The Most Incredible Microscope Images Of 2016 Reveal A Beautiful, Hidden Universe

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Dave Mosher

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A butterfly proboscis.Jochen Schroeder/Nikon Small World

The world we see with our eyes is just one view of reality, but microscopes can bring a smaller, practically invisible universe within reach.

Photographs taken through the lenses of a high-power 'scope can reveal lifeforms and objects no person has ever seen.


They also highlight beautiful, artistic, and often shocking details in common objects, like soap bubbles, dried coffee, flowers, and butterfly tongues:

microscope photos nikon small world 2016 Butterfly proboscis

A butterfly proboscis.Jochen Schroeder/Nikon Small World

The Nikon Small World contest celebrates the most amazing microscope photos from around the world, and 2016's competition was as amazing as any of the years before it: more than 2,000 entries from 70 countries. (I was a judge for the 40th year of the contest.)

Nikon will release the winners on Wednesday, October 19, via its Instagram account,@NikonInstruments.


Until then, soak in the finalists below — and cast a vote for your favorite.

Red speckled jewel beetle

Eyes of a jumping spider
Slime mold
Glycerin-based soapy solution
Zooplankton carefully arranged by hand in Victorian style
Microcrystal test for oxycodone
Tiger beetle and a scale of the forester moth

Human HeLa cell undergoing cell division
Head of a skinbow zebrafish larvae
Human brain cells differentiated from embryonic stem cells
Scales of a butterfly wing
Mouse hand showing veins
Tintinnid ciliate of a marine plankton from the Indian Ocean
The prolegs of a hairy caterpillar gripping a small branch
Head of an orange ladybird
Fossil diatom composed of 20 individual photos
Green bottle fly
Flow currents generated by an eight-week-old starfish larva
Butterfly scales
Butterfly scales
Scales of a butterfly wing Agrodiaetus thersites Chapman's Blue male. Anne Gleich/Nikon Small World
Air bubbles in evaporating tequila
Rubber coated with a thin glass
Beta-alanine and taurine crystals

Cultured fat cells from a grizzly bear
Deep sea crustacean
Mouse retinal ganglion cells
Mouse retina, laid flat
A daisy's central disc pattern of tiny unopened flowers
Espresso coffee crystals

Black elder tree flower stamen

Spore capsule of a moss
Tail of a small shrimp
Cross section of a lily of the valley

Brain matter of a transgenic mouse in 3D
Testis of a fruit fly
Section of the cerebellum in a brain
Surface of embryonic mouse kidney
Barley stem cross section
Leaves of a lesser club moss
Crystals of salicin, a painkiller, extracted from Willow tree bark
Seeds of an Indian Paintbrush wildflower
Curvepod fumewort seed

Egg of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly
Caudal gill of a dragonfly larva
Air bubbles formed from melted ascorbic acid crystals
Leg of a water boatman
Polished slab of Teepee Canyon agate
A Frontonia cell showing ingested food, cilia, mouth, and trichocysts
Water mite
Cerebellum brain section of a rat

Hippocampal brain slice
Goatsbeard flower seeds
Poison fangs of a centipede
Cross-section of reinforced carbon-fiber
Young flower buds of Arabidopsis, a flowering plant
Early stages of mouse embryos
Section of stem of a plant specimen
Robber fly

Crystals of diclofenac (also called Zorvolex), a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug
Four-day-old zebrafish embryo
Oreina cacaliae
Butterfly proboscis
Wasp eyes
3D picture of moving vesicles
Wildflower stamens
Front foot of a male diving beetle
Inside of a humped bladderwort, a freshwater carnivorous plant

Gear-like hind legs of a planthopper nymph

Scales of a butterfly wing underside
Section of a begonia flower
Jurinea mollis seed
Dahlia flower section
Leaves of a liverwort plant
Casuarina seed
Trumpet animalcule an endosymbionts
Hippocampal neurons

Galls of a mite and fungus on the surface of a scarlet firethorn plant
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