The Sciences

Galileo at 400, Why Sh*t Happens, and More

Florentine-style spiral thermometers come to Philadelphia's Franklin Institute in April. | Image Courtesy of the Franklin Institute


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Galileo at 400Four centuries after his first observations, Galileo’s instruments—including one of his two telescopes—are on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia through September 7 as part of “Galileo, the Medici, and the Age of Astronomy.” If you’re not in Philly, you can still moonlight as an astronomer during a global four-day celebration, 100 Hours of Astronomy (April 2–5), featuring a 24-hour star party with free telescope viewings in public spaces worldwide and live Webcasts from top observatories like Mauna Kea and Palomar. and


The Lost City of Z by David Grann (Doubleday)In 1925 seasoned English explorer Percy Fawcett, his 21-year-old son, and a friend disappeared while searching for an ancient Amazonian civilization that Fawcett had named Z. Their disappearance set off a chain reaction of ill-fated rescue missions and wild rumors of the trio’s fate—had they starved to death, been taken hostage by natives, or found the city and been too dazzled to leave? Grann chases their engrossing legend into the jungles of the Xingu region, where he learns that the enigmatic city that drove Fawcett to his mysterious end may have been right beneath his nose all along.

Why Sh*t Happens by Peter J. Bentley (Rodale)You snooze through your alarm, get lost on the way to a meeting, and your computer crashes. Nothing is going right. Instead of whining about it, polymath Bentley cheerfully explains the science behind these and 36 other mishaps that can ruin your day. He also offers tips on avoiding future calamities and handling the occasional inevitable mess.

Lucy’s Legacy by Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong HarmonyWho doesn’t love Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old female skeleton that has become one of the most celebrated “missing links” in human evolution? In the 35 years since she was unearthed, more than 350 additional Australopithecus afarensis fossils have been found, creating an explosion of knowledge about our family tree. In this insightful book, Lucy’s discoverer, Johanson, and coauthor Wong explore what we’ve learned about Lucy’s ancestors and descendants in the decades following his groundbreaking find and examine the mysteries about our past that remain, such as the identity of our last common ancestor with the African apes.



Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark LinfieldWe’ve all seen those shots of a great white shark leaping from the water to engulf an unlucky seal—but not like this. Captured in high-speed video, mind-blowing footage of a shark attack that lasts a second or two in real time is shown in ultraslow motion over more than a minute, revealing the surreal, balletic beauty of every tooth and fin. Feast on similarly amazing images throughout this striking documentary, an offshoot of the BBC’s award-winning Planet Earth series, narrated by James Earl Jones. The film chronicles a season in the lives of polar bears in the Arctic, elephants in the Kalahari, and humpback whales on their migration from the equator to the Antarctic. Earth premieres nationwide on April 22. —Jennifer Barone


Directed by Michael StarobinNeed to chill? Head to your local science center and check out NASA’s new short film showcasing the frozen portions of the earth known as the cryosphere, which includes not only glaciers and permafrost but also frozen lakes and rivers and areas with seasonal snowfall. The movie runs on a spherical screen hung in midair, giving you a god’s-eye view of the earth. Time-lapse visualizations of temperature, precipitation, receding sea ice, and collapsing ice shelves create a vivid experience of the natural pulses of the planet and the shifts brought on by climate change. Frozen opens nationwide on March 27; visit for locations. —J. B.


In The Womb: Identical Twins National Geographic ChannelIdentical twins have been an object of popular fascination for decades. Now scientists are finding out how nonidentical apparently identical twins can be. In this thought-provoking documentary, meet one such twin who was born weighing more than three times as much as his brother, a pair of identical twins with different sexual orientations, and a young girl born with extra pairs of arms and legs belonging to her undeveloped parasitic twin. You’ll learn how individuals with the exact same DNA can follow vastly different developmental paths due to cellular changes that switch genes on and off—and how new research is revealing that even the genes of identicals are not always the same. On sale April 28. —J. B.

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