National Geographic Magazine October 2020

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.

United States
National Geographic Society
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we hope this story horrifies you

” BEFORE THEY WERE SOLD to the same brothel, Sayeda and Anjali were typical teenagers, growing up in similar circumstances a few hundred miles apart.” That is the understated opening of a story that I hope shocks and alarms every person who reads it, and moves readers to action. “Stolen Lives,” by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, is a revelatory investigation of a human rights tragedy: the sexual enslavement of children for profit. A multibillion-dollar industry, sex trafficking of minors spans the globe and ensnares millions of children—most fleeing grinding poverty, illiteracy, and an utter lack of opportunity. Most of its victims are girls. Virtually no country is untouched by this scourge, but some parts of the world are especially hard-hit. Among them: the Indian state of West Bengal and its neighbor Bangladesh, which once were…

every mother’s son

THERE IS A DEMAND put upon you with “Stranger Fruit.” That much is clear. The photographs of mothers and sons, of Black bodies—whole and unpierced, yet still Christ-like in death—do not gently plead with viewers any more than street protesters merely invite police to change. These are Black mothers, sitting, standing, kneeling with their lifeless sons, staring straight at the camera, straight at the viewer, straight at the nation, commanding your attention, and it costs you dearly to see them. But it costs more to look away. “What we’re experiencing now is just this series of reliving these traumas as far as the African-American community,” says Brooklyn-based visual artist Jon Henry. His “Stranger Fruit” exhibition is based on police killings of Black people. It draws on the song “Strange Fruit,” Nina…

earth or bust! a map for aliens

A HALF CENTURY AGO astronomers designed a map that would point to Earth from anywhere in the galaxy. Then they sent it into space, reasoning that any aliens smart enough to intercept a spacecraft could decode the map and uncover its origin. Many movies and TV shows have used variations on this theme as a plot point, but we didn’t borrow it from science fiction. It’s reality. Truth is, this tale has been part of my family’s lore since before I was born. Growing up, I’d heard stories about the map and seen its depiction on multiple interstellar spacecraft, and several years ago, I found the original, penciled-in pathway to Earth where my parents had stashed it. (More on this later.) That was an exciting find! Then came the buzzkill: This original…

giving aliens our address

To potentially help extraterrestrials locate Earth, this diagram (below) was first sent into space in 1972 attached to Pioneer 10. That spacecraft is still traveling on to the stars, but time and space are taking a toll on the cosmic coordinates it carries. The map gets increasingly unreliable as the galaxy rotates and our sun and its reference points—pulsars, the spinning cores of collapsed stars—change their relative positions. So one astronomer, Scott Ransom, is proposing a new map (far right) to overcome these weaknesses. Stable signposts If a small, dense pulsar is paired with another star, it siphons material and energy from its companion, accelerating the pulsar’s already rapid rotation. At up to 43,000 rotations per minute, the radiation appears to pulse and acts like a beacon. This system is a reliable…

sounds boost health of ailing coral reefs

HEALTHY CORAL REEFS are pretty noisy places. “The crackle of snapping shrimp and the whoops and grunts of fish combine to form a dazzling biological soundscape” that draws juvenile fish looking for a place to settle, says marine biologist Steve Simpson. When a coral reef gets degraded, inhabitants disappear and the reef becomes “ghostly quiet,” he says. “But by using loudspeakers to restore this lost soundscape, we can attract young fish back again.” In 2017 Simpson and an international team of scientists placed loudspeakers along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef right after a mass bleaching event to see if playing the sounds of a healthy reef could entice fish to repopulate a damaged one. After six weeks, twice as many fish settled on bleached patches of reef where sound was played…

from the shark’s perspective

THE JULY 1906 issue of National Geographic was devoted to candid photographs of animals—a snacking raccoon, a moose, a jumping whitetailed deer—that had triggered a device, setting off a flash and a camera shutter. This “camera trap,” made by nature photographer and U.S. congressman George Shiras, helped launch a new era of remote wildlife photography. More than a century later, National Geographic’s Exploration Technology Lab engineers are still inventing ways to capture animals in nature. Modern camera traps can run for months at a time; Crittercams are light enough to affix to fish. The devices gather footage of Earth’s most endangered and reclusive creatures, as well as data and insights on the animals’ behavior. A dozen years ago, National Geographic engineers hoped to show a shark’s view as it cruised along the…