Here are the most striking images of the year, from New Scientist's Picture of the Day series. They include Martian landscapes, tiny monkeys, weird lightning, panda impersonators, and Yoda's long lost cousin.

This post originally appeared at New Scientist.

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Meet the world's smallest monkey

This is not a gremlin – it is the world's smallest monkey, the pygmy marmoset (Callithrix pygmaea).

With an adult body length of only 14 to 16 centimetres, and weighing as little as 120 grams, the endangered pygmy marmoset is one of the smallest primates discovered. They are normally found in the rainforest canopies of South America, but this chap was confiscated in August after being found by police inside the clothes of a Peruvian citizen.

It was sent to recover at a primate rescue and rehabilitation centre near Santiago, Chile.

(Image: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Alien stubble

This may look like a close-up of a hairy chin, but it's actually the surface of Mars. The black stubble-like structures are avalanches of sand and red dust triggered by the sublimation of carbon dioxide from a solid to a gas at the beginning of the Martian summer.

The image was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter back in January.

(Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Best Science Pictures of the Year


Asteroid collision

The object P/2010 A2 has a long dust trail like a comet. But this Hubble Space Telescope image, released in February, showed a strange X-shaped feature unlike the smooth dust streams found around normal comets, bolstering the idea that P/2010 A2 is the detritus of a collision between two asteroids.

(Image: NASA/ESA/D. Jewitt/UCLA)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Pacman caught munching Mimas

In March Pacman was spotted on the surface of one of the solar system's most striking moons.

Saturn's moon Mimas had previously been compared to the Death Star because of a large scar on its surface called the Herschel crater. NASA's Cassini probe created the best temperature map yet of the moon, using data collected during a fly-by in February. It revealed a pattern that resembled Pacman eating a dot centred on the distinctive crater.

It's unclear what caused the pattern. "We suspect the temperatures are revealing differences in texture on the surface," according to John Spencer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Elemental violence

Lightning has long been associated with volcanic eruptions, as seen in this spectacular photo taken in February of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, which was major news in the early part of the year. The volcano spewed ash into the atmosphere, causing air travel chaos.

The lightning flashed when oppositely charged particles in rising plumes of rock and ash separated into layers, creating a charge differential between the layers that grew enough for a charge to jump the gap, releasing energy as lightning.

Such bolts may have seeded early Earth with an essential ingredient for life.

(Image: Marco Fulle)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Top hat

In May, this 12-metre-tall steel containment dome was lowered over a well head at the site of the sunken Deepwater Horizon platform that was spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The dome was the latest attempt to stem the spill and contain the growing environmental disaster. It failed, but the leak was eventually stopped.

(Image: Patrick Kelley/US coastguard)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Swallow me, hole

A tropical storm hit Guatemala in June, bringing with it torrential rains and adding to the disruption already caused by an earlier volcanic eruption. Tropical storm Agatha was responsible for more than 100 deaths and left a swathe of destruction, including this gaping 60-metre-deep sinkhole in central Guatemala City.

Sinkholes form where the underlying rock is sedimentary or can be easily dissolved. Groundwater circulating through it dissolves the rock, causing the surface to collapse.

(Image: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Where shark fin soup comes from

On this July morning, 75 tonnes of sharks were being processed in the city of Kesennuma in north-eastern Japan. The animals feed a brisk domestic market in shark fins for soup, though some of the meat also ends up in Chinese bowls. Last year, Japanese fishing boats hauled in 35,000 tonnes of shark; 90 per cent of it came through this port, which operates six days a week.

The image was caught by photojournalist Alex Hofford, based in Hong Kong, who over two days witnessed 119 tonnes of blue shark arrive as well as salmon shark, shortfin mako shark and endangered bluefin tuna as it passed through these docks.

(Image: Alex Hofford)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Dope art that makes you feel good

This beautiful micrograph shows crystals of dopamine – the chemical released when we do naturally rewarding things like eating and having sex. Dopamine also affects brain processes involved in controlling movement, mood and memory.

Spike Walker won the Royal Photographic Society's Combined Royal Colleges Medal with this image in September. He created it by passing polarised light through dopamine crystals. The refraction of the light by the crystals varies depending on their orientation within the sample, causing them to reflect light at different wavelengths. Using this technique highlights more detail in the crystal structure than normal observation through a microscope.

(Image: Spike Walker/Wellcome Images)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Yoda-like creature snapped in Borneo

No, this isn't a gremlin either. Nor is it Yoda's long-lost cousin. It's a western tarsier (Tarsius bancanus), photographed in the Danum Valley Conservation Area in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Among the world's smallest primates, tarsiers are nocturnal and live in south-east Asian rainforests feeding on insects and small vertebrates. Their eyes lack the reflective layer – the tapetum lucidum – which makes cats' eyes shine in torchlight. To compensate, each eye is as large as the tarsier's brain.

The image, Night Eyes, was highly commended in the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife, part of 2010's Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, curated by the Natural History Museum, London.

(Image: Tim Laman)

Best Science Pictures of the Year

Brobdingnag discovered in Iceland?

Despite standing more than 15 metres tall and weighing in at over 900 tonnes, this huge rock has stood in its current spot for a mere eight months. So how did it get there?

After the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted earlier in the year the heat generated was enough to melt surrounding glaciers, releasing the rocks and debris that now litter the valley. This gigantic rock is one of them.

(Image: Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson/Barcroft Media)

Best Science Pictures of the Year


Look like a panda if you want to save a panda

He might look like an evil panda-snatcher in costume, but this character actually had the animal's best interests at heart. He's a biologist from the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province, China, and his costume helped ensure that this captive-bred cub had minimal human contact before being reintroduced into the wild earlier this month.

Monitored by hidden cameras, the four-month-old cub will start out in a fenced-off area of forest before moving into the wild. Pandas are notoriously difficult to reintroduce, with the first attempt from Hetaoping failing after the male cub, Xiang Xiang, was found dead less than a year after reintroduction. He had fallen from a tree, presumed attacked by other pandas.

(Image: Li Chuana/AP/PA)