If you're looking for a scientific read to get your teeth into, our latest selection includes just about everything in existence. It spans subjects ranging from the detection of gravitational waves in deep space and the prospect of immortality, through to
the challenges of decoding DNA and an unusually lively tour of the topic of death. And rather than simply explaining the discoveries, you can also find out the story behind some of the world's greatest breakthroughs.
Read on to find out about the latest books explaining the current state of our knowledge of the universe around us.
The story of the first successful gravity 'telescope' features high science and low drama
Einstein postulated the existence of gravitational waves in 1916 as a consequence of his theory of general relativity. The problem is that the waves are infinitesimal – and therefore nearly impossible to detect. Levin describes the massive US project to build a gravity 'telescope' called LIGO, short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. It is the most sensitive instrument ever created, so far costing more than a billion dollars, and it has been a resounding success. In February, a century on from Einstein's deductions, LIGO detected gravitational waves from two black holes colliding. But that was not the project's only collision: the strife between team members became so acute that one of them had his office door walled up. Levin offers a winning combination of high science and low drama.
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An entertaining zoological tour around the animal kingdom looking at the most morbid topic around
Howard is a zoologist and his last book,
Sex On Earth, delved into procreation. This time round he looks at the interactions between death and evolution across many species. They range from ants all the way to pigs, via naked mole rats and ermine caterpillars. Death is vital for the food chain, but some creatures dodge the grim reaper for astounding periods of time. Howard checks out a 507-year-old clam, sadly now deceased, while elsewhere he discovers that the oldest cockatoo in captivity is 82 years old and still healthy. It turns out that many bird species have evolved mechanisms to limit the spread of free radicals in their bodies in order to enjoy longer lifespans: so far, the reasons why have eluded scientists. This is an entertaining and thought-provoking tour of the most morbid subject around. Buy from Foyles now
The astrophysics of our favourite star includes nuclear fusion, solar storms and climate change
Almost all life on Earth is supported by the sun, with its gargantuan size matched only by its extreme volatility. Green starts from first principles, explaining to us exactly what light is before tackling the history of solar science, with illuminating accounts
en route of sunspots, solar flares and solar winds. At the book's core is a description of the nuclear fusion reactions that take place within the sun's mass as well as their diverse results. The biggest solar storm recorded in modern times was in 1859 – it was so intense that newspapers could be read by its light at night – and a similar storm today would be likely to have disastrous effects on communications networks. Green also discusses the sun's likely impact on future climactic cycles. Buy from Waterstones now
DNA provides the recipes for all human life but deciphering its codes remains extremely difficult Medical breakthroughs involving genes and DNA seem to appear almost weekly, more than six decades after the molecule's identification. Yet each discovery is a major triumph, because the human genome (our entire set of DNA) is far from a straightforward cookbook of recipes for making people. Rather – because evolution is an incorrigible bodger and tinkerer – our genome is a chaotic library full of constantly changing texts. There are more than two metres' worth of DNA inside each of our cells, providing the code for around 20,000 genes as well as a lot of other bric-a-brac. Some genes and other material are vital, but at present vast sequences appear useless. Arney's style is lively and accessible as she interviews leading geneticists to detail the challenges of deciphering the code for human life. Buy from Waterstones now
The Telomerase Revolution, by Michael Fossel (Atlantic) Concerning the 'immortality' enzyme that could extend our lifespans indefinitely (maybe)
When it comes, immortality will be the most momentous scientific breakthrough of all. And the key may be the enzyme telomerase. At the ends of the chromosomes in all of our cell nuclei are caps called telomeres, which shorten each time a cell divides. You could think of telomores as smartcards that cannot typically be topped up. As the telomeres diminish, cellular repair mechanisms fail, which is why our bodies age. However, in sperm, egg and cancer cells, the telomerase enzyme allows telomeres to reproduce at the same length when cells divide. Scientists are split on whether telomerase could curb ageing, but Fossel is a firm believer in their potential. He predicts that our lifespans may reach 500 years – although he does not explore the social implications of such hyper-longevity.
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