15 Unexplored Corners of the Earth

istock
istock

There aren’t many frontiers left in the world. Explorers have scaled the world’s tallest mountains and taken samples from Antarctica’s deepest subglacial lakes. You can visit remote, exotic locales like the Galapagos from your web browser. And yet, some hidden corners of the Earth still remain essentially uncharted, home to very few people and investigated by only the most daring travelers. Here are some of the coolest unexplored places around the globe.

1. Vale do Javari, Brazil

This region, home to at least 14 of the Amazon’s uncontacted tribes, is one of the most isolated places in the world, in part by design. An estimated 2,000 indigenous people live autonomously from the Brazilian government in an area about the size of Austria. The tribes’ right to live in isolation is protected by a federal agency charged with preventing outsiders from invading indigenous territories.

2. Northern Patagonia, Chile

Home to temperate rainforests, glaciers, fjords, and hot springs, northern Patagonia is one of Chile’s wildest landscapes. It’s the country’s most sparsely populated region, and has only been accessible by highway since the ‘80s. The Northern Patagonian Ice Field remains one of the largest masses of ice outside the polar regions.

3. Kamchatka, Russia

Russia’s eastern peninsula is home to some of the most spectacular volcanic activity on Earth, with more than 300 volcanoes, including one that has been erupting continuously since 1996. It’s home to the most diverse range of salmon species and is the most densely populated brown bear habitat in the world. However, the region was closed to Westerners until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and even before that, only 400,000 people (all with military clearances) were allowed to live in the territory, which is around the size of California. 

4. New Hebrides Trench, Pacific Ocean

Located off the eastern coast of Australia, scientists didn’t delve into this submarine trench in the South Pacific seafloor until the end of 2013. When researchers from the U.K. and New Zealand sent underwater robots into this crack in the ocean floor almost four and a half miles deep, they found prawns and eels totally unlike those found in other deep-sea trenches.

5. Northern Forest Complex, Myanmar

Many of the subtropical forests located on the steep slopes of the easternmost stretch of the Himalayas are virtually untouched by human activity. Deep within the forests in Myanmar’s Kachin State lies the largest tiger preserve in the world. It’s also home to bears, red pandas, and gibbons. 

6. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar

Named for the unique, massive limestone formations known as tsingy (Malagasy for “walking on tiptoes”), this 600-square-mile national park and wilderness preserve is located on Madagascar’s western edge. The labyrinth of jagged, needle-shaped limestone was formed by erosion over a period of millions of years, and the resulting habitat of gorges, canyons, and forests is a natural fortress. A huge number of species of plants and animals are endemic to the region, meaning they’re not found anywhere else on Earth, and there are plenty that haven’t even been discovered yet. While its southern tip is open to the public, much of the reserve is off-limits to tourists. 

7. Southern Namibia

The Namib is estimated to be the world’s oldest desert, and it’s one of the driest, least-populated places in the world. Dunes dominate the southern part of the harsh desert, and there are few paved roads. At 1,256 feet tall, the giant Dune 7 is believed to be the tallest sand dune in the world.

8. Star Mountains, Papua New Guinea

This remote region in western Papua New Guinea contains the Hindenburg Wall, a limestone network of plateaus more than a mile high. The 30-mile-long series of bluffs features nearly undisturbed ecosystems high above the ground. A recent biological survey of the area found 1,109 animal and plant species, almost 100 of which were new to science.

9. Sakha Republic, Russia

The Siberian Sakha Republic (also called Yakutia) covers 1/5 of Russia (about the same amount of land as India), with a large swath of the territory located above the Arctic Circle. Its climate is one of the world’s most extreme: Average temperatures in January are as low as -46 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of the land is covered by permafrost. Lichen and moss make it a favorite habitat for reindeer. Though mining has taken its toll on the region’s pristine wilderness, parts of it remain untouched, like the Lena River Delta, a gorgeous refuge and breeding ground for wildlife.

10. Greenland

Though Vikings landed in Greenland around 1000 CE, we’re still discovering parts of the far-northern region. Six new, untouched islands off the coast were discovered as recently as 1999, and much of the inland part of the country is still uninhabited. Some 80 percent of the island is covered by ice cap.

11. Mount Namuli, Mozambique

This almost 8,000-foot-tall peak is the largest of a series of mountains that have developed much like separate islands, with very different species making their homes on the different peaks. Last year, a group of biologists and rock climbers teamed up to conduct field work in the region, where rock climbing is sometimes the only way to get at unexplored habitats.

12. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

New Zealand’s largest national park was shaped by glaciers and contains some of the country’s oldest rocks. The vast wilderness is home to a unique diversity of animals, like the takahē, a flightless indigenous bird thought to be extinct for decades until it was rediscovered in the park in 1948, and the kākāpō, the world’s only flightless, nocturnal parrot. Fiordland’s 2.9 million acres are some of the wildest lands in the Southern Hemisphere.

13. Cape Melville, Australia

Walled off by forbidding granite boulders piled hundreds of feet high, Cape Melville is only around 900 miles from Brisbane, one of Australia’s biggest cities—but the rainforest habitat might as well be a world away. Virtually inaccessible except by helicopter, scientists discovered three completely new species of animals in the area in 2013.

14. Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

The world’s largest cave contains its own river and even a jungle. At more than 5.5 miles long, it’s cavernous enough to house a skyscraper! The first expedition set off to explore this underground world in 2009 before being stymied by a 200-foot-tall wall of calcite inside. Much of the surrounding network of over 150 caves near the Laos border remains unsurveyed. 

15. North Sentinel Island, India

Located in the middle of the Bay of Bengal off the southernmost tip of Myanmar, North Sentinel Island technically belongs to India, but few outsiders have made contact with the Sentinelese people. There’s a three-mile exclusion zone surrounding the island, where somewhere between 50 and 300 people are estimated to live. The locals’ hostile reactions to outsiders’ attempts at contact have left much of the island unexplored.

10 Facts About the Winter Solstice, the Shortest Day of the Year

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Amid the whirl of the holiday season, many are vaguely aware of the approach of the winter solstice, but how much do you really know about it? Whether you're a fan of winter or just wish it would go away, here are 10 things to note—or even celebrate—about the shortest day of the year.

1. The winter solstice HAPPENS ON DECEMBER 21/22 in 2019.

Sun setting behind a tree in the winter
buxtree/iStock via Getty Images

The date of the winter solstice varies from year to year, and can fall anywhere between December 20 and December 23, with the 21st or 22nd being the most common dates. The reason for this is because the tropical year—the time it takes for the sun to return to the same spot relative to Earth—is different from the calendar year. The next solstice occurring on December 20 will not happen until 2080, and the next December 23 solstice will not occur until 2303.

2. The winter solstice hAPPENS AT A SPECIFIC, BRIEF MOMENT.

sun setting through the trees
yanikap/iStock via Getty Images

Not only does the solstice occur on a specific day, but it also occurs at a specific time of day, corresponding to the instant the North Pole is aimed furthest away from the sun on the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. This is also the time when the sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. In 2019, this moment occurs at 4:19 a.m. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) on December 22. For those on Eastern Standard Time, the solstice will occur at 11:19 p.m. on December 21. And regardless of where you live, the solstice happens at the same moment for everyone on the planet.

3. The winter solstice mARKS THE LONGEST NIGHT AND SHORTEST DAY OF THE YEAR FOR THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE.

sun setting over Central Park
rmbarricarte/iStock via Getty Images

As most are keenly aware, daylight hours grow shorter and shorter as the winter solstice approaches, and begin to slowly lengthen afterward. It's no wonder that the day of the solstice is referred to in some cultures as the "shortest day of the year" or "extreme of winter." New York City will experience 9 hours and 15 minutes of sunlight, compared to 15 hours and 5 minutes on the summer solstice. Helsinki, Finland, will get 5 hours and 49 minutes of light. Barrow, Alaska, will not have a sunrise at all (and hasn't since mid-November; its next sunrise will be on January 22), while the North Pole has had no sunrise since October. The South Pole, though, will be basking in the glow of the midnight sun, which won't set until March.

4. ANCIENT CULTURES VIEWED THE WINTER SOLSTICE AS A TIME OF DEATH AND REBIRTH.

snow on tree branches
Eerik/iStock via Getty Images

The seeming death of the light and very real threat of starvation over the winter months would have weighed heavily on early societies, who held varied solstice celebrations and rites meant to herald the return of the sun and hope for new life. Scandinavian and Germanic pagans lit fires and may have burned Yule logs as a symbolic means of welcoming back the light. Cattle and other animals were slaughtered around midwinter, followed by feasting on what was the last fresh meat for several months. The modern Druidic celebration Alban Arthan reveres the death of the Old Sun and birth of the New Sun.

5. THE  shortest DAY of the year MARKS THE DISCOVERY OF NEW AND STRANGE WORLDS.

Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth on December 21, 1620, to found a society that would allow them to worship freely. On the same day in 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium, ushering in an atomic age. And on December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.

6. THE WORD SOLSTICE TRANSLATES ROUGHLY TO "SUN STANDS STILL."

colorful sunset
a_Taiga/iStock via Getty Images

Solstice derives from the Latin scientific term solstitium, containing sol, which means "sun," and the past participle stem of sistere, meaning "to make stand." This comes from the fact that the sun’s position in the sky relative to the horizon at noon, which increases and decreases throughout the year, appears to pause in the days surrounding the solstice. In modern times, we view the phenomenon of the solstice from the position of space, and of the Earth relative to the sun. Earlier people, however, were thinking about the sun's trajectory, how long it stayed in the sky and what sort of light it cast.

7. STONEHENGE IS ALIGNED TO THE SUNSET ON the WINTER SOLSTICE.

Stonehenge sunset
jessicaphoto/iStock via Getty Images

The primary axis of the megalithic monument is oriented to the setting sun, while Newgrange, another structure built around the same time as Stonehenge, lines up with the winter solstice sunrise. Some have theorized that the position of the sun was of religious significance to the people who built Stonehenge, while other theories hold that the monument is constructed along natural features that happen to align with it. The purpose of Stonehenge is still subject to debate, but its importance on the winter solstice continues into the modern era, as thousands of hippies, pagans, and other types of enthusiasts gather there every year to celebrate the occasion.

8. ANCIENT ROMANS CELEBRATED REVERSALS AT THE MIDWINTER FESTIVAL OF SATURNALIA.

Saturnalia parade
A Saturnalia celebration in England in 2012.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The holiday, which began as a festival to honor the agricultural god Saturn, was held to commemorate the dedication of his temple in 497 BCE. It quickly became a time of widespread revelry and debauchery in which societal roles were overturned, with masters serving their slaves and servants being allowed to insult their masters. Mask-wearing and play-acting were also part of Saturnalia's reversals, with each household electing a King of Misrule. Saturnalia was gradually replaced by Christmas throughout the Roman Empire, but many of its customs survive as Christmas traditions.

9. SOME TRADITIONS HOLD THAT DARK SPIRITS WALK THE EARTH ON THE WINTER SOLSTICE.

Snowy woods
Serjio74/iStock via Getty Images

The Iranian festival of Yalda is celebrated on the longest night of the year. In pre-Islamic times, it heralded the birth of Mithra, the ancient sun god, and his triumph over darkness. Zoroastrian lore holds that evil spirits wander the Earth and the forces of the destructive spirit Ahriman are strongest on this long night. People are encouraged to stay up most of the night in the company of one another, eating, talking, and sharing poetry and stories, in order to avoid any brushes with dark entities. Beliefs about the presence of evil on the longest night are also echoed in Celtic and Germanic folklore.

10. SOME THOUGHT THE WORLD WOULD END ON THE 2012 WINTER SOLSTICE.

snowy woods with sun through the trees
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

December 21, 2012 corresponds to the date 13.0.0.0.0 in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the ancient Maya, marking the end of a 5126-year cycle. Some people feared this juncture would bring about the end of the world or some other cataclysmic event. Others took a more New Age-y view (literally) and believed it heralded the birth of a new era of deep transformation for Earth and its inhabitants. In the end, neither of these things appeared to occur, leaving the world to turn through winter solstices indefinitely, or at least as long as the sun lasts.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

11 Gifts for the Curious Kids in Your Life

The Play Gym by Lovevery
The Play Gym by Lovevery

No matter their age, you want to find gifts that will keep the kids in your life entertained, stimulated, and give them a sense of accomplishment—even during playtime. Luckily, these 11 gifts will do all of that, and will encourage their curiosity to grow.

1. The Play Gym by Lovevery; $140

Baby playset
Lovevery / Amazon

Specially designed by experts to stimulate infants for their first year, this play mat grows with your favorite baby. It has five developmental zones and multiple activities—like teethers, mirrors, and colorful flash cards. And, when baby becomes a toddler, the mat converts into a tent fort for further imaginative play.

Find It: Amazon

2. Real Insect Superpowers Comic Book; $18

Follow the adventures of the Supersonic Assassin, the Malevolent Mimic, and other insect superheroes as they smash, zap, hypnotize, and sting in this 88-page book that's part comic, part nature encyclopedia.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

3. Droid Inventor Kit; $100

This is definitely the droid you’re looking for. Recommended for kids in grades eight years and up, this customizable robot comes with an app that defines more than 22 missions as well as easy block-based coding activities. And for any Star Wars fans, the Droid makes 20 different sounds, just like from the movies

Find It: Amazon

4. Solar System Chalk; $40

Solar system chalk
Uncommon Goods

This nine-piece chalk set features all the planets in the solar system, along with Pluto. Each piece has multiple colors, which represent the planets' cores, layers, and crusts. And for each set sold, $2 will be donated to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to support autism research.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

5. Jr. NASA Rocket Scientist Lab Coat; $20

Jr. NASA coat
Aeromax / Amazon

Get kids excited about science early with this lab coat, which comes in sizes for boys and girls. Alongside three pockets, the jacket also has the NASA logo and the words “Rocket Scientist.” When your astronaut-in-training is done playing, the coat can be tossed in the washing machine.

Find It: Amazon

6. 3Doodler 3D Pen Set; $50

This wireless pen allows kids to freestyle draw in the air—the eco-plastic filament cools in place quickly, giving kids plenty of practice with spatial reasoning without the costs of a full 3D printer.

Find It: Amazon

7. Giant Coloring Poster; $19

Giant coloring poster
O'Kroshka / Amazon

If your kid is going to color on the wall, you may as well give them a designated place to do so. Children can use pencils, markers, and paints on this 33''x 45'' poster that depicts all types of animals in a zoo. This gift will not only encourage creative expression, but it can also help kids work on their motor skills.

Find It: Amazon

8. Root-Vue Farm; $39

A little girl poses behind the Root Vue farm
Young Explorers

Whether they join FFA or not, kids can get a head start on understanding horticulture with this indoor garden system. Plant the included seeds—for carrots, radishes, and onions—and watch them obsess over the underground view of their harvest.

Find It: Amazon

9. Geosafari Jr. Kidnoculars; $9

Kid-proof and specially designed for tiny hands and faces, these binoculars can help preschoolers get to know the world around them. Play a game like “I Spy” and have them find squirrels in trees, clouds in the sky, or all those Cheerios they spilled behind their bed.

Find It: Amazon

10. Dimpl Baby and Toddler Learning Toy; $13

This brightly colored sensory toy holds a young one's attention with 100% food-grade silicone bubbles they can press and poke—perfect for keeping kids occupied in a stroller or car.

Find It: Target

11. Otamatone; $30

The face on this highly kawaii ribbon synthesizer is made of rubber, and by manipulating it with one hand you can make cool sounds (the other hand controls the pitch along the ribbon controller). With a bit of practice, you can even play real music—check out this entertaining cover of "Take On Me."

Find It: Amazon

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