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National Geographic Magazine September 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
12 Issues

in this issue

2 min
meet the machines in our future

HUMANKIND HAS A complicated relationship with robots. On one hand, we appreciate how they can do dangerous, repetitive work so we don’t have to. Robots don’t need vacations or medical insurance. And in areas such as agriculture, where farmers can’t find enough people to pick the produce, robots can shoulder (do they have shoulders?) some of those tasks. But polls show that the growing robotization of the planet makes us feel deeply uncomfortable—and threatened. Pew Research Center surveys after 2017 found that more than 80 percent of Americans believed that by 2050, robots would do much of the work humans now do—and about 75 percent believed that would make economic inequality worse. Across lines of race, age, and education, people who said automation has hurt workers outpaced those who said it’s…

1 min
the backstory

THE IMPRESSIVE LANDSCAPES on Earth can take a person’s breath away. But for Reuben Wu, that wasn’t enough. Wu—a photographer, visual artist, and music producer—felt that the planet’s majestic mountains, glaciers, and beaches were missing something. Specifically, unnatural lighting. The idea was born from a mistake. One night near Death Valley, California, Wu set a camera to make a time-lapse series in the dark. A pickup truck drove by and washed out the scene with its harsh headlights. At first, says Wu, “I was really annoyed. But when I looked at the images, I was fascinated. Here was artificial lighting in a natural environment.” The juxtaposition launched his desire to try adding light to other scenes where it didn’t belong: on lakes, in canyons, on tall rock pillars in the desert. He flew drones…

7 min
the cost of harming nature

SINCE MY CHILDHOOD by the Mediterranean Sea, I’ve been enchanted by the diversity of life on our planet and eager to learn all I could about it. I’ve spent much of my career studying the ocean food web, where in the course of natural events the smallest of the small are consumed by larger and larger predators, often ending in us. But scientists know there is more to the story, and I’ve been humbled to see life on our planet brought to a standstill by a tiny virus. From a Wuhan, China, “wet market” where freshly butchered meat and live wild animals are sold for food and medicine, the virus likely was transmitted in late 2019 via wildlife to humans. And in a matter of months, COVID-19 has felled hundreds of…

1 min
scrutinizing viruses

LABORATORIES LIKE THIS “high containment” facility are used to safely handle infectious agents. Whether detecting pathogens and diagnosing diseases or unraveling the molecular structure of microbes, scientists use specialized tools with great care. This lab, at the Szentágothai Research Center at Hungary’s University of Pécs, is rated at a high biosafety level, meaning that transmission of microbes handled here can cause serious or deadly disease. This work space is photographed through a technician’s face shield and past its respirator mask valve.…

2 min
flattening the curve in 1918

Cities in the United States used a wide range of interventions to try to contain the 1918 pandemic—from closing schools and banning public gatherings to enforcing isolation and quarantine. Each city shown here adopted at least one measure. The time of implementation and duration of social distancing measures proved to be significant factors in a city’s mortality rate. SOURCES: HOWARD MARKEL AND J. ALEXANDER NAVARRO, CENTER FOR THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN…

1 min
a brain circuitry map worth buzzing about

This bundle of about 600 fruit fly neurons, colored for contrast, allows a fly to integrate and act on information that its senses gather. Scientists from the Janelia Research Campus and Google have so far mapped about a third of the fly brain, 25,000 nerve cells that form some 20 million connections. The ultimate goal: To map the whole brain and key nerves, to learn more about how the organ’s areas are linked. IMAGE: HOWARD HUGHES MEDICAL INSTITUTE’S JANELIA RESEARCH CAMPUS; GOOGLE; AND WELLCOME TRUST…