Billionaires, butterflies and brooding skies – April’s top science images

Trash not treasure. A swan sits on its nest, fashioned with pieces of rubbish in a lake in central Copenhagen, where pollution in waterways has become a major problem.

The Danish Society for Nature Conservation told local television station TV2 on 17 April that plastic pollution is especially dangerous for birds, because they confuse it with natural materials.

Star power. This fingerprint-like image is the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of the largest dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, as viewed by the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite. On 25 April, the mission published a massive trove of data, including its first fully 3D map of the Milky Way, with information on the distances to more than one billion stars. To produce this colour image of the LMC, each pixel combines the total amount of radiation detected by Gaia with measurements of the radiation taken through different filters on the spacecraft.

Data dealings. Social-media giant Facebook has been weathering its most tumultuous period yet, spurred by a scandal over data privacy and the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. US senators questioned Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg in mid-April during a marathon hearing, in which questions ranged from which hotel the billionaire was staying at to how his company handles data. Zuckerberg was also faced with the statement: “Your user agreement sucks!”

From the ashes. To mark the 32nd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, journalists visited the ill-fated reactor in Ukraine on 20 April. Here, a visitor holds a butterfly that was found in a pump room of the third reactor. On 25 April 1986, a late-night safety test at the plant inadvertently caused the fourth reactor to explode. The accident sent a plume of radiation across Europe, and it is considered the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster.

Glowing green. This specimen might look like an extra from the 1997 Robin Williams film Flubber, but it is in fact a bioluminescent ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis) found along the Nattai River in Mittagong, Australia. With little rain in the area, these fungi have been particularly difficult to find this year.

Walking with dinosaurs. This dinosaur footstep, left by a two-meter-high sauropod, is one of a rare set of dozens found on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It was described by researchers in April. The prints were probably made about 170 million years ago and are giving palaeontologists important insight into the Middle Jurassic period.

Toil and rubble. This brooding phenomenon is volcanic lightning – also known as a dirty thunderstorm – seen above the Shinmoedake peak in southwestern Japan on 5 April. Researchers think that this type of lightning might be caused by ash particles rubbing together and generating large amounts of static electricity. Temperatures inside the bolts can approach 30,000 °C, which might melt the rock particles into glassy spherules.

Why so serious? This punk-haired turtle might be joyful to look at, but the species was named one of the planet’s most endangered reptiles in April by the Zoological Society of London. The diminutive turtle (Elusor macrurus), usually about 40 centimetres in length, is found only in the Mary river in Queensland, Australia. Its ‘hair’ is made up of algae strands that grow from its body, and it can breathe through its genitals.

Space rain. If this scene looks otherworldly – that’s because it is. This gif, posted to Twitter last month, shows a snapshot of what life is like on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The clip shows 33 frames spanning about 25 minutes taken by the European Rosetta spacecraft, which reached 67P in 2014 after a decade-long journey. These images were taken while the craft was in orbit around the comet in June 2016. The streaks show a combination of dust and ice particles raining down as well as bright cosmic rays. In the background, stars in the direction of the constellation Canis Major are visible.

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