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Eureka! The 10 best science photos of 2012

This is Australian science at its best.

The Australian Museum has announced the 2012 winners of the Eureka Prizes, which for more than 20 years have defined science in Australia, the museum said. The prizes reward excellence in the fields of research & innovation, school science and science journalism, communication and of course, photography.

Wildlife and science photographers require enormous patience and skill to take a rare shot. Imagine, though, the exhilaration of capturing an image that has previously never been filmed.

"The winners for outstanding science photography showcase not only the wonders of our world but have captured a moment of discovery, a moment never seen before and the nature and beauty of science itself," said Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum.

First prize winner Jason Edwards achieved just such a moment in his stunning photograph, “First Documentation of a Humpback Whale Mating.” The image represents the first time humpback whale mating has ever been documented. Perseverance and patience are essential to capture such an event. For several hours a pod of male humpbacks compete in a battle of strength and endurance known as a “heat run.”

In an act of surprising tenderness by the great mammals of the sea, the successful male bull rubs his nose against the female cow's tail and gently strokes her flanks with his fins, holding her to him during copulation.

The second-placed photograph, “Red-throat Travels,” shows the tag and release after surgery of a red-throat emperor fish, being lowered back into the deep-blue sunlit water after it has been implanted with an acoustic tag at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

And the brilliance, beauty and power of nature are captured in third place “Towards Solar Maximum.” When we look at the sun, which is made of gas, there is a depth past which the gas begins to get so dense that we cannot see through it, the museum explained. Every 11 years, however, the sun enters a period of maximum activity when the chromosphere displays flares, sunspots and other features -- a period seen here.