The Artistry of Nature - Snowflakes Up Close
A stellar dendrite
Credit: Kenneth G. Libbrecht.
A stellar dendrite. Stellar means star-like, and the word dendrite comes from the Greek work for tree. The name perfectly marries the six-pointed, branching shape of this most iconic type of snow crystal.
Patterns in Nature: Rocks and Lava
(Source: National Geographic)
Till the end of the world by Xiao Yang
Breathtaking Sunset in Tokyo, Japan
Evening | Morning
Seascapes at Sunrise and Sunset by Jose Pombo
Dazzling Photographs of Earth From Above
Satellite images of mountains, glaciers, deserts and other landscapes become incredible works of art
1. Van Gogh From Space (July 13, 2005)
The green and blue swirls of the Baltic Sea surrounding the Swedish island Gotland look like they could have been painted by Vincent van Gogh, but they are the work of microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. When ocean currents bring an abundance of nutrients to the surface, the population of tiny plants proliferates into big, colorful blooms.
2. Lake Eyre (August 5, 2006)
The ghostly face is part of southern Australia’s Lake Eyre. The desert lake remains dry most of the year, filling during the rainy season. When the lake is completely full—which has only happened three times in the past 150 years—it is the largest lake on the continent.
3. Spilled Paint (February 10, 2003)
The various hues of this abstract scene represent the different landscapes present in Dasht-e Kavir, or the Great Salt Desert, of northern Iran. The sparsely populated desert is named after its many salt marshes (“kavir” means salt marsh in Persian). The Great Salt Desert is also home to dry streambeds, plateaus and mud flats, covering almost 30,000 square miles of the Iranian Plateau.
4. Icelandic Tiger (October 21, 1999)
Nature often inspires art, but sometimes it is art. For almost 40 years, the Landsat satellites have been snapping images of earth that look more like they belong on the walls of a modern art museum than stored in a scientific archive. The U.S. Geological Survey, which manages the satellite program with NASA, is sharing the beauty of these photos in its new “Earth as Art” exhibit on display at the Library of Congress through May 31, 2012.
Everyone at USGS who works with Landsat data has a favorite photo, and that led to the idea of gathering a collection of favorites to share with the public, says Ronald Beck, a USGS public information specialist who has worked with the Landsat Program for 37 years. Beck’s favorite in the new exhibit, the third installment of “Earth as Art,” is Icelandic Tiger. The “tiger” is part of Iceland’s northern coast, and its mouth is the fjord called Eyjafjorour, meaning “Island Fjord.” The name refers to the small island the tiger is about to eat.
Ways to Lure a Lover, Orchid-Style
Beauty, mystery and deceit—the Smithsonian’s collection of nearly 8,000 live orchids has it all
By Megan Gambino
1. Camouflaging Itself as an Insect
Orchids of the genus Psychopsis are often called “butterfly orchids” because of their resemblance to the dazzling insect. “The three sepals [modified leaves] look like antennae sticking out of the top, whereas the three petals are more wing-like,” says horticulturist Tom Mirenda, of Psychopsis versteegiana (above). Even the column—the reproductive structure in the center of the flower where the male and female parts are fused together—looks like part of an insect, the head.
2. Bold, Arresting Colors
Also known as Venus’s slipper orchid, Paphiopedilum venustum, found in Southeast Asia, uses its bold coloration to bait insects. Often, when insects land at the center of the flower, they fall into its cupped lip. In orchid terminology, the lip is one of the flower’s three petals and serves as a landing pad of sorts for its pollinators. “Inside, in tight quarters, insects have difficulty spreading their wings and flying out again and have to climb up the textured rear of the pouch,” says Mirenda. They escape—but in the process, the insects pick up pollen, which they ultimately bring to other flowers
3. Gimme Shelter
Male euglossine bees collect fragrances from flowers. “The males with the most complex array of fragrances get all the ladies,” says Mirenda. But when the bees land on male Catasetum orchids, they also get a swift wallop on the head. “The flowers basically mug their pollinator by shooting really large pollinia at them when they touch a little trigger switch in the flower,” says Mirenda.
After being whacked, as a reaction, the bees retreat to shelter—in this case, to the Catasetum’s female flowers (above). The helmet-like flowers, found in Central America, actually resemble the nests that the bees build. There, while feeding on nectar, the bees deposit the pollen.
4. Creating a Sticky Situation
The bucket orchid, Coryanthes macrocorys, also ensnares euglossine bees. When an unsuspecting male bee visits the orchid, looking to pick up a scent, it falls into the flower’s bucket-like lip. The orchid secretes a sticky liquid, which nearly drowns the bee. “Desperate to escape and unable to fly out due to its wet wings, it must squeeze out an escape hatch in the back of the flower,” says Mirenda. Conveniently, the orchid’s pollen is in that hatch and adheres to the fleeing bee.
Gorgeous Non-Photoshopped Shots of Earth’s Sky
Fractal Artforms of Nature by Tom Beddard
The nineteen century German biologist Ernst Haeckel is famous for his fantastically illustrated book Artforms of Nature. The copyright for this book from 1904 has now expired and thanks to Wikimedia Commons it is available for everyone to appreciate.
Haekel’s artistic interpretation of the biological forms he studied have a clarity of symmetry and detail that has been a source of inspiration for many artists and engineers over the years. They provide the perfect subject matter for my Photoshop plugin Pixel Bender Fractal Explorer.
Stars Over Uppsala
Photograph by P-M Heden, TWAN
The night sky stretches above a ruined castle near Uppsala, Sweden, in a February 21 photograph. A star cluster known as the Pleiades, or Messier 45, can be seen above the castle.
Walking the Path
Photograph by Jack Fusco, My Shot
A star-gazer in Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania, stops in his tracks to look at the zodiacal light—a faint cone of light that rises from the horizon along the ecliptic. This imaginary line—the plane of our solar system—is the path the sun and planets appear to travel in the sky.
Venus and Jupiter are also visible along the ecliptic in this frame.
Zodiacal light is caused by sunlight reflecting and scattering off dust grains that lie between the inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.