Our Top Ten News Stories of 2002

National Geographic News
December 16, 2002
An image of a shark attacking a helicopter that circulated widely on the
Internet as "National Geographic Photo of the Year" turned out to be the
story of the year for National Geographic News, the Society's online
news service.

America Online featured the composite image and the story behind it on its Welcome Screen—and within 24 hours more than one million people clicked through to read the full report on The story continued to be heavily visited throughout the year, easily making it National Geographic's No.1 online news report for 2002.

National Geographic News reported that the image was a hoax after the Society's Web site was besieged by visitors searching for "Photo of the Year," "Shark," and "Helicopter"—or by sending the online news desk e-mails asking if the photo was real. The person who made the hoax image remains unknown, but National Geographic was able to track down the sources of the two original photographs that had been merged to form the fake photo (see story link below for details). attracted a record number of visitors in 2002, serving more than half a billion pages. Many visitors came to read the Web site's daily news reports.

Here, in ascending order of popularity, as measured by total number of visitors to each one of them, are National Geographic's hottest stories for 2002:

10: New Snake Footage Uncoils Mystery of Flying Serpents
Watch out—there's a snake flying through the air! No, it's not a paranoid hallucination. Along the west coast of India and in parts of Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, some snakes slither through the jungle, bite with venom, and glide from tree to tree. Full story, photo gallery, and video. Go >>

9. Life Is Confusing For Two-Headed Snakes
The two-headed monsters of myth may have a basis in reality. Two-headed snakes are rare but not unheard of, and one recently found in Spain is giving scientists an opportunity to study how the anomaly affects their ability to hunt and mate. Go >>

8. Shark Gives "Virgin Birth" in Detroit
A female white spotted bamboo shark at the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit surprised zookeepers in July by giving birth to two babies. Why the surprise? It was a virgin birth: She hadn't been near a male for six years. Go >>

7. "Mummified" Dinosaur Discovered In Montana
Leonardo, a mummified, 77-million-year-old duck-billed dinosaur was only about three or four years old when he died, but he's proving to be a bonanza for paleontologists today. His fossilized skeleton is covered in soft tissue—skin, scales, muscle, foot pads—and even his last meal is in his stomach. The actual tissue has decayed over the millennia, and has been replaced by minerals. What's left for scientists to study is a fossil of a dinosaur mummy. Full story and photo gallery. Go >>

6. Behind the Search for the "Afghan Girl"
She was one of the world's most famous faces, yet no one knew who she was. Her image appeared on the front of magazines and books, posters, lapel pins, and even rugs, but she didn't know it. Now, after searching for 17 years, National Geographic has once again found the Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes. Full story and video. Go >>

5. Burial Box May Be That of Jesus's Brother, Expert Says
Researchers may have uncovered the first archaeological evidence that refers to Jesus as an actual person and identifies James, the first leader of the Christian church, as his brother. Go >>

4. Thousands of Inca Mummies Raised From Their Graves
Thousands of Inca mummies—many with hair, skin, and eyes intact—have been rescued from beneath the streets of a sprawling settlement on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. Go >>

3. Skull Fossil Opens Window Into Early Period of Human Origins
For decades scientists have worked to connect the dots between dozens of fossil discoveries in East and southern Africa in hopes of constructing an accurate picture of human origins. Now, a new find in western Central Africa suggests the picture may be radically different than widely assumed. Full story and photo gallery. Go >>

2. Is a Large Asteroid Headed for Impact With Earth in 2880?
Scientists have identified a thousand-yard-wide (one-kilometer-wide) asteroid that may be heading for a collision with Earth—878 years from now. Go >>

Top Story: Shark "Photo of the Year" Is E-Mail Hoax
A photograph that has been circulating on the Internet showing a shark leaping out of the water to attack a helicopter, is a fake. The composite image, which claims to be National Geographic's "Photo of the Year," was spliced together from a U.S. Air Force photo taken near San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and a photo of a shark from South Africa. Go >>

To see stories like this in 2003 bookmark our News Index page—or send us an e-mail with the word "subscribe" in the header field and we will put you on our mailing list to receive our free news alert service whenever we have a particularly interesting story to share with you.

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