Top Ten Discoveries of 2011: Nat Geo News's Most Popular
10. Possible Earthlike Planet Spotted
A new planet found about 36 light-years away could be one of the most Earthlike worlds yet—if it has enough clouds. The rocky planet's discovery became the tenth most visited National Geographic News story of 2011.
The unpoetically named HD85512b was discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of an orange dwarf star in the constellation Vela, according to an August study.
Astronomers found the planet using the European Southern Observatory's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, or HARPS, instrument in Chile.
Could this partly gilded hilt have held Blackbeard's sword? There's no way to know for sure, though it was found amid the North Carolina wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge, the flagship of the infamous 18th-century pirate.
Since 1997, archaeologists have been excavating the Queen Anne's Revenge. The sword hilt—found in pieces but reassembled for this picture—was among the latest finds revealed to the public in January.
Archaeologist Brigitte Kovacevich crouches near a looters' tunnel inside the pyramid at the Head of Stone, an ancient Maya city that's finally coming into focus.
Three-dimensional mapping "erased" centuries of Guatemalan jungle growth, revealing the rough contours of nearly a hundred buildings, according to research presented in April.
Using GPS and electronic distance-measurement technology, the researchers plotted the locations and elevations of a seven-story-tall pyramid, an astronomical observatory, a ritual ball court, several stone residences, and other structures.
Talk about a big fish: An expedition crew hauled up—and released—the biggest great white shark yet caught, a team said in May.
The 17.9-foot-long (5.5-meter-long) male behemoth was found off Mexico's Guadalupe Island (map) in fall 2009.
The animal breaks the team's previous record of 16.8 feet (5.1 meters), set when they caught a female great white named Kimel. (Both records are unofficial and not maintained by a formal organization.)
Caught alive after a three-week hunt, a roughly 21-foot-long (6.4-meter-long) saltwater crocodile caught in the Philippines may be the largest crocodile yet captured, officials said in September.
The 2,369-pound (1,075-kilogram) crocodile is suspected of attacking several people and killing two. The animal, named Lolong, survived capture and was held in a temporary enclosure near Bunawan township (map).
Guinness World Records in September listed a 17.97-foot-long (5.48-meter-long), Australian-caught saltwater crocodile as the largest in captivity. According to zoologist Adam Britton, Guinness rules specify that Lolong will need to wait till at least March 2012 for a shot at the "official" record.
An extremely rare cyclops shark has been confirmed in Mexico, scientists announced in October.
The 22-inch-long (56-centimeter-long) fetus has a single, functioning eye at the front of its head. The eye is a hallmark of a congenital condition called cyclopia, which occurs in several animal species, including humans.
Scientists have documented cyclops shark embryos a few times before, said Jim Gelsleichter, a shark biologist at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. The fact that none have been caught outside the womb suggests cyclops sharks don't survive long in the wild.
Suspended upside down, a titanium A-12 spy-plane prototype is prepped for radar testing at Area 51 in the late 1950s.
After a rash of declassifications, details of Cold War workings at the Nevada base, which to this day does not officially exist, are coming to light—including never before released images of an A-12 crash and its cover-up, National Geographic News reported in May.
Area 51 was created so that U.S. Cold Warriors with the highest security clearances could pursue cutting-edge aeronautical projects away from prying eyes. During the 1950s and '60s, Area 51's top-secret OXCART program developed the A-12 as the successor to the U-2 spy plane.