Our 21 Most Popular Stories of 2017

From groundbreaking discoveries to breathtaking photography, check out our top stories of the year.

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.

Whether it was experiencing helplessness seeing where refugee children sleep, or envy while flipping through submissions for Travel Photographer of the Year, these stories made you feel.

Here are our 21 most popular stories of the year:

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Some 110 million years ago, this armored plant-eater lumbered through what is now western Canada, until a flooded river swept it into open sea. The dinosaur’s undersea burial preserved its armor in exquisite detail. Its skull still bears tile-like plates and a gray patina of fossilized skins.

This photo was originally published in "The Amazing Dinosaur Found (Accidentally) by Miners in Canada," June 2017.

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.

Heart-Wrenching Video: Starving Polar Bear on Iceless Land

“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.

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Alex Honnold free soloing the upper pitches of Freerider on El Capitan.

This photo was originally published in "Exclusive: Climber Completes the Most Dangerous Rope-Free Ascent Ever" in June 2017.


“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.”

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The eruption of Colima Volcano in west of Mexico on December 13th, 2015.

This photo was originally published in "Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 2017"

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.

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A male orangutan peers from behind a tree while crossing a river in Borneo, Indonesia.

This photo was originally published in "Nature Photographer of the Year Contest 2017"

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.”

Transforming a Spinach Leaf Into Beating Human Heart Tissue

Through Mike Belleme’s photographs, we were transported to a forest community called Wild Roots, in western North Carolina.

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Niki, left, paints Julia's face with sand stone pigments in the creek which runs through the Wild Roots property in western North Carolina. The stream is the only source of fresh drinking water, and also how members of the Wild Roots community bathe year-round.

This photo was originally published in "Here's What It's Like to Live in the Woods, Off the Grid" in May 2017.

“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.

9 Easy Ways to Find Happiness Every Day

“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.

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Furrows of artificial light lend an otherworldly aura to Westland, the greenhouse capital of the Netherlands. Climate-controlled farms such as these grow crops around the clock and in every kind of weather.

This photo was originally published in "This Tiny Country Feeds the World" in September 2017.

“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.

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Cannon beach, Oregon.

This photo was originally published in "21 Best Beaches in the World" in January 2017.

“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."

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Iman, 2, has pneumonia and a chest infection. This is her third day in this hospital bed. "She sleeps most of the time now. Normally she's a happy little girl, but now she's tired. She runs everywhere when she's well. She loves playing in the sand", says her mother Olah, 19.

This photo was originally published in "Haunting Photos Show Where Refugee Children Sleep" in February 2016.

Solar Eclipse 101

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.”

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Xian (23) sits on her bed in her room in the Nong Ying atomic shelter in the district of Weigongcun. Many young people leave their lives in the countryside and move to Beijing to pursue a better life.

This photo was originally published in "A Million People Live in These Underground Nuclear Bunkers" in February 2017.

“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.”

Ancient Egypt 101

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.