Several years ago, Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov wanted to take extreme close-ups of various things. This led him to build a relatively inexpensive rig that could take extreme close-ups of pretty much whatever he wanted. What led him to start taking mind-blowing science photos like what we see above? Alexey was fascinated by the website “Snow Crystals.” This was run by CalTech Physics Professor, Kenneth Libbrecht. Their design was essentially the study of snowflakes, and Alexey wanted to either recreate some of those or take some new-look images. Considering the claim “no two snowflakes look alike” was out there, it did make sense. Plus it gave us this!
Possibly one of the coolest images you’ll ever see, lightning sprites are one of the most amazing phenomena on the planet. They are large-scale electric discharges that occur within the mesosphere, usually high above the thunderstorm clouds (or cumulonimbus clouds). This gives us the visual shapes flickering in the night sky. Those come thanks to discharges of positive lightning between an underlying thundercloud and the ground. These sprites can get pretty huge too, often 31 to 56 miles. One of the most mind-blowing science photos ever taken of a lightning sprite can be seen above. It’s called the Jellyfish Lightning Sprite, and we’re sure you can see why.
Sometimes called a “mock sun,” Sun Dogs are a notable atmospheric optical phenomenon. They consist of a big bright spot in the middle (the sun itself) then on either one or both sides, you’ll see bright spots too. If there are two sun dogs, they’ll typically flank the Sun roughly within a 22-degree halo. Sun dogs are part of a specific family of halos that are caused by a refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere. The coolest part is that sun dogs are not just found in one region of the planet. You can see them anywhere during any season. Of course, sometimes they will not be as obvious as one of our mind-blowing science photos above that displays twin sun dogs.
Given its name by the obvious hand-like structure, the Pillars of Creation comes from the Eagle Nebula in the Serpens constellation. It is roughly 6,500 to 7,000 lightyears from Earth, which is quite a distance for any telescope to see it properly. Discovered by John Charles Duncan in 1920 with the Mount Wilson Observatory 60-inch telescope, he found what looked like a hand of creation. It is comprised of elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust that managed to be shaped perfectly. While the Hubble Space Telescope grabbed the best image in 2014, the James Webb Telescope topped it in 2022. The latter comes from James Webb and is certainly mind-blowing!
If you’ve ever seen something known as a “superhydrophobic surface,” you might know how this stuff works. Also known as ultra hydrophobic, any surface that is like this will be extremely difficult to wet. Usually, the contact angles of water droplets on any superhydrophobic material exceed 150 degrees. That is essentially the lotus effect, which refers to the self-cleaning properties of a lotus plant. A droplet that strikes one of these surfaces will fully rebound, sort of like an elastic ball. The interactions of bouncing drops can be further reduced using special superhydrophobic surfaces like what you see above.
If you thought fires and tornadoes were already destructive on their own, imagine seeing them together. This can and has happened at times, and it is incredibly scary when it does for those close by. They have many other names such as fire whirl, fire devil, fire twister, and many more. They happen when a whirlwind is induced by a fire and is at least partially composed of flame or ash. Firenadoes start with just a whirl of wind, usually made visible by smoke. Often rising heat and turbulent wind conditions make them more likely, resulting in whirling “eddies” of air. Those eddies create a tornado-like vortex and suck in debris and combustible gases. Once they get out of control and large, the eddies turn into larger tornado-like vortexes. Usually, they do not leave the area they are within most of the time though.
A Moon Halo is technically known as a 22-degree halo, as the light creates a radius of exactly 22 degrees around the Sun or Moon. This will depend on the one you’re seeing at the time when the halo is around them. The Moon Halo forms when moonlight is refracted by millions of hexagonal ice crystals that are suspended in the atmosphere. Usually, most measure the radius for this by the length of an outstretched hand at arm’s length. Due to ice crystals being involved, most assume you will only see these halos during cold times of the year or in cooler climates. Yet they can happen anywhere, especially because nighttime temperatures are often cooler anyway.
In Hawaii, you’ll find the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. It has been studying the Sun and space weather for quite a while now. In 2020, it managed to capture the highest resolution image of the Sun’s surface ever taken. It almost looks like popcorn, right? Essentially, what you’re seeing is turbulent boiling gas that of course is covering the entire Sun. The telescope captured one of the most mind-blowing science photos in history, as we’re literally seeing cell-like structures of the Sun here. Each individual cell is about the size of the state of Texas and shows absolutely violent motions that send off heat from the surface.
The “Glory” phenomenon can offer us some of the most mind-blowing science photos ever. It is not hard to see how this phenomenon managed to get its name. You’ll see what seems like a rainbow but is further extended out to give a heavenly glow that is absolutely beautiful. They are caused by sunlight (sometimes moonlight) interacting with tiny water droplets that comprise mist or clouds. Normally, these optical phenomena will consist of one or more concentric rings, that get successfully dimmer as they grow outward. Usually, you’ll see a bluish center with a red outer section, but the outside can also sometimes contain a bluish appearance too.
In many ways, a supercell thunderstorm is something you probably do not want to see in person. They are potentially harmful storms that could turn into tornadoes pretty easily but are technically not a tornado themselves, in spite of what you see above. They come from the presence of a mesocyclone, which is a deep, persistently rotating updraft. That could be why these are also known as rotating thunderstorms. There are three forms of supercell thunderstorms: classic, low-precipitation, and high-precipitation. LPs are usually found in more arid environments, particularly in the United States. Where HPs are found in more moist climates.
Possibly one of the most beautiful things you can see in person, the “Northern Lights” are absolutely tremendous. Of course, we’ve probably seen dozens of images relating to this area. Yet each one seems to be among the most mind-blowing science photos because it seems like they can never get old. The real name of the area is the Aurora Borealis, and the reason these lights exist at all is pretty compelling. Solar winds come toward Earth all the time in space but our magnetosphere protects the planet from being affected by them. However, in doing so, that gives off these incredible, stunning colors and patterns.
When we talk about some of the most mind-blowing science photos, we really do not realize how much effort goes into making them. Photographer Andrew McCarthy wanted to show a solar explosion, but how he’d do so would be tough to know. There was a 1 million-mile-long jet of plasma rockets coming out of the sun, which was an epic timelapse image that McCarthy had to form. This led him to create a composite image by stacking hundreds of thousands of individual shots one on top of the other for roughly six hours. In the end, he managed to get the image you see above, showing the evolution of a coronal mass ejection.
Perhaps one of the most amazing images ever taken, the Cosmic Cliffs are from an area in space called the Carina Nebula in the Milky Way Galaxy. This nebula is roughly 2,600 parsecs or 8,500 lightyears from Earth. Thus, seeing all the way to it is amazing enough. Considering this area has a complex amount of bright and dark nebulosity. The darker side makes it hard to get any visible wavelengths to come back in images but the Hubble Space Telescope managed to get a great photo. However, it is the James Webb Telescope that gave us one of the most mind-blowing science photos in history. This telescope could pick up light that Hubble could not and gave us an incredible photo as a result.