Captured: A year in pictures

The earth from Cassini

On 19 July, the Cassini spacecraft glimpsed a rare sight: home. The tiny blue speck of light (indicated by the arrow) is the Earth as seen from Saturn, 1.4 billion kilometres away. The picture is only the third to capture the Earth from the outer solar system – it was snapped in a rare moment when Cassini was shielded by Saturn from the Sun’s dazzling glare.

The photobombing frog

When NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on 6 September, it also launched some local wildlife. Remote cameras captured an airborne frog in a single frame. NASA reports that the spacecraft, which will analyse the Moon’s surface and atmosphere, is performing well. The frog’s condition is uncertain, the agency adds.

Mantis shrimp’s marvellous eyes

Why does the mantis shrimp have such complex eyes? To save brainpower, researchers at the University of Queensland have found. Humans have three types of photoreceptor and use the brain to decode their signals to see in colour. The mantis shrimp’s eyes have 12 kinds of photoreceptor, each dedicated to detecting a particular colour, which they can quickly recognise with barely a thought.

Laser-guided police work

A handheld laser scanner developed by the CSIRO, which generates 3D maps of its surroundings, has been adopted by the Queensland police force for mapping crime scenes. The technique was developed for mapping spots where GPS cannot reach, such as caves, dense bushland and inside buildings such as this aircraft hangar.

A way to restore hearing?

Researchers from the University of New South Wales have discovered a unique way to restore hearing. Cochlear implants, which convert sound into electrical pulses, can also deliver DNA into inner ear cells. Electric pulses momentarily create pores in cell membranes and DNA can slip through. It carried instructions for the cells to make a protein that triggers the regeneration of auditory nerves. Cells successfully produced the protein in guinea pigs but the effects faded after six weeks.

Curiosity selfie

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover snapped a picture of itself hard at work studying rock samples on the surface of the red planet. The image was created by combining a series of shots Curiosity took from multiple angles using the camera attached to the end of its arm. The images were stitched together to remove the arm from the view. In the picture, Curiosity is examining a small hole (dark grey) it has drilled into the rock, to take samples of the rock’s interior.

Introducing the mini stomach

This multi-coloured ribbon of cells is a sliver of human stomach about half a millimetre long. These cells weren’t cut from a person’s gut – they are part of a miniature human stomach about the size of a five-cent coin, grown in a dish from stem cells. Our stomachs are the site of several serious diseases. Around 10% of the world’s population will experience stomach ulcers, gastric cancer and similar conditions. The tiny stomachs-in-a-dish, which function like miniature versions of the real thing, allow researchers to study these diseases in actual human tissue. From this work, new treatments should flow.

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