In what could only be described as a turbulent news year, our most popular stories offered readers a little something different: a sense of wonder.
We marvelled at the discovery of one of the best dinosaur fossils ever found. We bit our nails watching Alex Honnold shimmy up the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without the use of any ropes or safety gear. We were brought to tears by footage of a starving polar bear clinging to life.
Here are our 21 most popular stories of the year:
We broke the story of the discovery of a 110 million-year-old nodosaur, an armored plant-eating dinosaur that once lumbered through what is now western Canada. The animal fossilized in 3-D, preserving its armor and vestiges of its soft tissue—including hints of its original coloration. It is the best-preserved armored dinosaur ever found.
“When I first saw the nodosaur fossil in Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum, I was shocked, reduced to muttering ‘Wow!’ to myself over and over again,” says story writer Michael Greshko. It was his first piece to appear in National Geographic magazine.
This video from National Geographic contributing photographers Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier documents the final hours of a polar bear that’s starving to death, likely due to a lack of sea ice, which is crucial for polar bears to access their main food source—seals.
“Watching an animal slowly suffer like this really punches you in the gut,” says Sarah Gibbens, who wrote our accompanying story. “The video was difficult to watch and it was difficult to write about, but it started a necessary conversation.”
This story shed light on the controversial announcement that scientists had created the first successful human-animal hybrids, proving that “human cells can be introduced into a non-human organism, survive, and even grow inside a host animal.”
Our Senior Science Editor Victoria Jaggard calls gene editing one of the thorniest topics in science: “Chimeras raise a host of ethical issues, but they hold promise for solving our dire need for healthy transplant organs. Talking about developments like this drives discussion about where to draw the ethical lines.”
This June, rock climber Alex Honnold became the first to scale Yosemite National Park’s iconic 3,000-foot granite wall known as El Capitan without a rope or any other safety gear—a style known as free-soloing.
“The climb itself was a tightly held secret—even among the close-knit climbing community,” says video editor Jennifer Murphy, who produced our exclusive first video of the climb. “When news of Honnold's summit finally broke, it brought a wave of shock, disbelief and cheers from the public.”
From sweeping vistas to touching human moments, the entries for our Travel Photographer of the Year contest offered a visual trip around the world.
The grand prize-winning photo, selected from more than 15,000 entries, shows the epic eruption of Mexico’s Colima Volcano, illuminated by a lightning bolt.
Animal portraits, stark landscapes and ethereal underwater scenes stood out to the judges of our 2017 Nature Photographer of the Year contest.
The grand prize winning photo features a orangutan peering from behind a tree in Borneo, Indonesia, calling attention to the threats that the critically endangered species face from rampant palm oil cultivation in the area.
“Watching this spinach leaf pump blood through its tiny leafy veins will never get old,” says writer Delaney Chambers. “In a feat of science that captivated the attention of a million readers, a spinach leaf's genetic material was replaced with that of a human heart, with far-reaching implications for future heart surgeries.”
Through Mike Belleme’s photographs, we were transported to a forest community called Wild Roots, in western North Carolina.
“Living in the woods, alone and without electricity, is not only harder than people imagine, it's also different than you'd think,” says Dan Stone, who wrote the accompanying story. “What happens when your house molds over? How do you stay in touch with family?”
The Perseid meteor shower is a “grand sky show that is an annual favorite thanks to its summertime bounty of shooting stars,” says our Senior Science Editor, Victoria Jaggard.
This shocking, controversial video features the moment an enormous snake was cut open, revealing a 25-year-old man inside its gut.
“My editor plopped a laptop with the video on my desk and just said, ‘check this out.’ I thought it was a video of some sort of deer inside a python, so you can imagine my horror when I realized it was a full human man,” says Sarah Gibbens, who wrote our accompanying story.
“I spoke with a snake expert who explained that, not only is it possible for a python to swallow a human whole, but it’s also pretty easy except for the shoulders,” she says. How comforting.
Our collaboration with The Gallup Poll and with Blue Zones of Happiness author Dan Buettner made this list reliable and compelling.
“A search for the happiest city is bound to be debated anecdotally by friends, but this poll took the data and put arguments to rest,” says National Geographic Travel producer Marie McGrory.
“At last, a hopeful story about the challenges facing a hungry world,” says story editor Glenn Oeland.
Using still photography and drone video, National Geographic contributor Luca Locatelli reveals a fascinating view of agricultural innovation in from the Netherlands.
“Holland is a country that punches well above its weight in the global agricultural sector, and Locatelli masterfully visualizes these dynamic forces in a country that leads the world in food security and solutions,” says senior photography editor James Welford.
“Against all evidence, a stubborn fringe insists that a rogue ‘Planet X’ is poised to graze or smash into Earth,” says writer Michael Greshko. “ It's frustrating to see such baseless stories go viral, so I wrote this, hoping that it would help inoculate readers.”
Italy's Campi Flegrei supervolcano lies under 500,000 people, and it may be awakening from a long slumber.
“Travelers love beaches—it is a nearly universal truth,” says National Geographic Travel producer Marie McGrory. “This list helped tailor the search to what each visitor might want. Are you a shell hunter? Snorkeler? Love colorful sand? There is a beach somewhere, just for you.”
In this cautionary tale about the dangers of entrenched scientific dogma, writer Glenn Hodges and photographer Michael Melford explore the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington State. The strange landscape was long an enigma to geologists. Then a maverick high school teacher dared to posit an unfashionable explanation.
"What [photographer] Magnus Wennman has captured with this work moves beyond just the evident notion of refugee children sleeping,” says National Geographic assistant photo editor Kaya Berne. “It visualizes the extreme exhaustion refugees can experience after an arduous journey, and provides an element to their story that is profoundly relatable."
Millions of people watched as the moon’s shadow raced across the United States in August—the first time a total solar eclipse had gone coast to coast since 1918. Our viewing guide blended the science behind the spectacle with tips for how to safely make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event.
“We always joke at National Geographic that there should be a ‘below ground’ beat,” says photo editor Mallory Benedict. “People have an insatiable curiosity about worlds they cannot see, and this story provided that.”
“This sort of story really feels like it could only happen in Egypt, where people are practically tripping over ancient artifacts,” says writer Sarah Gibbens. “While digging in one of the city’s most densely packed neighborhoods, archaeologists found a 26-foot tall ancient statue.”
The statue was originally thought to possibly depict Pharaoh Ramses II, one of Egypt’s most famous ancient rulers. Later analysis revealed it is more likely the image of King Psammetich I, who ruled Egypt from 664 to 610 BC.
“That day, I came home and cried,” says Benny Lam when describing an experience photographing grim living conditions in Hong Kong—a city of nearly 7.5 million and almost no developable land remaining.
This photo-driven story documents the lives of civilians pushed to live suffocatingly small squatter huts, driven out of their homes by the city's soaring rent prices.