16 Spooky-as-Hell Photos From Inside Chernobyl

© Robin Esrock
© Robin Esrock

It has been more than 30 years since the meltdown of Reactor No. 4 in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, an unprecedented manmade disaster that affected much of Europe. Radiation levels are still high, but with a Geiger counter and the right permits, visitors can safely enter the 18-mile Exclusion Zone on guided day tours. What you’ll encounter is straight out of a horror movie.

1. Reactor No. 4

A photo from inside Chernobyl
© Robin Esrock

When Reactor No. 4 ignited on April 26, 1986, firefighters rushed to the scene oblivious and unprepared for the meltdown. Within days, many died from acute radioactive sickness. Today, the reactor is enclosed in a massive steel and cement sarcophagus, designed to keep uranium isotopes from entering the atmosphere. The cement has already leaked radioactive lava, with the reactor still capable of fires and explosions.

2. Pripyat

© Robin Esrock

A model Soviet city, Pripyat was home to 50,000 people and serviced the adjacent power plant. It was hastily abandoned after the meltdown, and has remained untouched ever since. Everything inside the city and surrounding area is contaminated. Empty and desolate, nature is reclaiming this once-thriving city.

3. An abandoned school

Robin Esrock

Visiting an old school is particularly haunting.

4. Dolls in a nursery

© Robin Esrock

5. A doll in a chair

Dolls with dead-stare eyes can be found as you approach the nursery. While visitors are strongly advised not to touch anything, some items have been arranged for maximum creep effect.

6. Even more creepy dolls

© Robin Esrock

According to some reports, an estimated 6000 individuals—most of them children—have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer as a direct result of the Chernobyl meltdown.

7. Rusty cribs in a nursery

© Robin Esrock

Blackened, rusty cribs in the old nursery. You can almost hear the soft melodies of music boxes, violently disrupted with panic during evacuation. This is not the place for vivid imaginations.

8. A broken doll

© Robin Esrock

It will take centuries before anything in Pripyat can safely be destroyed. During that time, the evidence of humanity will continue to break down naturally, some of it less gracefully.

9. Soviet Propaganda

© Robin Esrock

Soviet-era propaganda and iconography are prominent. Pripyat was built as a model city to demonstrate the power and efficiency of the State, with the Chernobyl facility a symbol of national pride. Today it provides a fascinating glimpse into the past, and the hubris of the State’s political ambitions.

10. An empty swimming pool

© Robin Esrock

The old gymnasium with its empty pool is a visitor highlight. Broken glass and cracked ceramic tiles are everywhere. You can listen to your scream echo throughout the gym and adjacent buildings.

11. Mossy growth

© Robin Esrock

Moss, dust and bushes might look benign, but this growth has absorbed much of the radiation. Visitors are advised to watch where they step, and to avoid moss in particular. All visitors are screened on exit for exposure to radiation, with particular attention paid to hands and footwear.

12. An abandoned fairground

© Robin Esrock

A fairground was scheduled to open just two days after the disaster. This creaking, rusted, radioactive Ferris wheel never took a single paying customer.

13. Backstage at a theater

© Robin Esrock

Portraits of Communist party leaders have been stored backstage in the community theater, along with old props and equipment. Seats are torn, and decades-old dust sits heavy on the stage.

14. An abandoned piano shop

© Robin Esrock

If your visit needs a soundtrack, listen to the de-tuned strings in this abandoned piano shop. Neglect, creaking wood, and wind result in disjointed twangs and ghostly whistles.

15. Catfish in radioactive water

© Robin Esrock

Nature has been remarkably resilient. Moose, deer, boar, wolves, and bears have been reported in the area, breeding in large numbers. Scientists have been unable to detect any large-scale mutations. Safe from fishing rods, these giant catfish swim in the radioactive water river near the reactor.

16. A sign reading "restricted territory"

© Robin Esrock

The Chernobyl Disaster could have been much worse. Favorable winds saved thousands of lives, splitting the plume and sparing the city from the brunt of the initial radiation. The Soviet government originally planned to build the reactors just 15 miles from Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, which would have devastated a concentrated population.

This story has been updated for 2019.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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See the Big Winners of Nikon’s Microscopic Photo Competition

This year's first place finisher is a young zebrafish photographed from above.
This year's first place finisher is a young zebrafish photographed from above.
Daniel Castranova/Nikon Small World

Each year, Nikon holds the Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition to recognize the coolest images of the smallest subjects. The 2020 winners were just announced, and as usual, it’s a stunning collection of things only visible under a microscope—hippocampal neurons, for example—and familiar things that look completely different under a microscope (like human hair).

First place went to Daniel Castranova, an aquatic research specialist at the National Institute of Health, for his snapshot of a juvenile zebrafish. The photo isn’t the result of a brief camera click; instead, Castranova and his colleague Bakary Samasa scanned the fish using a technique called “confocal microscopy” and then stacked more than 350 frames to create one comprehensive image. During the project, the researchers realized that zebrafish—which are already used as lab models to study many human diseases—have lymphatic vessels in their skulls, which means their lymphatic systems are much more similar to humans’ than previously thought. They're so similar that zebrafish may prove useful in Alzheimer’s disease and cancer research.

“Until now, we thought this type of lymphatic system associated with the nervous system only occurred in mammals,” Castranova told Nikon. “By studying them, the scientific community can expedite a range of research and clinical innovations—everything from drug trials to cancer treatments. This is because fish are so much easier to raise and image than mammals.”

The image is also evidence that art and science can go hand in hand—the overarching point of the whole competition. See some of our other favorite winners below, and scroll through the full gallery here.

Embryonic Development of a Clownfish // Second Place

Sure, you can call it Nemo.Daniel Knop/Nikon Small World

Daniel Knop from Germany’s Natur und Tier Verlag stacked images to capture the progression of a clownfish (Amphiprion percula) forming in its egg—a difficult feat, considering that the embryo didn’t exactly stop moving to pose.

Tongue of a Freshwater Snail // Third Place

"Snails have thousands of teeth" is a great ice breaker.Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small World

A snail’s tongue, or radula, is covered in thousands of microscopic teeth that rub against its food to snag off small bits. As demonstrated by this photo from Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Dr. Igor Siwanowicz, it’s actually more dazzling than disgusting.

Bogong Moth // Fifth Place

Moths are just as beautiful as butterflies.Ahmad Fauzan/Nikon Small World

The dull brown coat of Australia’s Bogong moth is nothing special from afar. Magnified under the lens of Indonesia-based microphotographer Ahmad Fauzan, it looks like a tiger-inspired shag carpet (which is almost as cool as its spiral tongue).

Red Algae // 11th Place

It's waving hello.Tagide deCarvalho/Nikon Small World

Red algae’s tendrils have a skeletal quality even when viewed with the naked eye. University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Dr. Tagide deCarvalho shows just how much they look like long, alien skeleton hands when seen beneath a microscope.

Crystals Formed From an Ethanol and Water Solution // 13th Place

It doesn't taste like cotton candy.Justin Zoll/Nikon Small World

New York-based photographer Justin Zoll used polarized light to reveal the vibrant details of crystals created when an amino acid-containing solution of ethanol and water was heated.

Nylon Stockings // 16th Place

If some of these bonds break, you've got a run in your stockings.Alexander Klepnev/Nikon Small World

Micrography can also illuminate the beauty of seemingly mundane, human-made products. This image, taken by Alexander Klepnev at Moscow’s JSC Radiophysics, shows how nylon fibers are knotted to make a pair of tights.

Skeleton of a Fruit Bat Embryo // 20th Place

Cute, creepy, or both?Dr. Dorit Hockman and Dr. Vanessa Chong-Morrison/Nikon Small World

University of Cape Town’s Dr. Dorit Hockman and Dr. Vanessa Chong-Morrison didn’t utilize any light-filtering techniques to snap this photo of a short-tailed fruit bat's embryonic skeleton smiling at you (or so it seems). Happy Halloween!