape of the periodic table of elementsw
 a protester throws a lit Molotov cocktail
children swimming
a male humpback whale
an aerial view of an oil palm plantation
a hand holding a hoatzin chick
an arrangement of colorful potatoes
a ground pangolin
a young girl sits on a bed in a hospital ward
Danielle Bassett with a representation of the brain
a 3D-printed air sac
the Milky Way above an array of telescopes

Weather above

SANTIAGO BORJA

Huge thunderstorms, like this one over the Pacific Ocean captured by photographer and pilot Santiago Borja, can penetrate the stratosphere some 18 kilometers up. Scientists are studying whether such “overshoot” storms are injecting synthetic chemicals that harm Earth’s protective ozone layer into the stratosphere.

Thin air

TOM BOUYER/EXPEDITION 5300

A miner walks along a cliff edge carrying rocks on his back to later grind them up in search of gold. The mining village of La Rinconada, Peru, is the highest settlement in the world at 5100 meters. Scientists are studying residents there to understand the long-term effects of extremely low oxygen levels on the body.

Green lakes

CAVAN IMAGES/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

A boat drives through an algal bloom in Lake Erie, where excessive nitrogen levels from human activities starve the underwater life and impact human health. There are large-scale changes happening in the nitrogen cycle, and scientists are now looking at how to manage the excess nitrogen for different communities.

Shifting ice

ADAM LEWINTER/U.S. ARMY ENGINEER RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER COLD REGIONS RESEARCH & ENGINEERING LABORATORY/REMOTE SENSING/GIS CENTER OF EXPERTISE

Greg Hanlon, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, peers up through a skylight in Greenland’s Helheim Glacier. His team returned to the glacier for another year of fieldwork and data collection to monitor how the mixing of the glacier’s meltwater and ocean water may be speeding up sea level rise.

Salmon politics

JASON CHING

Sockeye salmon are ready to spawn near a University of Washington research station in Alaska’s Lake Iliamna, where 20% of the salmon in Bristol Bay are produced. Researchers who track their life and migration patterns in the area are battling with what would be the world’s largest gold mine, Pebble Mine, which is planned to sit upstream of the lake.

Growing CRISPR

STEFEN CHOW

Gao Caixia, a leading CRISPR scientist, stands among her CRISPR-modified wheat plants inside a grow room in Beijing. Gao hopes her plants will be able to feed more of China’s expanding population.

Between the rings

NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE/TILMANN DENK

The moon Daphnis makes waves in between Saturn’s rings. This close-up image is just one of the pictures captured during the Cassini spacecraft’s grand finale. During these ring-grazing orbits, scientists got a closer look at the ring structures and five of Saturn’s moons.

Elemental year

MIKE WALKER

This year we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the periodic table. Theodore Gray, co-founder of Wolfram Research in Champaign, Illinois, assembled his own collection of available elements on top of his literal periodic table. His imaginative display shows glowing tubes of the gases in the far-right column and compartments below to store samples safely.

University clashes

KYODO/AP IMAGES

A pro-democracy protester throws a lit Molotov cocktail outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University over the territory’s relationship with China. Officials at several universities fear the clashes will make it harder to recruit students and faculty.

Underwater giants

Karim Iliya

A giant male humpback whale fights for a mate off the coast of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists are studying why these animals are big, but not bigger.

Vaccine mandates

JOHN BAZEMORE/AP PHOTO

Nurse K. J. Moore speaks during the public comment portion of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine panel in Atlanta. Moore disagrees with a requirement that health care workers receive flu vaccines.

Fields of palm

ARROWHEAD FILMS

A hill of uncultivated land sits in the middle of an oil palm plantation in West Kalimantan in Indonesia. Conservation scientists have started to work with the palm oil industry to protect the wildlife living there.

Claws on wings

AMAZON-IMAGES/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

A day-old hoatzin chick has claws on its wing, which will be gone by the time it is full grown. This year, scientists detailed how young hoatzin use their claws to climb and move around, raising questions about why the birds lose their claws as adults.

Bounty of potatoes

GUSTAVO RAMIREZ

Colorful domesticated potatoes are grown in the fields of the central Andes in Peru. These spuds come from pre-Inca cultures at 3000 to 4500 meters above sea level. Researchers hope that diversifying the modern potato could enable it to better fight off diseases and climate change.

Protecting pangolins

JEN GUYTON/NPL/MINDEN PICTURES

A shy ground pangolin unravels in a national park in Mozambique. These mammals are the world’s most poached animal. Captured for their scales and meat, they are inching closer to extinction.

Treating health care

RIJASOLO

A young girl sits in the child care unit of Ifanadiana Hospital in Madagascar, where she was treated for severe malnutrition. Researchers are testing a new health care system that could be used across the country.

Brain mapper

MATTHEW BENDER/JAMES BARTOLOZZI

Physicist Danielle Bassett of the University of Pennsylvania stands near her lab’s representation of the brain’s structural connections, which was made from MRI data. Bassett is a pioneer in using physics and math to study the networks in the human brain.

Breathing engineered

DAN SAZER/JEFF FITLOW/JORDAN MILLER

A focus-stacked picture of a tiny, 3D-printed alveolus, or artificial lung. Scientists designed this breathing apparatus to better study bioengineered cell tissues.

Flashing burst

CSIRO/ALEX CHERNEY

The Milky Way shines above the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder. There, scientists have used the 36 dishes to trace a radio pulse known as a fast radio burst to its source in a far-away galaxy.