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National Geographic Magazine February 2021

The latest news in science, exploration, and culture will open your eyes to the world’s many wonders. Get a National Geographic digital magazine subscription today and experience the same high-quality articles and breathtaking photography contained in the print edit.

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United States
National Geographic Society
$6.63(Incl. tax)
$25.20(Incl. tax)
12 Issues

in this issue

2 min
reconsidering symbols of the past

IN LEXINGTON, VIRGINIA, a three-hour drive southwest of National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., the ground is shifting in a way that turns history into headlines. In December 2020 the Virginia Military Institute removed a statue of one of its past teachers: Army Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate leader in the Civil War and owner of enslaved people. The statue had been on campus since 1912; until a few years ago, cadets at the taxpayer-supported school were expected to salute it as they passed. The decision to relocate Jackson’s statue to a museum followed an October ruling to allow Virginia’s governor to remove a large statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from state-owned land in Richmond, the former Confederate capital. Discussions about what to do with Confederate iconography like these statues have been…

1 min
never out of season


1 min
the backstory

THE HERBARIUM at the Natural History Museum in London is one of the world’s biggest plant collections. Specimens gathered over more than 300 years were dried and then glued to paper in large albums, each one now housed in its own drawer in a climate-controlled chamber. Many samples are relics of a world that once was, brought back by famous scientists such as Carl Linnaeus. At the height of the British Empire, plants were collected for scientific, medical, and economic purposes. For years, photographer Nick Knight leafed through the herbarium’s pages, looking for specimens that were visually appealing. He estimates that he and his wife, Charlotte, flipped through thousands of drab, brown samples before finding vibrant ones—a water lily, a camellia. Knight photographed hundreds of specimens in a tiny studio he built in…

7 min
are we born to wander?

ILLUMINATING THE MYSTERIES—AND WONDERS—ALL AROUND US EVERY DAY IN THIS SECTION How Moths Weather Rain A New Loo for Astronauts Volcanic Lightning The Craft of Clock Repair I’VE BEEN PUTTING MY PASSPORT to good use lately. I use it as a coaster and to level wobbly table legs. It makes an excellent cat toy. Welcome to the pandemic of disappointments. Canceled trips, or ones never planned lest they be canceled. Family reunions, study-abroad years, lazy beach vacations. Poof. Gone. Obliterated by a tiny virus and the long list of countries where United States passports are not welcome. It is not natural for us to be this sedentary. Travel is in our genes. For most of the time our species has existed, “we’ve lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers moving about in small bands of 150 or fewer people,” writes Christopher…

1 min
winging in the rain: the science

Though drops of rain might seem as big as bowling balls to a moth or butterfly, their wings have storm protection: a kind of raindrop-shattering armor. To study the “super-hydrophobic” surface, Cornell University scientists took high-speed images of waterdrops striking moth wings. They saw that a waxy coating spreads out the waterdrop and then an array of tiny bumps punctures it, turning it into smaller beads that skitter away. Mimicking that defense system might produce better water-repellent substances, researchers say. PHOTO: BRIAN WU, SEUNGHO KIM, JASON DOMBROSKIE, AND SUNGHWAN JUNG…

2 min
amenities, improved

IN SPACE, PROPERLY DEPOSITING human waste can be tricky. The lack of gravity can result in excretory anomalies, as ground control overheard during NASA’s 1969 Apollo 10 mission: “Give me a napkin quick,” Tom Stafford implored fellow astronauts. “There’s a turd floating through the air.” Now, for the first time since 1993, NASA has sent a brand-new, redesigned toilet to the International Space Station. Like its predecessor, the fancier throne uses suction to whisk away waste. Astronauts urinate into a handheld funnel and hose, and deposit the solid stuff exactly as you’d expect. But with more women visiting space, the new loo’s seat was fashioned with female anatomy in mind. It allows women to more easily multitask—or perform what NASA refers to as “dual ops”—and the seat plus handrails provides…