Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 Poem 30: Some Molecules

Uncounted septillions of molecules collide and jostle,
Each interacting with a group of neighbors.
We look at it all and reduce the aggregate to a number,
Whether we prefer Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin.

And we go through our lives, slouching or grooving,
Each interacting with friends or colleagues.
We look at it all and try to reduce it to a word,
History or society or fate or providence.

We don't know which specific molecule we'll breathe
And make a part of us for a little while.
We just know that it'll happen
As long as we don't put ourselves in a stupid situation.

Some molecules make their way to the edge of space
And break free the surly bonds of gravity.
Perhaps they'll impact the Moon and chill
Or head straight for the exits, lightborne.

Yet, the molecules have no agency, no curiosity,
No science to guide them.
How much better could we do, not just for a privileged few!
As long as we don't put ourselves in a stupid situation.

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Poem 29: Scale

There are many solar systems,
some you can explore on foot.
Start at the Sun,
medicine ball or grapefruit
or a big circle on the ground.

A few paces takes you through
the habitable zone,
barely noticeable compared
to gas giants
sitting in South Station
or ringed in Westfield.

You may think you've gone too far
and missed the ice giants
but they're there.
Whether you find anything beyond
is perhaps more opinion than science.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 Poem 28: Cap Cloud

We write about the best nights
but we remember the worst ones.
Nights circled on the calendar with
hope and anticipation,
with full target lists and schedules
but ending with disappointment
and empty log books.

Like placeholder lyrics to half-written songs
or short stories amid writer's block,
with howling winds and freezing fog,
loose cables and bad ephemerides,
a cap cloud that sits over you alone.

Still, the best times do more than pay the rent.
When the sky is steady and the nights are long
you can feel the wonder in your bones,
as you watch the clouds pass by
on other planets.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2013 Poem 27: The Blank Page

The blank page is perfect.
Full of possibilities,
free of mistakes.
But I can't put it on my CV.

The asteroid is affectless.
Doing what it has always done,
since before life began.
But that night we watched it.

The photons are reflected.
Collected by detector,
turned into numbers.
But I don't understand them.

The cursor is blinking.
The clock is ticking.
The co-authors are waiting.
The blank page is perfect.

Friday, April 26, 2013

2013 Poem 26: Science Fiction

I grew up liking
Luke over Kirk
and Han over Luke.
I preferred Buck to Flash,
but never took any calls
from the Doctor.

No Valentines for me
nor Hari Seldon,
but I was an aspirant
to the Baltimore Gun Club
and longed to fly over Magrathea
in its heyday.

And now I see
the pile of unread books
on the shelf,
the folder
of unread pdfs
and upcoming reviews
on the calendar.
How much science fiction
do I encounter still?


In case it matters, this is meant more playfully than accusingly. :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

2013 Poem 25: Oh Pioneers

Come my curious children,
Raised on Twitter, bred on YouTube,
We once explored with film and fixer
And vidicon.

Oh Pioneers,
We knew so little we were unsure
You would survive the asteroid belt
Or be smashed to bits

Two targets in one.
A trick shot like a bowman from a pool,
Bent by giants but never broken,
Offline you roll on.

You gave first glimpses
Of volcanic moons and cloudy titans.
We have much more to remember
than a plaque.


With apologies to Walt Whitman

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 Poem 24: One, Six, Seven, Eight

There is more of one,
much more of one
than all others combined.
You might almost say
there is nothing else
(except for most of what surrounds us
in our lives).

Six is black or brilliant cut,
Methyl or ethyl or bucky.
The stuff of life,
save for all the poisons
it's also in.

Is God seven?
It dominates our atmosphere
and also Titan's,
and coats Pluto

Eight is sweetly like love
A fingerprint of origins,
a never-sleeping
maker of rust.
Its buildup was a catastrophe
but not for us.

One, six, seven, eight.
Subtract any of them
and subtract us all.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

2013 Poem 23: An Alchemical Dream

A bit of a word before today's poem. The budget for NASA-funded planetary science (which is most of planetary science) has been repeatedly slashed, jeopardizing important research as it sits on the verge of answering many fundamental questions about our solar system and our place in it. Congress has been very supportive of planetary science, and we hope to encourage their continued support. The Planetary Society is organizing public efforts to help planetary science, with background here. Please consider visiting the Planetary Society page linked here to thank Congress and ask for more help, or consider a letter or call to your Representatives and/or Senators on your own. 


An alchemical dream.
Not as good as lead to gold
but making water
from the thinnest of airs
is still pretty impressive.

Oh, free to wander
a molecule unbound
radically changing course.
Racing to find a shady spot
or a crystal palace
to ride out a sequester.

Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 Poem 22: My favorite planet

We tend to take it for granted.
When we get questions about
our favorite planets
we all too often wander off
about the glories of Olympus Mons
or the rings of Saturn
or shouldn't Titan count, too
or look at this neat lightcurve data
suggesting maybe there's something else like it
really really far away.
But too rarely does someone just say

It wasn't so long ago
that inquiry was met with
for suggesting Earth was a planet,
and even now we live in
our separate towers.
Yet we all move
through cataclysms and solar wind,
enduring deluges of water and ethane,
as dunes march in formation
across one plate or many.
Earth science
planetary science.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

2013 Poem 21: The solar system has a dust problem

Since it hasn't been cleaned
in billions of years
we shouldn't be surprised
the solar system
has a dust problem.

It's mostly the small
members of the family
of course.
Rough and tumble play
in the asteroids,
comets shedding everywhere
expecting the Sun to clean up.
And if you've got irregular satellites
in your system,
say goodbye to keeping
icy surfaces gleaming.

We are told that nature
abhors a vacuum.
But would it kill nature
to just tidy up a bit
once in a while?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 Poem 20: No other sun

You are nothing like my mistress' eyes
Into which I find I stare for hours.
Compared to other stars in foreign skies,
You only have weak and middling powers.
No birth for you in a special cluster.
Your steady light still varies all the same.
Your storms rage with no especial bluster.
We do not call you by a regal name.
Although you are old, we know of older,
Your fire predated by some rocks and stones.
Although you are hot, you are much colder
Than giants who grow iron in their bones
    And yet we only live due to your light,
    No other sun will we all find as right.

Friday, April 19, 2013

2013 Poem 19: Lone and Level Sands

Spirits haunt the desert.
Colossal wrecks of travelers,
Russian, British, American,
those who sheltered in place,
those who looked for adventure,
those who never got to say hello.

Passions yet survive
for mightier and mightier works
to be placed on lone and level sands,
to climb sharp peaks,
to find a rock and bring it safely back to Earth
before the end of this century.

Other bootprints will last forever
but some of the tire tracks
may already be gone.
Fallen to the everyday
wind and dust
of an antique land.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

2013 Poem 18: Haiku

An oily shower
on the dimly lit landscape.
Parachute glistens.


Just a quick one today, but if I write any more I'll post it...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

2013 Poem 17: Neptune All Night

Summer after sophomore year.
Astronomy geek at engineering school,
unwise in the ways of anything.
You were a biology student
and a ballerina
but mostly just 
the most amazing girl I'd ever met.

Spring saw massacre in
Tianamen Square,
Fall saw the
Berlin Wall come down.
The summer was different.

And one night in August
found me in my tiny room
watching my TV
sitting on the tiny fridge
with its NASA sticker
as images from across the solar system came
down from the skies.
Cantaloupe terrains and ring arcs
Great dark spots.
The end of a great adventure.

I remember little from 1989, all told.
But those encounters are etched
like grooves in a golden record
I can't imagine anyone else playing.


A little poetic license.  Maybe it could have used more. ;)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2013 Post 16: Dirty Water

aromatic leftovers
in unprocessed clumps.
blacker than coal,
older than sunlight.

adrift in the currents
of an ethereal ocean
wafting on hydrogen breezes.

soak up the sun and 
do laps, lazily. 
feeling indestructible enough
to ingest some cyanide
and methanol
but better keep plenty of water at hand.

physics and chemistry,
reason and rime.

Monday, April 15, 2013

2013 Poem 15: Massaging the Numbers

The numbers slide and pulse and writhe.
Some insist on strict identities
but others are content to be flexible,
submissively morphing as needed
to best meet a mate above or below
and leave their sides of the bar together.

We're not building bridges or designing planes.
We're not fighting disease or auditing books.
Two wrongs don't make a right
but π and e can make a ten.


This didn't end up where I thought it was going, but maybe it ended up where it needed to be.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013 Poem 14: The Sincerest Form

This is a page taken from R. A. Gray's "The Life and Work of Tycho Brahé", published in 1923 in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (vol. 17). This type of "redacted poetry" is something I've never seen before the last year or so, and only through the work of Christine Reuter aka "tychogirl" who ends up with some amazing visual and written components. It's really a whole lot harder than it looks (and I didn't do a terribly good job, requiring arrows and all), but I thought I'd give it a shot as an homage. She really does great non-redacted poetry too, and her fans and colleagues are all hoping she does more of that too (hint)...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

2013 Poem 13: A stoic, icy mask

Orbiting for eons at the edge of our consciousness,
how many astronomers saw you and dismissed you?
Losing you in the cacophony of faint stars
until an oboist picked out your melody and named you for his king.
Not the last time your name has met with giggles,
even now as it's like a Muse's.

In the last centuries we've found you to be ringed
but using a different jeweler than your showy brother:
You prefer darker, sleeker, thinner adornment,
though you show it off by bending at the waist.

Our first encounter showed a stoic, icy mask.
Spending time with Juliet and Desdemona and Ophelia
might have taught you to keep much inside in the face of tragedy,
even as challengers took to the heavens.
How many astronomers see you and dismiss you, still?
Still, the game is afoot for a return engagement.
Perhaps we'll make it back within a year of our first visit.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2013 Poem 12: Millions of unsampled asteroids

Millions of unsampled asteroids
in your neighborhood.

One weird tip
for scoring higher
with proposal reviewers.


Are you embarrassed
by the size of your
space program?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 Poem 11: What made us fall in love

Come, my dear friend.
We suffer too much
and we're losing touch
with what made us fall in love.

Lay beside me.
The light from the stars
miraculous still,
informed by what makes them shine

Pore over maps
from such distant shores--
simpler times' relics.
Though some may think us relics.

Drink with me now--
tarry a moment.
The future will keep
and the planets still circle.


Doesn't seem relevant to planets, but it's very much inspired by planetary science...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2013 Poem 10: The Waterless Beach

Another day on the beach.
UV index at 11+
and the forecast calls for a drizzle
of  tiny stones at rocket speeds.

Even the sand is sweating,
beads of iron leading to an uneven tan.
The tide is out. The tide is always out.
Might be a good day to stay indoors;
I burn easily.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

2013 Poem 9: Unreflective and Blue?

Middle child,
your big sister's shape has been turning heads
can a team in her orbit be far behind?
And though your younger, fair-skinned sibling
inspired virgins to ecstasy,
she promiscuously sent her calling cards
hither and yon.

You take some time to get to know.
Water surged in your veins,
the stuff of life throughout your body.
Now with your family
you take a different angle.

And so you abide.
Found by accident, hard to reach.
You may be seen as unreflective and blue,
but the wisdom of the ages are carried in your bones.

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 Poem 8: Doggerel #1

If we believe the whiteboard crew
(and we always cash their checks)
the solar system's early days
were full of massive wrecks.
Small bodies thrown from planets' paths
like RVs tossing gravel
No traffic judge but gravity
with impacts as her gavel.

The planets wandered to and fro,
sometimes resonating
with cataclysmic consequence
some people say they're dating.
Now looking back upon that time
of crashing rock and ice
I don't know how I'd feel back then
but I wouldn't call it nice.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

2013 Poem 7: In a field by Hook Mountain

In the field by Hook Mountain
chill suburban skies
were starry and cloudless,
yet the air hung with lush possibility
in the days when Pioneers
and Vikings explored
alien shores.

The telescopes at the party
would be dwarfed
by those I'd use a decade later
but they all looked giant to me.
And all were well-loved,
dobs and newtonians alike.

M13 and the Ring Nebula
held little appeal to me.
It was a different ring
that led to my engagement.

The first view was a jolt.
It really looked like  they said it would,
pale and perfect, ansa to ansa.
A platonic ideal of itself
even today.

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SaturnRuthCrisp18feb06.jpg)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

2013 Poem 6: विज्ञान के स्वर्ण युग अब शुरू होता है

Basaltic crunch
Hiss of valves
Sister starts to spill her secrets.

Shukra's greenhouse poisoned
acrid and arid.
Please teach us
how to maintain
our own.
Earth science is
planetary science.

Magellan and early mariners
blazed a trail
before they got distracted,
and thought the
of new worlds
only lay in gold and silver.

But a patient people
will find the true riches
of further Indies,
and gems assayed
from Lakshmi Planum.

Friday, April 5, 2013

2013 Poem 5: Limiting Magnitude

born in the big bang
an atom dies today
so light may be born.
it embraces the pressure at last
and in its metamorphosis,
a quantum conservation of

photon emerges,
bumps and jostles.
by the time it surfaces
it could have traversed the galaxy.
born before Lucy,
it finally makes its debut.

in a few hours or less,
the photon knows what we do not.
changed by its knowledge
of Europa or Titan
or Mars or Triton,
upon reflection it heads our way.

telescope waits with welcoming eye,
desert summer night,
thesis in the balance.
shoulders of giants eager to add
another luminary.

desert summer night,
a lovely night to pull out the driver.
it may cost a lot to light this course
so that it's bright as day
and the course a mile away
and the mini-mart across the street
and the billboards advertising botox
and the billboards advertising billboards
and the casino
and the casino parking lot
and the resort
and the mini-mart next to the resort
and the other casino with the outer space theme.
but it's so worth it.
it's not like there's any reason not to, right?

bottom: from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/light-pollution-map/)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

2013 Poem 4: When things were retrograde

Sketch pad and pencil
Under starry vault.
Watch and wait.
Libya then Syrtis, Chryse then Arcadia.
Eye to lens, pencil to paper.
Count to 360, then start again.
All things to those who wait.

now paper seems so yestersol.
our arrays could spot a C8
on the surface
in hyper spectral superresolution
with 16-bit precision.
roll to yogi, sight to mermaid.
we go where we want, we see what we want.
why would we wait?
we hold whole worlds in dextrous hands,
forcing east and north to conform
to our fingers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Poem 3: Frost Line

We can say some worlds began in fire,
And other ones in ice.
When first circling in its gyre
Our Earth was on the side of fire.
But once Jove began to roll the dice
And comets flew to meet their fate,
Is this how Earth got water ice?
There is debate
To be precise.

(Image from http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2011/1213/Geminid-meteor-shower-why-spectacular-light-show-puzzles-scientists, credited to Daniel Aguilar/REUTERS/File)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

2013 Poem 2: Part of Something Larger

From broken homes they come.
Worlds apart
wracked by havoc,
torn asunder
by merciless bombardment

Families drift apart.
Cast aside by parents
and bullied by sunshine
some still seek the only lasting warmth
they've experienced
Like moths to the flame
the inward spiral begins.

Some refugees alight on our shores
at entry points like
Allende, Zag, Peekskill or Tagish Lake.
Here they go under the scalpel for science
Or sit admired in museums
Or again simply become
part of
something larger.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 Poem 1: Empty Space is So Intimidating

start at the beginning
it's made to sound so easy.
one moment a blank page
empty space
a few equations, then
a solar system.

dust from dust,
the charnel dust of stars
that spoke the deplorable words.
that shocking, divine hammer.
what would follow?

it's made to sound so easy.
but empty space is so intimidating.

a kilogram of dust
in a million cubic meters.
cairns for a trail
that could go anywhere.

an armful of oranges
scattered through the Astrodome
coming together to make a fruit basket.
six septillion fruit baskets
finding each other
to make our world.


OK, I kind of took a weird turn at the end. I had a few different ideas, combined a few, and mercifully left at least one out.  Still, it's a start.  :)