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July 2001 Archive

After nearly two centuries in the spotlight, the broad stripes and bright stars of the Star-Spangled Banner are showing their age. Smithsonian conservators working to preserve the 188-year-old symbol of freedom announced recently that years of exposure have rendered the banner too fragile to ever hang again.

In his final dispatch for the Kansas storm season, researcher Herb Stein reports on how he and his colleagues finally managed to intercept a tornado. Although as tornadoes go this one was "weak," it was the first time the team was able to record the entire life cycle of a tornado—gathering data that will take months to analyze.

Imagine a female-only world where all newborns are clones of their mothers and any incidental males immediately undergo sex changes to restore the all-female population. Researchers have discovered a species of spider mites that, with the unsolicited help of a certain female-preferring bacterium, exist exactly that way.

In a column written for National Geographic News, noted Civil War historian Edward C. Smith says that the conflict of 140 years ago will never be truly settled until the South recognizes and honors Abraham Lincoln.

On an island in the middle of Lake Victoria a handful of volunteers have set up a sanctuary for wild chimpanzee orphans and refugees from Africa's raging wars, deforestation, and relentless hunting for meat. The sanctuary on Ngamba Island is one of the few places of safety for the threatened great ape. National Geographic Today reports.

Unlike some other marine animals, seals don't use "sonar" to hunt in murky water. How they find and track their prey when they cannot see has long puzzled scientists. Now researchers have discovered seals' secret food detector: their whiskers.

As polygraphs become increasingly controversial, sparking a cottage industry on how to "beat'' the test, scientists are hunting for brain scanning and other new high-tech ways of solving the most ancient of human dilemmas: How do you tell if someone is lying?

A deep-seated desire to extend human life is the root of mummification all around the world, says a science journalist who explores the subject in a new book. Heather Pringle follows experts as they dissect cadavers and test ancient DNA for clues to the origin of infectious diseases and other fundamental questions of life.

Biologists have long known that sexual reproduction aids evolution and the survival of species by enabling organisms to pass on good mutations and respond better to harmful factors. But how did sex begin in the first place? Two scientists, studying computer-simulated bacteria, propose an answer.

Normally off-limits to news cameras for security reasons, the official aircraft of the U.S. President is the focus of a National Geographic television documentary. Air Force One, gives an unprecedented peek at the president's personal suite and other facilities on board the world's most remarkable executive jet. Photo gallery and links.

As many as 250,000 health-care workers and volunteers recently spread out across four countries in central Africa to inoculate millions of children against polio. The five-day effort was part of an international campaign launched more than a decade ago to eliminate the disease by 2005.

Under a 1989 program of the U.S. government, landowners are allowed to develop or fill in a natural wetlands area in exchange for restoring degraded wetlands or creating artificial ones. But according to a science advisory panel, the goal of "no net loss" has not been met, and the country continues to lose more of its valuable swamps, bogs, tidal marshes, and ponds each year.

For more than three decades, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass has been uncovering the mysteries of the Giza pyramids outside Cairo, Egypt. As the National Geographic Society's newest explorer-in-residence, he plans to continue the work that has earned him the title of "Mr. Pyramid."

In a valley not far from the Russian-Mongolian border, researchers are exploring royal tombs of the Xiongnu, nomadic tribes that dominated Central Asia for two centuries beginning about 2,300 years ago. Although it is known that these "Huns of Asia" were fierce warriors, knowledge about many aspects of their life is riddled with questions and contradictions.

With levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and ozone continuing to rise steadily because of pollution, scientists in Illinois are raising soybeans in the kind of atmospheric conditions forecast for the next generation of farmers. Researchers want to know how food production may be affected by the Earth's changing climate.

Scientists who specialize in the accuracy of time have developed a new kind of clock—an optical atomic clock—that "ticks" one million billion times per second and is at least 20 times more stable than current atomic clocks based on microwaves. The technological breakthrough may eventually be important for navigation in deep space.

When it came to mummifying the dead, the ancient Egyptians didn't confine the practice to people. They also prepared their pets and other animals for a long afterlife.

In a valley of Ethiopia, a team of scientists unearthed the fossilized remains of what they believe is humanity's earliest known ancestor—a creature that walked the wooded highlands of East Africa nearly six million years ago. The discovery challenges some of the existing theories about the ancestral lineage of humans.

As skydiving increases in popularity in the United States—more than 300,000 people make about three million jumps a year—National Geographic Today asked correspondent Kristin Whiting to take the plunge and report what it's like to freefall thousands of feet towards the ground.

On the Atlantic Ocean floor, scientists have discovered an underworld of stone structures rising 18 stories high. Nicknamed "Lost City" in honor of the fabled Atlantis, it differs from deep-sea volcanic vents previously found and may harbor new primitive forms of life.

U.S. manufacturers are exploring an innovative way of making clothing, furniture upholstery, and other products from corn. Besides being more eco-friendly than polyester, which is made from oil and doesn't degrade in landfills, corn-based textiles have the texture and feel of traditionally woven fabrics.

Scientists have known that fireflies use internal chemistry to light their lanterns in the night, but how the bugs flash their glow on and off so fast has been a mystery. The answer, it turns out, lies in a versatile molecule that plays a key role in romance.

In contrast to his calm, steady leadership as President during the U.S. Civil War, Abraham Lincoln exhibited many outbursts of rage and bizarre behavior during his life. A new study says it may have been the result of mercury poisoning from the pills Lincoln took regularly to treat his melancholia.

If you thought cow patties were just something to avoid stepping in, consider this: In the future they could be used to make plastics, antifreeze, cosmetics, and even deodorants. Engineers and animal scientists in Washington State are exploring ways of extracting valuable chemicals from manure.

Borrowing statistical methods long used by climate forecasters, scientists in California have developed a modeling tool to help officials better predict the wildfires that devastate large parts of the western United States every year. Their initial study shows that this year's fire season is likely to be much milder than that of 2000, which was the worst in half a century.

Most major animal groups appear for the first time in the fossil record some 545 million years ago in a relatively short period known as the Cambrian explosion. The explanation of this sudden arrival is a scientific conundrum. Now, the discovery of the oldest crustaceans ever found supports the idea that there must have been a long evolutionary fuse before the evolutionary explosion.

The number of major hurricanes has more than doubled in the last six years. In a new study, scientists say it's part of a long-term climate shift, and the North Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico regions can expect increased hurricane activity in the next 10 to 40 years.

Scientists have found that male silverback gorillas in the forests of northern Congo deliberately splash about in swampland clearings as an act of aggression to intimidate their rivals in the battle to woo female companions. The use of water as a tool for communication is thought to be extremely rare among land-based mammals.

National Geographic won two top Internet awards on Wednesday for being the most outstanding education site on the Web. The honors—a Webby and a People's Voice Award—were based on decisions by a panel of more than 350 judges and by hundreds of thousands of online users. Nationalgeographic.com edged out competition that included sites sponsored by the New York Times Learning Network and the Public Broadcasting System's Nova.

Ancient civilizations of Peru appear to have collapsed at least in part because of a change in El Niño weather patterns, according to a new scientific report. Other studies have suggested that climatic events contributed to the downfall of early civilizations in Central and North America, Greenland, and the Middle East.

Cars in the American Solar Challenge, a 2,300-mile (3,700-kilometer) solar car race along historic U.S. highway Route 66, were moving closer to the finish line on Monday. They were near Barstow, California, with car No. 2, sponsored by the University of Michigan, in the lead.

The concrete jungle isn't just for people anymore. Thirty years of good environmental stewardship combined with wildlife's innate ability to adapt has given rise to a resurgence of nature in America's urban centers.

Software programs are now being used in some schools and universities to evaluate students' writing—not just spelling and grammar, but content, structure, even tone. Teachers find the technology helpful to score standardized tests, grade final exams, and give students instant feedback on their writing. But can it replace human judgment?

Keith Bellows, editor in chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine, reports for National Geographic Today on the benefits of ecotourism for both the traveler and the local people on the African island of Madagascar

Birds may not have the same power to attract as Africa's famed large wildlife. But southern Africa's remarkable array of bird life—more than 750 species in South Africa alone—is luring a growing number of visitors to the region. Photo gallery.

As patients in the United States increasingly turn to acupuncture, herbal remedies, and other treatments of so-called alternative medicine, researchers are taking a much closer look to find out which techniques work, which are harmful, and which could lead to new medical insights.

Coral bleaching is widely seen as a sign that Earth's fragile and complex reef ecosystems are dying out from the effects of pollution, climate change, and other problems. But new research suggests coral bleaching may instead be a strategy for survival.

For 30 years, John Spence searched for descendants of the magnificent black-maned Cape lion, which was thought to be extinct in the Cape region of Africa since the 1850s. His search ended a year ago when he received pictures of a lion at a zoo in Siberia that resembled the former "King of the Cape."

Motherhood is an equal-opportunity employer for female lions. A long-term study of lions in Africa shows that the females in a group of lions consistently produce similar numbers of surviving offspring and raise them collectively—egalitarian behavior that's rare among animals that form cooperative societies.

The banana's sex life—or lack of it—is cause for growing concern to farmers and scientists. The world's fourth largest staple crop can only be reproduced from cuttings, so it is a sitting target for any pest. Scientists from 11 countries are collaborating on a banana genome project to find a way to strengthen the plant's gene pool.

The dodo, the great auk, and the tragicomic Mauritius red hen (wiped out because of its fondness for the color red)—may not have been evolution's finest work; but as members of the fast-growing club of extinct species, they've a lot to teach us about our own chances of survival, writes Robert Twigger, author of the recently published "The Extinction Club."

The U.S. Civil War submarine CSS Hunley, which was raised from the bottom of the Atlantic last August, is causing academics to rethink the engineering skill of the Confederate Army.

Thriving puffin colonies on islands off the Maine coast are encouraging evidence that the Audubon Society's "Project Puffin" to reinforce the seabird's toehold in the state has been a success—and that determined people really can make a difference to restore natural diversity.

Introduced into the United States in the 1980s, the Asian tiger mosquito is an aggressive carrier of serious human diseases—and is expanding its range faster than a prairie fire. Scientists fear that global warming is likely to make it easier for the nasty biter to spread across North America.

National Geographic News keeps its finger on the pulse of Africa. From astonishing new discoveries of fossils of human ancestors and titanic dinosaurs to the latest scientific research in conservation and news of African societies and cultures, we keep the world abreast of developments on this great continent.

Even if the herds are only those of bison and pronghorn, it is time to restore big herbivores to some of the United States' western lands that were, until recently, shaped by their presence, writes Michael Lind. "It is time to stop the century-long conversion of former buffalo country to forest—and of that forest into firewood."

Ancient peoples only loosely related to modern Asians crossed the Arctic land bridge to settle America some 15,000 years ago, according to a study offering new evidence that the Western Hemisphere played host to a more genetically diverse population at a much earlier time than previously thought.

Since tests to determine early in pregnancy the sex of the fetus have become widely available in India, female fetuses have been widely disappearing, according to columnist Seema Sirohi in Calcutta. Technology and tradition have combined cruelly to offer parents an easy release from the "curse" of girl babies.

Locals who live under Mount Etna, Europe's biggest volcano, refer to it as il gigante buono, the good giant. The slumbering giant stirred 13 days ago and in spite of its alleged goodness, has since then destroyed ski lifts, cut the mountain highway in two, and spewed immense quantities of lava.



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