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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

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With only a few days left until Christmas, lighted displays, colorful markets, and Santa's helpers are out in force. From Europe to the Americas and Asia, gathered here as an early gift to you, is a collection of holiday cheer and light wrapped up in 30 photographs. [30 photos]

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A girl kisses Santa Claus at the Intercontinental hotel of Beijing, China, on December 19, 2014. (Fred DuFour/AFP/Getty Images)
A girl kisses Santa Claus at the Intercontinental hotel of Beijing, China, on December 19, 2014. (Fred DuFour/AFP/Getty Images)
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Photos of the Week: 12/13-12/19

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This week we have Santa Claus on a zip line in Brazil, a replica White House in Erbil, Iraq, freezing weather in Asia, the Taliban attack in Peshawar, Reindeer in Scotland, and the hostage crisis in Sydney, and much more. [35 photos]

One of the hostages runs towards police from a cafe in the central business district of Sydney on December 15, 2014. Iranian-born Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis walked into the cafe and held a number of patrons and employees hostage, making demands of the Australian government. The standoff ended hours later in gunfire, with two hostages killed, and Monis shot by police. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the hostages runs towards police from a cafe in the central business district of Sydney on December 15, 2014. Iranian-born Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis walked into the cafe and held a number of patrons and employees hostage, making demands of the Australian government. The standoff ended hours later in gunfire, with two hostages killed, and Monis shot by police. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)
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Winners of the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest

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National Geographic Magazine just announce the winners of this year's photo contest. The Grand Prize Winner, Brian Yen, will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. Gathered below are the winning images from the People, Nature, and Places categories, as well as honorable mentions, with captions written by the individual photographers. Be sure to see earlier selections of the entries, Part I, and Part II, earlier on In Focus. [19 photos]

Grand Prize Winner. "A Node Glows in the Dark" In the last ten years, mobile data, smartphones and social networks have forever changed our existence. Although this woman stood at the center of a jam-packed train, the warm glow from her phone told the strangers around her that she wasn't really there. She managed to slip away from "here" for a short moment; she's a node flickering on the social web, roaming the Earth, free as a butterfly. Photographed in Hong Kong. (© Brian Yen/National Geographic Photo Contest)
Grand Prize Winner. "A Node Glows in the Dark" In the last ten years, mobile data, smartphones and social networks have forever changed our existence. Although this woman stood at the center of a jam-packed train, the warm glow from her phone told the strangers around her that she wasn't really there. She managed to slip away from "here" for a short moment; she's a node flickering on the social web, roaming the Earth, free as a butterfly. Photographed in Hong Kong. (© Brian Yen/National Geographic Photo Contest)
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After Pakistan Attack, 'the Smallest Coffins Are the Heaviest'

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Yesterday morning, seven militants from the Pakistani Taliban entered a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, opening fire on the students with automatic weapons and detonating multiple explosive devices. The attack killed 132 children and nine staff members, and another 120 were injured. All of the gunmen were killed when the attack was brought to an end eight hours later by government forces. The Pakistani Taliban, claiming responsibility, said the assault on the children was in retaliation for attacks on their own families in North Waziristan, where the Pakistani Army has been carrying out an offensive against several militant groups. Gathered here are images of the immediate aftermath, as well as the school's interior, photographed a day later, and scores of families affected by this enormous tragedy. [28 photos]

An injured Pakistani student who survived a Taliban attack on a school that killed more than 140 people, admitted to a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on December 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
An injured Pakistani student who survived a Taliban attack on a school that killed more than 140 people, admitted to a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on December 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
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2014: The Year in Volcanic Activity

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Once again, it has been a particularly eventful year for the world's volcanoes. Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2014, erupting volcanoes included Mount Sinabung, Mount Kelud, and Sangeang Api in Indonesia, Bardarbunga in Iceland, Mount Ontake in Japan, Tungurahua in Ecuador, Pico do Fogo in Cape Verde, Mount Etna and Stromboli in Italy, Pavlof in Alaska, and Kilauea in Hawaii. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year. [40 photos]

Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic gas and ash, seen from Tiga Pancur village on October 13, 2014 in Berastagi, Karo district, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Mount Sinabung, which has lain dormant for over 400 years, has been intermittently erupting since September 15 last year, killing dozens and forcing thousands to flee their homes. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
Mount Sinabung spews pyroclastic gas and ash, seen from Tiga Pancur village on October 13, 2014 in Berastagi, Karo district, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Mount Sinabung, which has lain dormant for over 400 years, has been intermittently erupting since September 15 last year, killing dozens and forcing thousands to flee their homes. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
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Photos of the Week: 12/06-12/12

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This week we have an oil spill in Bangladesh, protests about new pornography laws in London, the Afghan Bruce Lee, the breakup of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the Grand Canyon filled with clouds, a big wave surfer in Nazare, and much more. [35 photos]

A polar bear plays with a pylon during celebrations marking its first birthday in an enclosure at Tierpark Hellabrunn zoo in Munich on December 9, 2014. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)
A polar bear plays with a pylon during celebrations marking its first birthday in an enclosure at Tierpark Hellabrunn zoo in Munich on December 9, 2014. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)
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Photos From the Vietnam War: Lost and Found

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Charlie Haughey was drafted into the US Army in 1967, and served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division 2nd Battalion 12th Infantry, as a rifleman. While serving as a point-man for a rifle company, Charlie was commissioned to be the new battalion photographer, and ended up shooting nearly 2,000 poignant photos over the course of 13 months while he served with his rifle company. After returning home, he put the negatives in boxes, and didn't return his attention to them for most of his life. In the fall of 2012, a chance encounter in Portland, Oregon, brought the negatives out of dormancy, and into a film scanner, and the photo collection was digitized and cataloged. A team of volunteers assembled and prepared a show of 28 images, which attracted worldwide press and thousands of visitors, and produced connections with surviving veterans of the 2/12th Infantry. Since the photo show, Charlie has reconnected with members of his unit, many subjects of the photographs have been identified, and the same team of volunteers has been working on a new book of photos, which they are now crowdfunding. The book, titled "A Weather Walked In", will contain 114 photographs, and will be accompanied by a iPad book of nearly 150 photos with audio captions by Charlie. Charlie and his team have been kind enough to share the following photos from the project with us here. Please check out the crowdfunding page, or follow the project on Facebook. [20 photos]

Members of a rifle platoon ready themselves in the field during the Vietnam War. This is one of nearly 2,000 photographs shot by photographer Charlie Haughey, a member of the Army 25th Infantry division, between 1968 and 1969. When he returned home, the photographs were boxed up for the next 40 years, only now being rediscovered, digitized, and made available to the public. (© Charlie Haughey)
Members of a rifle platoon ready themselves in the field during the Vietnam War. This is one of nearly 2,000 photographs shot by photographer Charlie Haughey, a member of the Army 25th Infantry division, between 1968 and 1969. When he returned home, the photographs were boxed up for the next 40 years, only now being rediscovered, digitized, and made available to the public. (© Charlie Haughey)
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2014: The Year in Photos, September-December

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As the year comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2014, a particularly brutal year. Among the events covered in this essay (the last of a three-part photo summary of the year): severe drought in California, Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement protests, raging battles and U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, victories for same-sex marriage proponents in the U.S., the successful test launch of NASA's new Orion spacecraft, and crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. Be sure to see part 1 and part 2 posted earlier. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]

A protester holds her hands up in front of a police car in Ferguson, Missouri, on November 25, 2014 during demonstrations a day after violent protests and looting following the grand jury decision in the fatal shooting of a 18-year-old black teenager Michael Brown. Protest marches sprang up in cities across the US on November 25, amid a tense security operation in Ferguson, the Missouri town at the center of the country's latest racially-charged stand-off. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester holds her hands up in front of a police car in Ferguson, Missouri, on November 25, 2014 during demonstrations a day after violent protests and looting following the grand jury decision in the fatal shooting of a 18-year-old black teenager Michael Brown. Protest marches sprang up in cities across the US on November 25, amid a tense security operation in Ferguson, the Missouri town at the center of the country's latest racially-charged stand-off. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
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2014: The Year in Photos, May-August

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As the year comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2014, a particularly brutal year. Among the events covered in this essay (the second of a three-part photo summary of the year): Summer rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, the World Cup in Brazil, the flight of the Yazidis from ISIS in Iraq, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and the Israel-Gaza conflict. Be sure to see part 1, and part 3 as well. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]

An emotional Brazil fan reacts after his team was defeated by Germany 7-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on July 8, 2014. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
An emotional Brazil fan reacts after his team was defeated by Germany 7-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on July 8, 2014. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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2014: The Year in Photos, January-April

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As the year comes to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2014. Among the events covered in this essay (the first of a three-part photo summary of the year): Protests that drove Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych from office, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, multiple protests worldwide, Ellen DeGeneres' much-retweeted selfie from the Oscars, the ongoing and brutal situation in war-torn Syria, the opening of the largest solar thermal power-tower system in the world, and a playful rocket battle in Vrontados, Greece. See also part 2, and part 3. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]

Anti-government protesters clash with police in Independence square, despite an earlier truce agreed between the Ukrainian president and opposition leaders on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. Early in 2014, violence flared between police and anti-government protesters, who called for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych fled the country in February, but deep divisions within Ukraine spurred in part by Russian involvement, led to months of bloody conflict. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Anti-government protesters clash with police in Independence square, despite an earlier truce agreed between the Ukrainian president and opposition leaders on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. Early in 2014, violence flared between police and anti-government protesters, who called for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych fled the country in February, but deep divisions within Ukraine spurred in part by Russian involvement, led to months of bloody conflict. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Photos of the Week: 11/29-12/05

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This week we have nationwide protests about the failure to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Typhoon Hagupit approaching the Philippines, the most complete Stegosaurus fossil ever discovered, demonic Perchten on the march, the UK Christmas Tree Throwing Championships, the successful test launch of the Orion spacecraft, and much more. [35 photos]

A demonstrator cries during a gathering in Philadelphia to protest the Eric Garner grand jury decision during a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at City Hall on December 3, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Organizers called for the demonstration after a grand jury in the Staten Island borough of New York City declined to indict the police officer who used a chokehold on Garner, resulting in his death. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)
A demonstrator cries during a gathering in Philadelphia to protest the Eric Garner grand jury decision during a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at City Hall on December 3, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Organizers called for the demonstration after a grand jury in the Staten Island borough of New York City declined to indict the police officer who used a chokehold on Garner, resulting in his death. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)
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New York's Chinatown in the Early 1980s

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From 1981 to 1984, photographer Bud Glick worked on a photography project as part of the New York Chinatown History Project, now the Museum of Chinese in America. An older Chinatown generation was being replaced by a rapidly expanding new influx of immigrants. His goal was to document the transformation from an aging and primarily male neighborhood (due to restrictive and discriminatory immigration laws) to a new community of young families. Now, three decades later, Glick has scanned his Chinatown negatives and made large prints. "It's exciting to revisit personal work that I did more than 30 years ago and interpret it digitally, a process that allows me the ability to get more out of a negative than I ever could in the darkroom," he says. "I'm able to give new life to old work. More importantly, time has changed me and the way that I see the work. I've found images, overlooked in the past, that due to the passage of time have taken on new meaning and import." For today's viewers, Glick's intimate portraits of Chinese immigrants on the streets, at work, and at home, are rare documents that capture a specific moment in time, a small chapter in the story of the American experience. [22 photos]

Celebrating Chinese New Year on Bayard St., in New York City's Chinatown, in 1984. (© Bud Glick)
Celebrating Chinese New Year on Bayard St., in New York City's Chinatown, in 1984. (© Bud Glick)
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An Icy Start to Winter

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Recent storms and plunging temperatures have encrusted regions of Germany, Austria, and Hungary in thick sheets of ice. Freezing fog and icy rain coated nearly every surface, leaving road signs and trees looking like works of abstract art. The weather has closed some schools and left residents without power as crews work to clear heavy tree branches from roads, buildings, and power lines. [18 photos]

A sign for the village of Schneeberg, (literally, "Snow Mountain"), covered with ice, in northern Austria on December 3, 2014. Freezing fog and rain has covered parts of the region with ice, causing blocked roads due to fallen trees and closed schools for security reasons, local media report. (Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader)
A sign for the village of Schneeberg, (literally, "Snow Mountain"), covered with ice, in northern Austria on December 3, 2014. Freezing fog and rain has covered parts of the region with ice, causing blocked roads due to fallen trees and closed schools for security reasons, local media report. (Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader)
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Bhopal: The World's Worst Industrial Disaster, 30 Years Later

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Thirty years ago, on the night of December 2, 1984, an accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released at least 30 tons of a highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate, as well as a number of other poisonous gases. The pesticide plant was surrounded by shanty towns, leading to more than 600,000 people being exposed to the deadly gas cloud that night. The gases stayed low to the ground, causing victims throats and eyes to burn, inducing nausea, and many deaths. Estimates of the death toll vary from as few as 3,800 to as many as 16,000, but government figures now refer to an estimate of 15,000 killed over the years. Toxic material remains, and 30 years later, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children. For decades, survivors have been fighting to have the site cleaned up, but they say the efforts were slowed when Michigan-based Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001. Human rights groups say that thousands of tons of hazardous waste remain buried underground, and the government has conceded the area is contaminated. There has, however, been no long-term epidemiological research which conclusively proves that birth defects are directly related to the drinking of the contaminated water. [28 photos]

Trees frame a rusting building at the abandoned former Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, on November 11, 2014. On the night of December 2, 1984, the factory owned by the U.S. multinational Union Carbide Corporation accidentally leaked methyl isocyanate and other highly toxic gases into the air, killing thousands of largely poor Indians in the neighborhoods nearby. (Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)
Trees frame a rusting building at the abandoned former Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, on November 11, 2014. On the night of December 2, 1984, the factory owned by the U.S. multinational Union Carbide Corporation accidentally leaked methyl isocyanate and other highly toxic gases into the air, killing thousands of largely poor Indians in the neighborhoods nearby. (Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)
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2014 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

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It's that time of year again—time for my favorite holiday tradition: the 2014 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. Every day until Thursday, December 25, this page will present an amazing new image of our universe from NASA's Hubble telescope. Be sure to visit every day until Christmas, or follow me on Twitter (@in_focus), Google+, Facebook, or Tumblr for daily updates. I hope you enjoy these amazing and awe-inspiring images and the efforts of the science teams who have brought them to Earth. Merry Christmas, and peace on Earth to all. (Also, choosing the "1280px" viewing option below, if you can support it, is always a good option.) [25 photos, eventually]

"Mystic Mountain", a pillar of gas and dust three light-years tall, is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby stars. This turbulent cosmic pinnacle lies within a stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. Scorching radiation and streams of charged particles from super-hot newborn stars in the nebula are shaping and compressing the pillar, causing new stars to form within it. Streamers of hot ionized gas can be seen flowing off the ridges of the structure, and wispy veils of gas and dust, illuminated by starlight, float around its towering peaks. Long streamers of gas can be seen shooting in opposite directions from the pedestal at the top of the image. Another pair of jets is visible at another peak near the center of the image. These jets are signposts for new star birth and are launched by swirling gas and dust discs around the young stars, which allow material to slowly accrete onto the stellar surfaces. Image made in February of 2010. (NASA, ESA, M. Livio, STScI)
"Mystic Mountain", a pillar of gas and dust three light-years tall, is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby stars. This turbulent cosmic pinnacle lies within a stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. Scorching radiation and streams of charged particles from super-hot newborn stars in the nebula are shaping and compressing the pillar, causing new stars to form within it. Streamers of hot ionized gas can be seen flowing off the ridges of the structure, and wispy veils of gas and dust, illuminated by starlight, float around its towering peaks. Long streamers of gas can be seen shooting in opposite directions from the pedestal at the top of the image. Another pair of jets is visible at another peak near the center of the image. These jets are signposts for new star birth and are launched by swirling gas and dust discs around the young stars, which allow material to slowly accrete onto the stellar surfaces. Image made in February of 2010. (NASA, ESA, M. Livio, STScI)
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Photos of the Week: 11/22-11/28

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This week we have Black Friday in the UK, a flood protection system in Venice, scenes from Ferguson, Missouri, Australian bats, parade balloons in New York City, a Soyuz launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and much more. [35 photos]

A Ferguson firefighter surveys rubble at a strip mall that was set on fire when rioting erupted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A Ferguson firefighter surveys rubble at a strip mall that was set on fire when rioting erupted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Scenes from Nepal

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Nepal, the "Roof of the World", is home to 27 million people, eight of the world's ten tallest mountains, and a distinct and rich culture. Gathered here are scenes from around Nepal, of its landscape, its residents, and multiple Hindu festivals and traditions, gathered over the past few years. [32 photos]

Mount Ama Dablam, which stands approximately 6,800 meters above sea level, behind Khumjung Village in Solukhumbu District, Nepal, on April 30, 2014. More than 4,000 climbers have reached the summit of Everest, the world's highest peak, since it was first scaled by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953. In April, an avalanche killed 16 Nepali Sherpa guides who were fixing ropes and ferrying supplies for their foreign clients to climb the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak. The accident - the deadliest in the history of Mount Everest - triggered a dispute between sherpa guides who wanted a climbing ban in honor of their colleagues and the Nepali government that refused to close the mountain. The sherpas staged a boycott, forcing hundreds of foreign climbers to call off their bids to climb Everest. (Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar)
Mount Ama Dablam, which stands approximately 6,800 meters above sea level, behind Khumjung Village in Solukhumbu District, Nepal, on April 30, 2014. More than 4,000 climbers have reached the summit of Everest, the world's highest peak, since it was first scaled by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953. In April, an avalanche killed 16 Nepali Sherpa guides who were fixing ropes and ferrying supplies for their foreign clients to climb the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak. The accident - the deadliest in the history of Mount Everest - triggered a dispute between sherpa guides who wanted a climbing ban in honor of their colleagues and the Nepali government that refused to close the mountain. The sherpas staged a boycott, forcing hundreds of foreign climbers to call off their bids to climb Everest. (Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar)
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Violent Protests in Ferguson, Missouri

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Last night, the decision of a St. Louis County grand jury to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson was announced, leading to protests in many cities across the U.S. In Ferguson, Missouri, where Officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown last August, demonstrations quickly turned violent, despite calls for peaceful protest from the Brown family and members of the community. Cars were smashed, stores looted, and at least a dozen buildings were set on fire, as a heavy police presence tried to establish order. Due to safety concerns including sporadic gunfire, firefighters were unable to respond quickly, and a number of businesses burned to the ground. As the night became early morning, arrests were made, streets were cleared and most fires were extinguished. [25 photos]

Police officers walk by a burning police car during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown that sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Police officers walk by a burning police car during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown that sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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