The Nature Pages

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017

edited by Hope Jahren. 324 pp. Mariner Books, 2017.
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017
Scientist and author Hope Jahren selected the two dozen articles for this anthology that she considered to be the best of science and nature writing in 2016. Her goal, she said, was to "bring forward the new and unusual topics and voices... The most precious currency is new ideas, and so I wanted to highlight especially the journalists who brought out the newest of the new."

Science journalism and commentary dominates this collection, with none of the nature essays or philosophical explorations or travelogues found in earlier editions.

The book is divided into three themes: "Emergent Fields" with pieces on scientific discovery, "Changing Land and Resources" preoccupied with climate change, and "The Real Life of Scientists" analyzing the current socio-political climate of scientific endeavors.

In "The Billion-Year Wave" excerpted from The New Yorker, Nicola Twilley recounts the discovery of gravitational waves in a work reminiscent of John McPhee. "In the fraction of a second that it took for the black holes to finally merge, they radiated a hundred times more energy than all the stars in the universe combined. They formed a new black hole, 62 times as heavy as our sun and almost as wide across as the state of Maine...

"The waves rippled outward in every direction, weakening as they went. On Earth, dinosaurs arose, evolved, and went extinct. The waves kept going. About 50,000 years ago they entered our own Milky Way galaxy, just as Homo Sapiens were beginning to replace our Neanderthal cousins as the planet's dominant species of ape. A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein, one of the more advanced members of the species, predicted the waves' existence, inspiring decades of speculation and fruitless searching. Twenty-two years ago, construction began on an enormous detector, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Then, on September 14, 2015, at just before 11 in the morning, Central European Time, the waves reached Earth."

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California National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk crew drops water on wildfires
We don't really understand right now how the Santa Ana winds might change in a warming climate, but scientists have a much better idea of how precipitation will change: there's proably going to be a lot less of it in Southern California. Southern California fire season comes in the fall, later than the rest of the western United States, because of the Santa Anas. But parched vegetation is the fuel, and the longer the dry season lasts into winter, the longer vegetation stays parched, the longer the Santa Ana season has to set it all on fire. ~ Adrian Glick Kudler

Alpha and Beta Centauri in the Southern Constellation of Centaurus
Starshot is a cloud of tiny multifunction chips called StarChips, each attached to a so-called light sail. The sail would be so insubstantial that when hit by a laser beam, called a light beamer, it would accelerate to 20 percent of the speed of light. At 4.37 light-years away, Alpha Centauri would take the fastest rocket 30,000 years to reach; a StarChip would get there in 20. On arrival the chips would not stop but rather tear past the star and any of its planets in a few minutes, transmitting pictures that will need 4.37 years to return home. ~ Ann Finkbeiner

Explore the natural world with Snowy Egret, the oldest independent U.S. journal of nature writing.
Snowy Egret, Vol. 75, #1
Snowy Egret, Vol. 75, #1
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