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Week 6/14/20

PUBLISHED: June 22, 2020

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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Scientists have taken to studying axolotls for the regenerative properties of their limbs—very unique in the animal world, because axolotls don’t seem to ever develop scar tissue to hide damage from a wound. Axolotls can even rebuild a broken jaw. In recent experiments, scientists have crushed their spinal cords and even that regenerates. Scientific American reports that you can cut the axolotl’s limbs off at any point—wrist, elbows, upper arm—and it will make another. One can cut off various parts of arms and legs a hundred times, and every time: the smile and a bloom of arm spring forth like a new perennial. Just when one thinks nothing can grow back after such a winter, the tiny, pale shoots of a crocus burst through the sloppy mulch-thin ground after a difficult and heavy sugar snow. An impossible wound begs to differ with its body and says, I’ve got another. And another. These tests involve the repeated amputation of limbs over a hundred times. What does the lab technician say after the ninety-fifth day, perhaps, of this kind of work? “Just five more to go, and we’ll close up the report!” How does that person come home and forget those hundreds of estranged arms and legs? It’s hard to remember axolotls are endangered when you see their bodies regenerate parts so quickly, when they ‘smile’ at you in aquariums, their pink gills waving as they study you and your own fixed mouth.

Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil


It has been two and a half years since astronomers in Hawaii discovered a strange, cigar-shaped object speeding through the solar system on a trajectory from far away and toward even farther away. Today Oumuamua, the Hawaiian term for “scout,” as the object was named, is now long gone, somewhere between the orbits of Saturn and Neptune and on its way to the Great Out There, but astronomers are still wondering and debating what it was.

The cosmic interloper was first thought to be an interstellar asteroid, a chunk of rock shed by another star system. Then astronomers decided it must be a comet, likewise flung loose from some faraway star and planetary system. Briefly they speculated that it could be an alien artifact, a derelict probe like the giant spaceship in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “Rendezvous With Rama,” or a fragment from a planetesimal that was ripped apart by a gravitational interaction or collision.

Now a pair of Yale astronomers have suggested that Oumuamua was neither an asteroid nor a comet. Rather, it was a cosmic iceberg: a chunk of frozen hydrogen.

Moreover, it was a primordial leftover, originating not from another planetary or star system at all but from a place and time where stars and planets didn’t exist yet: the deep, dark core of an interstellar cloud, one of the galumphing assemblages of gas and dust that shadow the starry lanes of the Milky Way, and where stars are sometimes born.

Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from “Oumuamua: Neither Comet nor Asteroid, but a Cosmic Iceberg” in the New York Times


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