This is a compilation of images in which photographers have captured the beauty of our world, along with great moments among the living things we share this planet with. Most are from the reoccurring photo gallery The Natural World, in which photos of animals and our environment are selected from the many wire service photos moved throughout the year from all over the world. Many great photos of animals are taken in zoos, but this entry mostly shows creatures in their own habitat.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The first widespread snowstorm of the season crawled across the Midwest on Thursday, with whiteout conditions stranding holiday travelers and sending drivers sliding over slick roads -- including into a fatal 25-vehicle pileup in Iowa.
The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.
The storm led airlines to cancel about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday -- relatively few compared to past big storms, though the number was climbing.
LOURI, Chad (AP) -- One morning, a little girl called Achta sat in the front row of this village's only school and struggled mightily with the assignment her teacher had given her.
She grasped a piece of chalk in her tiny fingers. Her face tense with concentration, she tried to direct the chalk clockwise across her slate. She'd been asked to draw a circle. What she drew looked more like a lopsided triangle.
After half a dozen tries, her teacher took away her slate and tried to hide his frustration as he wiped it clean with his palm of his hand. He held her miniature hand in his and traced a circle, then a second, then a third. "Like this," he said. "Like an egg. See?"
Drawing a circle is considered a developmental marker. It tests fine motor skills, the use of the small muscles that control the fingers. Children who are developing at a normal rate can trace a circle by age 3, and Achta doesn't look much older.
She is so small that when she sits on her bunk in class, her feet dangle a foot off the ground.
But Achta isn't three. School records show she is 7 years old.
In this village where malnutrition has become chronic, children have simply stopped growing. In the county that includes Louri, 51.9 percent of children are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world, according to a survey published by UNICEF. That's more than half the children in the village.
MERIDA, Mexico (AP) -- Dec. 21 started out as the prophetic day some had believed would usher in the fiery end of the world. By Friday afternoon, it had become the punch line of countless Facebook posts and at least several dozen T-shirts.
At the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, thousands chanted, danced and otherwise frolicked around ceremonial fires and pyramids to mark the conclusion of a vast, 5,125-year cycle in the Mayan calendar.
The doomsayers who had predicted apocalypse were nowhere to be seen. Instead, people showed up in T-shirts reading "The End of the World: I Was There."
For the masses in the ruins, Dec. 21 sparked celebration of what they saw as the birth of a new and better age. It was also inspiration for massive clouds of patchouli and marijuana smoke and a chorus of conch calls at the break of dawn.
In Taiyuan, in northern China's Shanxi province, construction began on a new high-end residential compound last year. When developers needed to excavate a cemetery for the building's foundation, they offered to pay villagers to relocate the remains of loved ones. One family refused to budge, complaining that the compensation was too low. In China, such disputed plots are typically known as "nail houses," and developers continue to build around them while the issue is resolved. In this case, workers carved out a "nail grave" belonging to the family of Chang Jinzhu. The small, bizarre column stood 10 meters above the foundation floor for months. This week, it was reported that Jinzhu's family had reached an agreement with the construction consortium, receiving 800 Yuan ($128 USD) in compensation. A platform and bridge to the gravesite were built, and the family had the four coffins and gravestones removed.
Loads more sports for you this week. American football, cricket, football and of course Sebastian Vettel celebrating his F1 win.
Twenty-one months after the conflict in Syria began as a popular uprising, rebel forces are making gains, tactics are changing, and the threat of chemical warfare has made an appearance. Syrian rebels reached a level of cooperation, forming a single entity -- the Syrian National Coalition. The alliance has received recognition from Arab states and support from NATO members in its goal of unseating Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, and replacing his government. But U.S. intelligence reports have noted activity within Syrian government-controlled chemical weapons facilities, and President Barack Obama has warned that the use of such weapons against rebels would cross a "red line." There are signs that al-Assad's hold on power is slipping as rebels gain ground and support, and even Russia, a longtime ally, has reportedly sent ships to the Syrian coast for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens. Collected here are images of this bloody conflict from just the past few weeks.
Tomorrow marks the end of the 13th cycle of the ancient Mayan calendar, giving rise to rumors about the end of the world. Worries about a looming apocalypse are nothing new in human history, but 21st century reactions to the possible destruction of the planet (or human civilization) vary widely, from "preppers" who cultivate self-sufficiency, to groups offering prayerful wishes, to entrepreneurs who have found a growing market for their survival gear. Regarding tomorrow's fateful date, the descendents of the Mayans themselves appear to regard the milestone as simply marking the end of an era, not the entire world.
After a 5 year absense the Fomula One teams returned to the United States for a race on the purpose built Circuit Of The Americas in Austin, Texas. It was a race which could have decided both championships, but after 56 laps only was was resolved. Red Bull retain their Constructor’s title for the third year in a row, but Sebastian Vettel will have to wait until the last race in Brazil next week to find out if he too can win his third straight title.
The race in Austin was an exciting one, loads of overtaking, a fun circuit with great elevation and fast sweeping corners. Hamilton one the race after first ghunting down Webber and late on in the race hunting down and passing Vettel.