December 15, 2014 7:00 AM EST

While the culture of social media did its best to ensure that 2014 had its fair share of entertaining, captivating and, above all, shareable photo moments, ultimately the past 12 months included as many genuinely shocking as surprising pictures. The year left us in varying states of outrage, bewilderment, bemusement and astonishment.

But there were some wonderfully unexpected and unusual images—from Darth Vader on the campaign trail in Ukraine and the Pope with a lamb around his neck, to pole dancing robots and a giant hippo in London’s Thames river—that delighted, enthralled and distracted us. Here, TIME looks back over the past 12 months and presents a selection of underreported, improbable and astounding images that caught the attention of TIME’s photo editors—and which, we trust, maintain their ability to utterly, thoroughly surprise.

Read next: TIME Picks the Top 10 Photos of 2014

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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