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December 2002 Archive

Nearly 100 photojournalists participated in a one-day documentary of the African continent. From Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope, they documented the contrasts in geography, people, and customs. This tapestry of images is available in the new book A Day in the Life of Africa. Full story and photo gallery:

The Hubble Space Telescope has brought images of distant galaxies and neighboring planets all into view—but only for those who can see. Now, a new book by NASA is helping to make stargazers out of the visually impaired.

New research shows that tiny female parasitic wasps are able to change the smell of the plants they live in to attract a mate. The ability helps the flea-sized prairie-living gall wasp males to locate a partner, despite the fact that the female is totally enclosed within a plant stem. The study is the first known example of an insect actively altering a plants' chemistry to assist in reproduction.

Amateur and professional astronomers are flocking to the southern hemisphere to catch one of nature's greatest shows—a total eclipse of the sun. The spectacle gives earthlings a rare glimpse of the corona, the scorching hot and faint outer atmosphere of the sun.

A new report issued by the United Nations Population Fund outlines specific steps to reduce high fertility rates that presently exacerbate global poverty.

Snow scientist Ed Adams believes the best way to understand avalanches is to be buried in them. National Geographic Adventure magazine recently spoke with Adams to learn more about his unorthodox research approach and the risks that avalanches pose to backcountry travelers.

Who knew that how you tie your shoes could engage the minds of master mathematicians? As it turns out, even those of us who could barely get through Math 101 know how to tie our shoes in the most efficient and mathematically correct way possible.

Chemistry may help keep a relationship together, but male tree-hole frogs found in the lowland rain forests of Borneo use physics to attract their mates. Scientists have discovered that frogs actively tune the pitch of their calls to resonate inside hollow tree cavities to increase their chance of attracting a mate. Listen to tree-hole frog mating calls.

A single wolf's genes may have sparked the recovery of threatened Scandinavian wolves. Scientists say this is the first evidence in the wild that a lone immigrant can stem the loss of genetic diversity caused by inbreeding in isolated packs.

Numerous ships and planes have vanished without a trace within the imaginary Bermuda Triangle bounded by Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico. Yet 58 years after five Navy planes disappeared there on a routine training mission, no one knows exactly what caused that and other disappearances.

Rapid melting of the Earth's glaciers coupled with a dramatic redistribution of ocean mass is causing our planet to get fatter around the Equator and flatter at the poles, according to an international team of scientists.

What language is most widely spoken? What is the world's tallest manmade structure? The National Geographic Family Reference Atlas reveals answers to these questions and more with over 500 maps and photographs. National Geographic Maps President Bill Stoehr discusses what's new in the Society's latest volume of maps and geography information. Full story and video:

Writer and adventurer Kira Salak endured storms, sickness, and uncertain hospitality as she kayaked nearly 600 miles (966 kilometers) along Mali's Niger River to explore the waterway that serves as the lifeblood of the West African nation. National Geographic News recently spoke with Salak about her expedition.

The 13th amendment abolishing slavery in the United States was ratified 137 years ago today, on December 6, 1865. While Abraham Lincoln and white abolitionists have been largely credited with slavery's demise, historians are now looking at the active role that slaves in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean played in their own emancipation.

Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett was the last Western television reporter to cover the 1991 Gulf War from inside Iraq—and the last to interview Saddam Hussein. Arnett is now back in the country on assignment for National Geographic EXPLORER. Arnett recently spoke with National Geographic News from Baghdad, sharing his perspective on the return of UN weapons inspectors, the strength of Hussein's regime, and the mood of the Iraqi people.

Clap your hands in front of the 1,100-year-old Temple of Kukulcan, in the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, and, to some researchers' ears, the pyramid answers in the voice of the sacred quetzal bird. Now scientists are examining whether the architects intended just such an acoustical mimicry.

Like a tree's concentric growth rings, a small bone within a fish's ear also contains a record of its growth. From this bone scientists are discovering spawning grounds and migration patterns of some of the world's most elusive fish, which they believe will be invaluable for both conservation and commerce.

Sequencing projects on the human and mouse are near completion—and dogs may be next in line. Deciphering the full genetic code of canines will help scientists better understand human diseases.

On many calendars December 10 is marked as the Inuit "Festival for the Souls of Dead Whales." Ronald H. Brower, Sr., director of the Inuit Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska, explains that although there is no such special day on the Inuit calendar, celebrations to welcome the spirits of whales do have deep roots in the culture of Arctic people.

While freeways and strip malls seem to stretch to the ends of Earth, a new conservation study offers a surprising picture: It shows that nearly half of the planet's land area is still wilderness. Unfortunately, only a tiny fraction of these wild lands is officially protected from the pressures of population growth, agriculture, and other forms of human development.

Meteor gazers have one last chance to catch a show this year. The annual Geminid meteor shower, which began on December 7, is predicted to reach peak intensity of 120 meteors per hour this Saturday, December 14, 2002, according to astronomers.

In an interview with National Geographic News, American author and freelance journalist Sandra Mackey discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rise of Islamic extremism.

Recent outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness among passengers forced Disney, Holland America, and Carnival to cut a string of cruises short. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the Norwalk virus—not terrorism—is to blame. Here, Traveler Consumer News Editor Norie Quintos discusses travelers safety at sea.

Organic farming is not only friendlier to the soil and the environment than conventional farming, it's also friendlier to an underappreciated agricultural workforce—wild bees. So indicates research on how well bees distribute pollen across different types of cropland.

The ability of bats and dolphins to see at night and navigate the murky depths of the sea has long garnered the interest of the United States military. Seeking to build better military sonar systems, researchers are studying how the mammals use sound to create three-dimensional reconstructions of objects in their environment.

Mutual cooperation enables humans and other animals to ensure their own long-term welfare and to build communities, societies, and civilizations. Why, then, is stable cooperation so hard to achieve? From a new study with blue jays, a team of scientists suggests a possible explanation.

More than just a holiday icon, poinsettias are the top-selling potted flowering plant in the United States. The selling season is short, intense, and sometimes lucrative. To succeed, breeders and growers strive to develop varieties that look spectacular, bloom at the right time, ship well, and satisfy consumers.

The six largest Eurasian rivers are dumping a lot more freshwater into the Arctic Ocean now than they were several decades ago, according to an international team of scientists. Their finding supports the long-held prediction that freshwater runoff into the ocean would increase in the Arctic as a result of global warming.

Adding fuel to the fiery debate about human origins, geneticist Spencer Wells says all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago. His view is based on evidence from DNA samples he collected around the world. A National Geographic documentary follows that journey. Full story and photo gallery:

A shark attacking a helicopter, an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, a two-headed snake, a dinosaur mummy, and a burial box that might have belonged to Jesus' brother James. They have one thing in common: All are on the list of the ten most popular online news stories published by National Geographic in 2002. Check out the full list and choose your top story:

The newest exhibition at Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum features treasures—golden masks, rare statues, early prostheses—unearthed from the museum's own storehouses and basement. Included are more than 150 artifacts unseen since their original discovery. A National Geographic EXPLORER documentary showcases their unveiling.

Star Trek: Nemesis, opening today in the United States, features alien species at every turn, enemy ships vaporizing in bursts of light and space ships traveling at "warp speed." In the 24th century it all makes perfect sense—and also in the 21st. That's partly because Star Trek has always relied on real, or at least plausible, science. This story airs on our US cable television program National Geographic Today.

This fall, writer and adventurer Jon Bowermaster embarked on a two-month sea-kayaking expedition through French Polynesia's Tuamotu Archipelago, a barely populated 900-mile-long (1,450-kilometer-long) string of atolls, coral reefs, and desert islands. Navigating by sun and stars, his team lead a Robinson Crusoe existence.

Dennis Patrick has been named president of National Geographic Ventures, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, John Fahey, president and CEO of the National Geographic Society, has announced.

A shark attacking a helicopter, an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, a two-headed snake, a dinosaur mummy, and a burial box that might have belonged to Jesus' brother James. They have one thing in common: All are on the list of the ten most popular National Geographic online news stories promoted on America Online in 2002. Check out the full list and choose your top story:

The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., draws 9 million visitors each year, making it the most popular museum in the world. But cramped facilities keep four-fifths of the museum's collection out of sight. When the 100th anniversary of humankind's first flight lands a year from today, the museum will unveil a stunning new exhibit facility.

If you ever wanted to grow up to be a dinosaur hunter, now is the time to do it. Fossil finds and improvements in technology over the last decade have spurred stunning advances in the field, and there is no reason to think that the pace will slow anytime soon.

In the Mamirauá Reserve, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, a spectacular and virtually pristine rain forest realm is thriving. It's part of the largest area of protected rain forest on Earth because of the visionary work of José Márcio Ayres, a forest ecologist and one of five recipients of the 2002 Rolex Awards for Enterprise.

Possibly nowhere in the world is a good soak in a hot spring more appreciated than it is in Japan. But at a resort in Yamanouchi, in the heart of central Japan's hot springs country, the bathers are monkeys.

Throughout the forests of its Pacific Northwest home, the spotted owl, listed as a threatened species, is interbreeding with the barred owl from the Midwest—creating fertile, hybrid "sparred owls." Scientists and government agencies are concerned that, like an increasing number of creatures around the world, the barred owl may interbreed itself out of existence.

Some people believe tonight's full moon will have a loony effect on human and animal behavior. But according to studies by scientists, strange behavior is no more likely tonight than any other this year.

As Christmas Day approaches, many people across the United States are wondering if their holiday will be white. Climate researchers at the National Climate Data Center have created a map of the U.S. showing the probabilities of snow on Christmas.

The fossilized jawbone of a tetrapod found in Devonian deposits in China shows that Earth's oldest four-limbed creatures colonized a much wider range of the planet than previously thought and evolved a diverse range of forms within a relatively short period. Tetrapods are the first vertebrates with limbs—not fins—and the new find supports their link with lobe-finned fish.

Methane clouds have been discovered near the south pole of Titan, resolving a fierce debate about whether clouds exist amid the haze of the moon's atmosphere. Titan is Saturn's largest moon, larger than the planet Mercury, and is the only moon in our solar system with a thick atmosphere.

A devastating epidemic of seal distemper that has killed up to half of the individuals in many European harbor seal populations is now subsiding. The widespread infection, which may be one of the largest marine mammal epidemics yet observed, could have long-term consequences for survival of harbor seal colonies.

Koalas are one of Australia's most loved mammals, but they are under threat from urban development and forest clearing. An innovative housing estate in New South Wales designed around the needs of koalas is proving to be an example of how human development can be more friendly to native wildlife.

Astronomers have received a holiday bonanza in the form of the arrival of a previously unknown comet that has entered our part of the solar system. As the comet streaks towards the sun there is a possibility that Earth-bound viewers will be able to see it and its gas tail through binoculars, if not the naked eye.

It's not easy rescuing a reputation that's been trashed, especially if the subject has been dead for more than 200 million years. But that's what Robert Gay, a paleontology student at Northern Arizona University, is trying to do for a dinosaur with a rep as a cannibal.

A resurgence of piracy haunts the high seas. This year, as of December 10, pirates have attacked 338 vessels, on par with 335 for 2001. Pirates—from local seamen to sophisticated organized crime gangs—prey on all types of ships, from luxury yachts to fishing trawlers to oil and chemical tankers, particularly any vessel with few crew members.

Researchers continue to search Irish wetlands for two light-bellied brent geese, nicknamed Arnthor and Austin, who disappeared during a satellite-tracking project following the birds' migration from Ireland to Arctic Canada—one of the longest of any goose species.

Two years ago, explorer and wildlife conservationist Michael Fay completed an epic 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) trek through the forests of central Africa. National Geographic News recently spoke with Fay to learn about his latest ideas for habitat conservation and plans for future colossal treks.

The first confirmed dinosaur fossil to be found in Cuba has been unearthed in the island's Sierra de los Organos Mountains. The discovery could yield valuable information on ancient land-sea distribution in the Caribbean region and dinosaur distribution in the Americas.

Severe drought may explain why millions of years ago hundreds of large, lumbering meat-eating cousins to Tyrannosaurus rex perished in what is now a dusty, rocky desert in southern Utah—the site of one of the world's most prolific dinosaur fossil sources.

Although the year's shortest day heralds the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere it also promises the gradual return of the sun after a prolonged period of darkness. Since ancient times, people have celebrated the solstice and observed it with many different cultural and religious traditions.

Captive reindeer may have trouble making their rounds this Christmas, and the problem isn't sleet or snow. The culprit is a fatal brain disease gradually spreading through North America's deer and elk populations.

There is a story circulating on the Internet that claims Rudolph may have been a girl. As the much e-mailed account goes, male reindeer generally shed their antlers long before December 25. So Santa's outriders are all female—which would make sense as they would have to be good at directions. But is there a scientific basis to this theory?

Mistletoe may prompt lovers and serendipitous strangers to share a kiss, but the parasitic plant is a nuisance to the timber industry.

An international group of scientists pooling more than 30 years of data has concluded that behavioral patterns among different orangutan populations show evidence of culture.

What do bonfires, gifts of coal, and Auld Lang Syne have in common? They're all part of Hogmanay, the unique celebration of the new year observed in Scotland today. logo