Discover June 2021

Discover Magazine will amaze you, enlighten you, and open your eyes to the awe and wonder of science and technology. Discover reveals secrets, solves mysteries, and debunks old myths. Discover shares new findings and shows you what makes our universe tick.

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8 期号


damage control

Some people in my life have never forgiven me for becoming a journalist. For more than a decade now, I’ve been persona non grata on certain email threads where family members frequently share “news” and “facts” that they have gleaned from the internet. When occasion demanded it — and I’m sorry to say that the occasion often demanded it — I would have to be That Guy. The one who quashed the urban legend. The one who inconveniently provided links to hard evidence. I was the debunker, the skeptic. Or, as some members of my family would have it, the party pooper, the spoilsport. “Don’t make fun of my facts!” a relative once chided me. “It’s not a joke!” I’m not laughing. I’ve never actually made fun of friends and family who…

special note to subscribers

The digital edition of Discover is now included with your print subscription! The website includes a magazine archive, and if you’re a subscriber, you’ll be able to access digital editions of Discover now. You’ll also get early access to every new issue before the print issue arrives! If you haven’t already done so, go to and register now. Once registered and logged in, you’ll be able to get full access to all content on We hope you enjoy this new benefit!…


WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? (“The Supernova That Wasn’t,” Jan/Feb 2021) Apparently scientists (or, at least, science journalists) can’t seem to agree on which way zodiacal figures face. Science News and Discover both discuss the recent variation in Betelgeuse’s brightness. Science News notes Betelgeuse’s observed position as “marking the hunter’s left shoulder” while Discover states that it “forms Orion’s right shoulder.” Seems one of them regards the figure of Orion’s as facing towards Earth while the other regards him as facing away. Ron Seiden Franklin, Pa. Alison Klesman, senior associate editor of our sister magazine, Astronomy, responds: You’re right — whether Betelgeuse is Orion’s left or right shoulder depends on whether the Hunter is facing toward or away from us. And the International Astronomical Union, the ruling body that determined the current 88 standard constellations we…

the latest news and notes

LIFE FROM SPACE? • THE VALUE OF A SPECIES • THE SEARCH FOR ANTIMATTER BATTERY SCIENCE • OZONE HOLE STATUS • FISH FANCLUB • DOG YAWNS • REVIEWS SUPER SUNFLOWERS Deep within these resilient desert beauties, supergenes help generate growth in the harshest environments. They might sound like something out of the Marvel universe, but supergenes are large clusters of DNA that have been found in some plants, butterflies, birds and ants. In prairie sunflowers, they influence seed size, bloom timing and other environmental adaptations. Writing in Nature last July, one team identified 37 supergene blocks in wild sunflowers, such as those that help prairie sunflowers weather blazing temperatures and last weeks without water. If that’s not impressive enough, prairie sunflowers can thrive in most states in the continental U.S., making them…

did life come from space?

Life, for all its complexities, has a simple commonality: It spreads. Plants, animals and bacteria have colonized almost every nook and cranny of our world. But why stop there? Some scientists speculate that biological matter may have proliferated across the cosmos itself, transported from planet to planet on wayward lumps of rock and ice. This idea is known as panspermia, and it carries a profound implication: Life on Earth may not have originated on our planet. In theory, panspermia is fairly simple. Astronomers know that impacts from comets or asteroids on planets will sometimes eject debris with enough force to catapult rocks into space. Some of those space rocks will, in turn, crash into other worlds. A few rare meteorites on Earth are known to have come from Mars, likely in this…

do we really need to protect every species?

Extinctions of species occurred long before humans arrived on Earth. By that definition, it’s a natural process. But today, extinctions are increasing rapidly — and very often linked to human activities. Take the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent on a remote island uninhabited by humans. In 2016, it became the first mammal to be erased from the planet due to climate change. Some conservationists mourned, but others questioned whether every extinction is something to worry about. In the face of tough decisions about human lifestyles and the climate crisis, a split among scientists is surfacing. Losing one species may not change life as we know it, so perhaps our limited conservation resources should focus on preserving the biodiversity in those systems where it benefits humans. Sometimes, such as when dense…