Oymyakon, Russia, is one of a few places claiming to be the coldest spot in the Northern Hemisphere, a northern 'Pole of Cold.' Centuries of evolving meteorological technology means some historic cold temperatures are considered more accurate than others. The record for ultimate cold is a hot debate.
Oymyakon's claim may be strongest, though. The Siberian town has a verified low-temperature record of minus 89.9 degrees Fahrenheit in 1933—though if local lore and a Soviet-era monument are accurate, the true low was notched a decade earlier at minus 96.2.
By the way, the southern Pole of Cold blows all claimants to the northern record away like fresh-fallen snow: Russia's Vostok Station, in Antarctica, once recorded a low of minus 128.6! Think the Russians brought the cold with them?
The whole Northern Hemisphere will experience the winter solstice today, but the farther north you get, the more obvious it'll be. In high-latitude areas like here in Siberia, the sun's arc cuts especially low across the sky as winter sets in. Today, this spot near the city of Raduzhny will barely get 5 hours' daylight.
Of course, even in the hotter climes of Earth's northern half, today is the shortest day of the year. So, while you wait for the long night to set in, make those daylight hours count!
北奥塞梯-阿兰共和国的一片墓地，俄罗斯 Necropolis near Dargavs, North Ossetia, Russia (© Yakov Oskanov/Shutterstock)
Necropolis Near Dargavs
Be glad we're merely paying a virtual visit to this 'City of the Dead' outside Dargavs, Russia. Local folklore warns that if you set foot here, you won't escape with your life. We're not sure the dead pose such a mortal danger, but what's certain is that this is a dead-quiet village. These vaulted-roof huts are not homes—they're crypts.
Were you here, you might peer into the sole window of any of these huts and see the inhabitants, some entombed with their earthly possessions, others laid to rest in rowboats to paddle into the afterlife. Many of the remains are preserved unsettlingly well—and they more than outnumber you. In use from at least the 16th to 18th centuries, this necropolis is populated by about 10,000 departed ancestors.
Spooked enough yet? If not, try today's quiz about cemeteries, tombstones, and other grave matters…if you dare.
Notes from an underground lake
The Ruskeala Mountain Park is an eerily beautiful reminder of the booming mining industry that thrived for centuries in this area of Russia near the border with Finland. Constructed on top of an abandoned marble quarry, the park opened to the public in 2005. A centuries-old quarry that's been flooded with groundwater since the end of World War II is the park's centerpiece, although some old buildings and kilns from the mines are still intact.
Quarries in this area once extracted and exported limestone, and more importantly, marble, for use in large building projects in Russia. Catherine the Great is said to have had an affinity for the white marble that came from Ruskeala and urged its use in the construction of many of the beautiful buildings in St. Petersburgh during her 18th century reign as empress. Marble from the mines eventually ended up in famous landmarks of the city, including St. Isaac's Cathedral, St. Michael's Castle and the Marble Palace, among others. While the mines finally stopped operations in the 1990s, the park is now a popular day trip for tourists who want to learn more about the history of mining in the region.
A light at the edge of the world
Seemingly against all odds, the Aniva Lighthouse stands atop this rocky outcrop where it once lit the way for vessels navigating the fierce currents, hidden rocks, and frequent fogs of Cape Aniva on the island of Sakhalin. Russia's largest island, Sakhalin lies off the mainland's Far East coast, due north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The island was hotly contested by both Russia and Japan in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the late 1930s, when the Aniva Lighthouse was built, Russia controlled the northern half of Sakhalin while...
Welcome to the Ring of Fire
Today we're visiting the pair of volcanoes known as Tolbachik—the flat-topped Plosky (Flat) Tolbachik on the left of our image, and the majestic Ostry (Sharp) Tolbachik on the right, which soars 12,080 feet above the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia. These are just two of approximately 160 volcanoes that dot the region; 29 of them, including the Tolbachik complex, are still active. In fact, there is so much volcanic activity here that UNESCO calls the peninsula 'one of the most outstanding volcanic regions in the world,' and has designated it a World Heritage Site.
The Kamchatka Peninsula juts out from the Russian mainland between the Sea of Okhotsk to the east and the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea to the west. The sparsely populated peninsula makes up the western edge of the Ring of Fire, a chain of volcanoes along the Pacific Ocean that account for 90% of the world's seismic activity. Wild, remote, and primal, Kamchatka is home to an abundance of wildlife: arctic fox, tundra wolves, reindeer, lynx, huge Chukotka moose, and the Kamchatka brown bear that can tip the scales at 1,400 pounds.
A midsummer twilight's dream
The Russian language classifies light and dark shades of blue as separate colors—which comes in especially handy if you venture north to Saint Petersburg in midsummer. The seaport metropolis sits less than 500 miles outside the Arctic Circle, so at the height of summer, the twilit 'blue hour' coveted by photographers lasts virtually all night long as the sun hovers just below the horizon. It's a phenomenon dubbed the 'White Nights' and it usually lasts from mid-June 11 to early July.
This particular view peers past the dark blue ('siniy') waters of the Griboyedov Canal at the dramatically named Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Framed against a light blue ('goluboi') sky, the church's colorful exterior is almost as dazzling as the motley mosaics covering the walls inside. The Griboyedov Canal, cutting south and west through a district dense with museums, theaters, and parks, is part of Saint Petersburg's intricate system of man-made waterways that earn the city one of its nicknames: 'Venice of the North.'
The Pearl of Siberia
Lake Baikal is a record-holding wonder: It's the world's oldest (25 million years), deepest (over 5,000 feet in some parts), and largest freshwater lake (more than 20 percent of the Earth's fresh surface water by volume). Baikal lies in the deepest continental rift on Earth, and because the rift is geologically active, the tectonic plates continue to move farther apart.
Fairweather tourists visit the 'Pearl of Siberia' in warmer months, but the brave and hearty show up in January when the lake surface freezes over. The ice makes an excellent playground for winter athletes competing in everything from skating marathons to the Baikal Ice Golf Tournament. And when the frozen expanse is at its thickest, an ice road opens between the mainland and Olkhon Island, pictured here, allowing people to drive across another superlative: turquoise ice so clear it's transparent to depths of 100 feet.