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November 2002 Archive

Practice makes perfect, or so the thinking goes at mission control for the Stardust spacecraft. The satellite, launched in 1999 to collect samples from a comet, runs through a full dress rehearsal Friday in preparation for its one-shot encounter 14 months from now.

Populations of North Atlantic swordfish began plummeting in the 1960s as the result of overfishing. An international fisheries group responsible for protecting the commercially valuable fish say conservation measures put into place only three years ago have already aided the swordfish's recovery.

The African bee may be widely known as a "killer," but it's a life-saver for many people in South Africa. The government is touting beekeeping as a way to help poor families earn a living, and there are high hopes for marketing an alcoholic beverage made from honey.

Scientists have discovered a strain of bacteria at the bottom of New York's Hudson River that might prove useful as an agent for cleaning up a common pollutant. The microbe "breathes" the synthetic chemical TCA, transforming it into a cleaner substance.

A quarter of all bird species in the United States have declined in population since the 1970s, according to the National Audubon Society. In its Watchlist 2000 report, the group cites declines among twice as many bird species as those federally designated as endangered or threatened.

In India, weaving an elegant silk sari takes as long as 15 days of difficult labor in poor working conditions. While each finished garment costs from $150 to $1,500, the thousands of weavers who do the work are widely exploited and earn as little as $30 a month.

While cruising the South Pacific in 1995, the author saw the northern side of Mount Yasur on Vanuatu and immediately thought: There is a virgin slope waiting to be carved. He recently returned to snowboard down the slope, and filmed the adventure for National Geographic Today.

Aristotle wrote long ago about elephants crossing rivers underwater, with only the tips of their trunks exposed, and researchers have known for more than 300 years that the elephant's lung structure is unique among mammals. They've never been able to figure out why. A recent study suggests it's all about evolution.

More than a century ago, the U.S. Civil War ironclad Monitor sank in a violent storm off Cape Hatteras. Last summer scientists and divers raised the ship's gun turret to the surface. The artifacts and human remains found inside are opening a new window on history.

A vault in South Africa's Kruger National Park holds 36 tons of elephant ivory and rhino horn valued at about $3 million dollars. By international rules, South Africa cannot sell wildlife treasures. But that may change, as 160 countries at a CITES meeting decide whether to continue the ban on ivory.

Scientists have discovered that the tiny tadpoles of the African dwarf clawed frog have an unusual feeding method: They suck in their prey, just as fish do. This kind of suction feeding is extremely rare among frogs.

For nearly a decade, flamingos in lakes of the East African Rift Valley have periodically perished in large numbers, leaving the shores littered with pink bird carcasses. The deaths have alarmed conservationists and triggered investigations, but the exact cause remains unknown.

Australia is bracing for an extreme fire season as summer approaches in the southern hemisphere, and many fires are already burning throughout the eastern states. The hot topic Down Under is how to protect human life and property while preserving biodiversity.

The simple act of petting a dog can lift people's spirits. And when disaster strikes, teams of highly trained canines are sometimes called to the scene to help survivors deal emotionally with the situation.

Coming face to face with great white sharks—"Jaws"—is dangerous work, but necessary to attach satellite and acoustic tags to the animals, which will help scientists document their movement and better understand the behavior of this legendary predator.

Anini, a district capital in northeastern India, is so far removed from the rest of the country that its inhabitants until recently had to rely on Indian Air Force helicopters to bring them food and other supplies. Now, a new state-of-the-art computer center has put the remote town on the "information superhighway."

Several boaters in Florida were seriously injured last summer by giant sturgeon that leapt out of the river and crashed into boats. Now, the fish are migrating to the Gulf of Mexico for the winter, as wildlife officials work to devise a conservation plan for the threatened species.

Martin Buser is the defending champion and a four-time winner of the Iditarod dog-sled race from Anchorage to Nome. In an interview with National Geographic News, he explained what it takes to succeed in such a grueling sport and what keeps him committed. The Quest for Adventure lecture series, sponsored by Nature Valley, brings great explorers and adventurers to the National Geographic Society. If you missed this year's explorers, read the tale of their adventures.

How you look at skin is a matter of perspective. It's a major organ of the body, a map of early human migration, a canvas for cultural markings. For artist Spencer Tunick, it's a sea of colors that gives organic form to his photographs of crowds of naked people.

Even ancient Olympian athletes had performance-enhancing tricks. Two biomechanics experts have now explained how swinging hefty hand-held weights, or "halteres," gave Greek long-jumpers a competitive advantage.

Ongoing excavation of the Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley has uncovered another surprise: ornate gold and diamond jewelry. A ring and a brooch were found among clothing remnants of the captain, Lt. George Dixon, but their use and significance is a mystery.

The turmoil at many major online travel-booking sites—including revenue losses, job cuts, and other problems—could help restore the health of travel agencies, which were hard hit in the boom, says Traveler Editor in Chief Keith Bellows.

The votes on resuming the ivory trade have come in—and touched off an international firestorm. On Monday and Tuesday, CITES members voted to allow the "one-time" sale of 60 tons of ivory that have accumulated since 1989 in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

Concrete jungles are going green, as city planners turn to rooftop gardens to bring down the heat, reduce storm water runoff, and save energy. Toronto, Canada, is the most recent city to join the movement, with the announcement of a million-dollar green roof project.

The death of three Tanzanian porters on Mount Kilimanjaro nearly two months ago has raised concern about the plight of local people hired to accompany climbers scaling the world's big peaks.

Tonight—or very early Tuesday morning—will be the last chance to see the Leonid meteor shower in its full glory, according to astronomers. At its peak, sky gazers in Europe could see several thousand meteors an hour; several hours later North Americans might see several hundred an hour. Astronomers say this year's Leonid shower will be the most spectacular for a century.

Locked in the muddy bottom of the Missouri River are the remains of the stern-wheeled steamboat Montana, which sank 118 years ago. Scientists studying the wreck say it's revealing new knowledge about the riverboats that played a central role in America's westward expansion.

In an interview with National Geographic News, American author and freelance journalist Sandra Mackey discusses conditions in Iraq and the influence of its leader, Saddam Hussein.

To avoid attack by a bat, a praying mantis maneuvers like a fighter pilot in aerial combat. Now researchers are trying to figure out how the praying mantises use built-in ultrasound detectors to anticipate the bat's approach and calculate their escape dive.

A National Geographic expedition led by explorer Robert Ballard has found what is believed to be the remains of John F. Kennedy's PT-109. Experts from the U.S. Navy recently confirmed the May 2002 find is most likely the World War II patrol boat. PT-109 sank in the Solomon Islands when a Japanese destroyer sliced through it, setting into motion the survival odyssey that became a cornerstone of the Kennedy legend.

The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States. In a nation called the world's superpower, only 17 percent of young adults in the United States could find Afghanistan on a map, according to a new worldwide survey released today.

Hundreds of inner-city kids will explore glacier-capped mountains, groves of giant sequoias, waterfalls, meadows and the rugged Pacific coastline as part of a series of grant commitments announced today by the National Geographic Society's Education Foundation.

Today, November 20, is GIS Day. Geographic Information Systems, once a tool used solely by mapmakers is gradually going mainstream, found in automobiles for driving directions, used by real estate agents to track home sales, and by police departments to solve crimes.

Without the heroic efforts of two local South Pacific scouts, Lt. John F. Kennedy likely would never have made it to the end of World War II, much less the U.S. Presidency. Last spring, during an expedition to find the wreck of Kennedy's boat PT-109, the Kennedy family and the now elderly scouts were reunited. The emotional meeting cast new light on the islanders' historic role and the impact their brief meeting with Kennedy had on their lives.

The principal part of a famously fabricated dinosaur fossil is an ancient fish-eating bird, scientists report. The Archaeoraptor fossil introduced in 1999 as the missing evolutionary link between carnivorous dinosaurs and modern birds turned out to be a composite of two different species previously unknown to scientists. The tail and hind legs belong to a crow-size dinosaur, Microraptor zhaoianus; the head and body belong to a fish-eating bird known as Yanornis martini.

The ability to interpret human gestures may have been the critical difference between wolves that remained wild and wolves that became dogs. Studies show that man's best friend was first domesticated about 15,000 years ago in East Asia.

The discovery of a fossil skeleton of a 56-million-year-old tiny mammal indicates that our early ancestors were tree-living fruit eaters, and is helping scientists to understand the early evolution of primates.

Airport security tightened just in time for the busiest travel season of the year. With better training and more advanced equipment, U.S. agents are expected to screen passengers more thoroughly than ever before. But that doesn't necessarily mean longer delays, says Traveler Editor in Chief Keith Bellows. Here, Bellows talks about what to expect, how travelers can help ease gridlock, and more.

In the same week that an oil tanker loaded with 20 million gallons (75 million liters) of fuel oil split in two and sank off the coast of Spain, a group of American researchers provide disturbing evidence that oil spill damage can persist indefinitely, even though the original site of an accident appears otherwise pristine.

Eight years ago, conservationists feared the worst for the world's wild tiger populations. Three of eight subspecies had already gone extinct. Rampant poaching and habitat destruction appeared poised to consume the rest. But now a coalition of conservation groups reports that intensive efforts to save the last wild tigers may be paying off.

A new study shows that elevated greenhouse gas levels—particularly carbon dioxide—boosts the yield of fruits and seeds produced by agricultural plants. However, this benefit may come at a price: Their nutritional value is lower.

Broad anecdotal evidence suggests acupuncture can effectively treat a host of ailments in animals. But much remains unknown about how and why acupuncture works. The challenge today, supporters say, is to bridge the research gap to better understand the promise of this alternative therapy.

Vanuatu's world-famous land diving ritual, the Naghol, seems like a traditional form of bungee jumping. But after watching a diver leap off the wooden tower reaching upwards of 25 meters (75 feet) and crash into the earth below—and the 300-person crowd erupt in cheers—it's obvious that what's happening on Pentecost Island is something radically different.

The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States. In a nation called the world's superpower, only 17 percent of young adults in the United States could find Afghanistan on a map, according to a new worldwide survey released today.

While most people at this time of year think about eating turkey, I think about seeing one—not the overweight, pale, domesticated bird that ends up on the Thanksgiving table, but rather its streamlined, bronzy ancestor: the wild turkey. This ground-dwelling native of North American forests is fairly common now, but only 30 years ago it was nonexistent across much of its historic range, a casualty of overhunting and deforestation.

First published in 1983, the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America represented a major departure from Roger Tory Peterson's eastern and western guides, which dominated the marketplace. Robert Winkler interviews Jonathan Alderfer, art consultant for the recently released fourth edition of the guide, to find out what's been updated in this best-selling book.

The wild Bactrian camel, a two-humped ancestor of domesticated camels, is now critically endangered in its native habitat in the harsh deserts of Northwest China and Mongolia. Many of those that remain inhabit a nature reserve that was, until recently, a Chinese nuclear test site. The Quest for Adventure lecture series,sponsored by Nature Valley, brings great explorers and adventurers to the National Geographic Society. If you missed this year's explorers, read the tale of their adventures. logo