The most stunning science photos of 2017

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Jonathan Ernst /Reuters

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.

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

See more of the probe’s stunning images here.


We’ll never think of tapeworms the same way after seeing this monster from Nikon’s Small World image contest, which celebrates microscopic photos.

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Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

See more prize-winning Small World images.


Natural events like the volcanic eruption of Bali’s Mount Agung in November caused quite a stir.

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Andri Tambunan/Getty Images

The eruption sent ash 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) into the atmosphere and created plumes as high as 3.7 miles (6,000 meters).


Photographer Tim Flach published his new book “Endangered” with stunning images showing the faces of animals on the verge of extinction.

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Hippopotamus
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Tim Flach

See more photos from Tim Flach’s “Endangered”.


2017 was one of the worst years on record for wildfires, especially in California.

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Gene Blevins/Reuters

Here’s why California’s wildfire season has been so long and destructive.


This shot of Ruacana Falls in Northern Namibia won the International Landscape Photographer of the Year competition, which announced its winners in January.

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Ruacana Falls, Northern Namibia
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Hougaard Malan/The International Landscape Photographer of the Year

See more of the winning photos.


The struggle to survive on Earth is encapsulated in this shot of killer whales suddenly appearing near a huddle of king penguins.

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Waiting in the shallows – Winner: Ecology and Environmental Science
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Nico de Bruyn/Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition

Check out more of the best photos taken by scientists in the past year.


The “Great American Eclipse” created a frenzy of excitement in August.

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Jonathan Ernst /Reuters

See more photos of the 2017 total solar eclipse.


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.

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.
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Brent Stirton / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

See more of the winning photos from the prestigious contest here.


This was the last full image the Cassini spacecraft captured of Saturn before plunging into the planet to end its mission.

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute; Roman Tkachenko

Read the story of a scientist who spent 40 years studying the ringed planet.


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.

Here are the records set by the “extremely active” hurricane season.


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.

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REUTERS/Saumya Khandelwal

This was considered one of the best environmental photos taken by Reuters photographers this year.


Photos of the brilliant colors created by the Northern Lights never get old.

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The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) lights up the sky near the village of Pallas (Muonio region) of Lapland, Finland September 8, 2017.
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REUTERS/Alexander Kuznetsov/All About Lapland

Auroras are unfortunately going dark in many parts of the world. The number of atmospheric light shows will decrease over the next several years due to an 11-year cycle of solar activity. The sun finished its last peak, called a solar maximum, in 2014. But around solar minimum – in 2020 or 2021 – the reverse will happen and auroras will get brighter.


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.

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Biplab Hazra/The Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

Learn more about the image and see more of the photos celebrated by the conservation organization.


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.

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NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope/Reuters

A recent image created by Hubble added close to 100 previously undetected galaxies to our tally of what’s out there in the void of space.