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Seeing Stars

Building the next big telescope to extend "astronomical research beyond its practitioners' imaginations":

"Astronomy is the ultimate observational science. Humans have probably always looked skyward, noting the passage and patterns of the sun, moon, and stars. The eye is the essential instrument, and the subject of study is readily available—overhead. Astronomers cannot manipulate a star in a laboratory, or examine a black hole under a ventilating hood. They observe from afar.

"The modern science of course embraces deep theoretical astrophysics, aimed at understanding, for example, how gas and dust became stars and galaxies distributed across space; Avi Loeb directs the CfA’s Institute for Theory and Computation. Closely allied are computer simulations to emulate how those processes might unfold under enormous pressures at extreme temperatures, with unfamiliar conditions of matter and energy and scale. But the theorizing and models remain tethered to data. 'Observations are crucial for stimulating the right ideas,' as Loeb puts it. The GMT will help confirm or refute theoretical work about the first galaxies, he says. 'If we’re surprised, it’s even for the better.'"
PUBLISHED: April 19, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3954 words)

The Hostage

War correspondent Richard Engel on his kidnapping in Syria last December:

"Abu Jaafar said, 'Get the gasoline.'

"They drenched Abdelrazaq with liquid from a bottle.

"'No, no!' Abdelrazaq begged.

"'Burn him,' Abu Jaafar said.

"They splashed Abdelrazaq with more liquid.

"It was water.

"They wanted to break us and terrorize us and make us docile. They were having fun doing it. Abu Jaafar was laughing most of the time. In the coming days we would become familiar with his short, repetitive, girlish laugh: Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh."
PUBLISHED: March 20, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6323 words)

The Year of Wonders

It was midday on a Monday in early August of the year 2000. ... The previous Friday, bidding on my first novel had reached six figures, then paused for people to track down more cash. I’d later learn one editor spent the weekend trying to reach her boss on his Tanzanian vacation, finally getting through via the satellite phone of a safari boat on the Rufiji river, but that he wouldn’t OK a higher bid because he couldn’t get the manuscript in time. I was 32. I’d never made over $12,000 in a year.
PUBLISHED: July 7, 2011
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4520 words)