Best American Science
and Nature Writing 2017
Hope Jahren. 324 pp. Mariner Books, 2017.
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
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
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