The National Geographic covers that changed the world

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National Geographic Covers

Did your favourite National Geographic Cover make our shortlist? First published in 1888, National Geographic is arguably the most famous magazine in the world; covering all areas of interest from natural history, science and geography to people and culture. Bringing incredible news and captivating features to its millions of devoted readers - alongside some of the most stunning photographs ever captured - National Geographic magazine is a showcase of the complex diversity and raw beauty of our planet. Here are the covers that caught the eyes, took the breaths and captivated the souls of readers from every corner of the globe.

1. Apollo 11 Moon Landing, Vol. 136 No. 6 - December 1969Apollo 11 National Geographic Cover

One giant leap for mankind, the Apollo 11 moon landing will go down in history as one of the greatest triumphs of aerospace and aeronautical exploration in the 20th century. A photograph of Buzz Aldrin contributed by NASA, this incredible National Geographic cover marks a new age of space travel. Fun fact: Commander Neil Armstrong completed his 953,054 mile journey to the moon carrying a small National Geographic flag, which was bestowed upon National Geographic Society President Melvin Payne in 1970.

2. Conversations with a Gorilla, Vol 154 No. 4 - October 1978

Conversations with a Gorilla, Vol 154 No. 4 - October 1978 National Geographic Cover

If we told you this was a gorilla selfie, would you believe us? Koko the gorilla makes her National Geographic cover debut for the first time in 1975 (and makes cover star again in 1985) taking a photo of herself looking in a mirror with researcher Ron Cohn's camera. This issue explores the relationship and potential for communication between apes and humans, although Koko is an exceptional ape; to this day she regularly communicates with humans via ‘Gorilla Sign Language’ and has her own pet cats.

3. Afghan Girl, 1985

Afghan Girl 1985 National Geographic Cover

Perhaps the most notable National Geographic cover of all, the Afghan Girl is the 20th century Mona Lisa. Her guarded stance and piercing eyes are famous the world over - although the girl herself was not aware of this until some 17 years later. Sharbat Gula was photographed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by Steve McCurry, although her name was not recorded when the photograph was taken. Following several fruitless attempts to locate her, McCurry finally found her in 2002 where she was identified with iris recognition. She was asked if she had ever felt safe - sadly, her reply was ‘No’.

4. Inside the Great White, Vol. 197 No.4 - April 2000Great White 2000 National Geographic Cover

This early millennium National Geographic cover staring down the jaws of a great white shark is enough to set anyone’s pulse racing. Despite their reputation as a cold blooded killer, great whites are a species in danger. Peter Benchley, author of the book (and later box office smash movie) Jaws and photographer David Doubilet use this issue to dispel the myths surrounding this majestic underwater predator. Just don’t get too close to those pearly whites…

5. Gender Revolution, 2017Gender Revolution 2017 National Geographic Cover

Exploring the topic of gender around the world and the conversations taking place around it from birth to school to workplace and beyond, this 2017 National Geographic cover could not be more topical. As we begin to define and celebrate the unique complexities within the transgender community, we are invited to explore the worlds of intersex, bi-gender, transgender, demi and nonbinary individuals throughout this powerful issue.

Explore mankind’s most powerful stories and discover the nuances of geography, culture and history with a National Geographic magazine subscription today. Can't get enough of the covers? We loved National Geographic's 50 Years of Covers for a trip down memory lane...