The perennial nightmare of Time and Newsweek editors struck else-where this month: Three major magazines chose the identical photo to grace their covers.

National Geographic, Smithsonian and Scientific American, with a combined circulation of 12.5 million, all have a color shot of Jupiter's moon Io staring up from the nation's newsstands. No one in the magazine business can remember when the exact same cover photo was chosen by three national mags. c

"At least we had a different picture of Bruce Springsteen than Newsweek," said one Time editor, referring to the infamous week when the relatively unknown rocker had greatness thrust upon him.

Who would have thought the '80s would mean that outer space is more popular than rock 'n' roll? An Infinity of Zeros

Yet another way to begin the decade, with this essay by Joshu Sasaki Roshi:

"For the past 17 years I have continued to talk to Americans about Zero and yet it is probably fair to say that hardly anyone has really grasped what I mean by Zero."

In case you haven't grasped it, the piece is titled "On The Nature of Zero," and appears in the latest issue of Zero, which centers on Zen pursuits of Zero, ($8 annually from Zero Press, 2255 West 25 St., Los Angeles, Calif. 90018). High Finance

Two important business notes:

Southern California mellow is now available to those with four feet as well as two. Pet Health Support of Anaheim -- the home of Disneyland -- has begun offering pet health insurance, with annual premiums ranging from $23 for cats to $47 for bow-wows. The January issue of Money notes that acupuncture is not covered.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles firm Altius, a publicly traded corporation with a $1.2 million annual gross in storage cabinet and electronic test benches, notes in its annual report that "the new board of directors is comprised of prominent business people with strong financial backgrounds."

The jan. 7 Forbes observes that two of the directors are Wilt Chamberlain, the former center of the Lakers and George Vlahos, who is identfied as "Croupier, Las Vegas Hilton Hotel." Sticks and Stones . . .

If you were worried when the kids at school began to call junior "Four Eyes" or even "Dumptruck," the January Psychology Today has this to say about such appellations:

"To be nicknamed is to be seen as having an attribute that entitles one to have social attention, even if that attention is unpleasant. Thus it may be better to be called 'Sewage' than merely John.

The same issue reports that children who read books as opposed to watching television tend to have a better ability to remember information.

Television viewing also takes it in the eyes in the January Parents, which claims that heavy tubers tend to be nervous and anti-social. The Bowl Game

And speaking of anti-social . . . Dr. Michael F. Rein, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, writes this conclusion in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine:

"Thus, even under conditions that apparently maximize the chances of transmission, the much maligned toilet seat is a remarkably ineffective fomite."

Which is to say the odds are very slim that you will catch a dreaded disease in public restrooms.

Thank you, Dr. Rein, for polishing off that old chestnut. Blue Baby

Three excellent pieces in the January/February Science 80:

Roger Rapoport reports on a 70-kilogram baby mammoth preserved for 44,000 years in a chunk of Siberian ice. Some of the animal's molecules were still alive when the beast was found, and the author observes that, "conceivably, if biochemists someday learn to grow organisms as complex as a woolly mammoth, scientists might develop the unsettling ability to resurrect species long since extinct." (Could this mean a Beatles' reunion?)

Phillip Hilts offers a finely detailed profile of cowboy-physicist Robert Wilson (who himself writes of his latest sub-atomic particle work in the new Scientific American). And Science 80 hints that affection lowers blood cholesterol levels: A group of Houston lab rabbits that received an hour of petting every day had one-third as many fatty deposits as a control group. (Could this mean a resurgence of drive-in movies?) Reactionary Umpirialist

Way back in September, Brandeis tennis coach Bud Collins reminisced in Sports Illustrated about the only undefeated year he's ever enjoyed with a team -- specifically the 1959 team captained by Abbie Hoffman.

Now the fugitive radical has returned the coach's serve, in a letter to SI that takes issue with Collins' observation that Hoffman's tennis style "bordered on the reactionary, believing that every ball should be returned safely over the net."

"Way off, Coach," writes Hoffman. "The Big Serve is reactionary tennis.Pancho Segura knew as much about tennis as Pancho Villa knew about revolution. Just run the ball down and get it back. It doesn't matter if the court is tennis or judicial. I've always found it best to 'keep the ball in play.' After all, it was Che Guevara who wrote the famous guerrilla maxim: 'Wait for the unforced errors.'"

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated also includes a delightful tribute to the 10th anniversary of the NERF ball, which accounts for a not-so-spongy 15 percent of Parker Brothers' annual gross. NERF footballs are the largest selling footballs of any kind in the country and SI reports that if "all the NERF footballs ever sold -- a staggering 18 million -- were lined up end to end, they would stretch from Boston to Denver, presumably without knocking over a lamp." Same-Day Journal

Good reads this month:

Walter Jacob's surprising revelations in the January Washington Monthly about the so-called second-class mail service that allows the Wall Street Journal to arrive in your box the same morning it's printed; and J. Garrett Glover's chronicle of an Indian teak harvest in the January/February WoodenBoat, a well-illustrated magazine that's almost as interesting to non-sailors as it is boat lovers ($15 annually from Box 78, Brooklin, Maine 04616). Stamp Tax Revolt

Letter of the month:

"Know what causes inflation? I just figured it out. Stamp machines. You know, those little machines in hotel lobbies and places, where you put in a quarter and you get 15 cents' worth of stamps. That's it. Fifteen cents. As soon as the quarter goes into the slot, it loses 40 percent of its value, and that's inflation. Serious inflation. I don't know what they got in those machines that makes it do that, but I aim to find out. There's going to be some hard questions asked, and I want those answers PDQ. -- G. William Miller Treasury Secretary"

This item, albeit fictional, sets the tone of the National Lampoon's particularly funny January Fantasy issue.

Speaking of the Lampoon, one of its executives (if you can believe that place has executives), Leonard Mogel, has written a book imaginatively titled "The Magazine." Actually, for $7.95, it's a rather clear and concise explanation of the work involved in putting out a magazine. Mogel tells most of what you need to know to start your own mag. But he's no dummy! He doesn't tell all. So what'd you expect for $7.95? New Mastheads

Some new ones:

The Great Falls Gazette, only nine issues old, is a snappy looking community tabloid published in Virginia. It's filled with information plenty valuable anywhere in this area. The new bi-weekly is particularly strong on energy tips and recreational listings ($10 for 26 issues from 754-B Walker Rd., Great Falls, Va. 22066.)

Watch, the first magazine to focus on future uses for television, is a slick monthly pitched to industry insiders. The first issue includes a pleasant reminiscence by Pat Weaver, who created "The Tonight Show" and then started the cable business long before most people were aware of its potential. s

On another broadcast front, TV Guide late this month will mail its pilot issue of Panorama, aimed at alternatives to network viewing. (Watch is $18 annually from Box 4305, Denver, Colo. 80204; Panorama $12 a year from Box 650, Radnor, Pa. 19088.)

The Novak Report on the New Ethnicity is a digest of federal and private actions of special concern to non-WASPs ($24 annually from Box 19093, Washington, D. C. 20036)

SHOP, a very fat tabloid, will lead you to the most chic purveyors of chocolates, lingerie, baked goods and the like in the Big Apple ($7.62 a year from 1556 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10028).

GADGET is a wonderfully eclectic guide to new consumer devices, from electronic thermometers to food processors, herbal cigarettes to computer toys and games ($15 annually from 116 W. 14 St. New York, N.Y. 10011).

Scriptwriter, an attempt to cash in on the booming dreams of writers who want to take lunches in Hollywood, is already a depleted mine in Lotus Land. An article on how to find an agent is typically insightful, counseling an immediate move to L.A. and heavy socializing ($20 a year from Box 956, New York, N.Y. 10023).

The Journal of Country Music turns a somewhat scholarly eye on "Moon-Spoon-June tunes (three issues are $10 from 4 Music Square East, Nashville, Tenn. 37203). The Sound of Silence

Quotes we couldn't let slip by unnoticed:

"I've never liked rooms where you may be the only flaw in it.'" -- Mrs. Gordon Getty in Town & Country

"Writer William Faulkner used to say the best place a writer could find to work was a bordello because it was quiet there in the morning." -- George Plimpton in Vogue Catalogue of Catalogues

The Magazine Column highly recommends these catalogues, which are filled with as much information as any good mag:

Conran's, a mail-order firm begun in England 15 years ago, has arrived on the shores of its rebellious colony, specializing here as there in basic housewares ($2 from 145 Huguenot St., New Rochelle, N.Y. 10801).

Early Winters Ltd. offers both unusual and standard outdoor gear with uses frequently adaptable to the home and ofice. Their Japanese picnic box, for instance, easily doubles as a sewing box (free from 110 Prefontaine Place South, Seattle, Wash. 98104). The Three-Day Week

Trouble-In-Paradise Dept.: Byron Dobell, one of the great editors in the mag world, is reducing his work schedule at Esquire to three days a week. Esquire editor Phil Moffitt confirms that Dobell would have stayed on a full time basis if he had been promoted to editor, and that former Esquire editor Harold Hayes has also expressed interest in returning to Esquire.

"A lot of people would like to be editor of this magazine," says Moffitt, "but I'm having too much fun."

Meanwhile, a number of Esquire editors and writers are grousing that Moffitt spends too much time away from the office. Instead, he's often down in Tennessee, running his 13-30 Corp., a highly profitable venture that publishes hand-out magazines. The January Esquire, they point out, includes three book excerpts, largely because of problems in getting story assignments approved. Moffitt says wait until March, when Esquire returns to its old perfect-bound format "and you'll see a nice thick, juicy magazine." Start Scrambling

Oui is attempting to change its image from a slightly raunchier version of parent Playboy to a "survival guide for the '80s, more on the line of a male Cosmo," as one editor puts it. The February issue, for example, offers advise on "what to do when you wake up at her place" . . . Meanwhile, High Times, the Wall Street Journal of the drug culture, is planning to broaden its scope to become a more general cultural magazine about "feeling good," says publisher Gabrielle Schang . . . The Mother Earth News celebrated its 10th anniversary last month with a 208-page issue, having evolved from a back-to-the-lander's almanac into a serious layman's journal of conservation and technology . . . McGraw-Hill has scratched plans to publish Muse, a museum-oriented mag, even after putting out a pilot issue last month . . . And while magazine ad revenues were up to an all-time annual high of $2.5 billion by November, the last half of the year witnessed an almost five-fold decrease in start-ups.