On the Internal Sea

I’m not usually a webcomic reader, but since I was introduced to Mare Internum, it has held my attention. It is deeply satisfying to read an astrobiology-related story that is told so beautifully.

On its surface, Mare Internum is the story of two scientists who suffer a catastrophic accident while investigating a martian cave. Michael Fisher is a pioneering geologist who recently suffered a mysterious breakdown and is being sent back to Earth. Bex, his replacement, is an entomologist who seems to have come to Mars to escape Earth. Little by little, their lives are revealed as interludes in the main story. And the main story… well, mare internum is Latin for “internal sea.”

The story is vividly illustrated. The characters, though not always comprehensible, are likeable. The only rough patch for me has been Chapter 2. I had trouble deciphering some of the art, and the story moved slowly. However, I was reading each page as it was released—since then, I’ve gone back and read the whole chapter, and it flows better. And I’ll grant that an extraterrestrial environment is inherently difficult to decipher.

I can’t speak for all astrobiologists (and I’m not technically an astrobiologist, ha), but this is a treat. Great art and action are paired with references to brines, botryoids, chemoclines, and a host of other ideas we hold dear. One of my favorite pages features a lovely rendering of Mars and opens the conversation up to panspermia—the concept that microbial life can travel from one planet to “seed” another. (Note that if you click the panspermia link, spoilers will happen!)

I very much want to see where this comic goes. If you like it, you might also want to read the author’s longer-running webcomic The Meek.

Speaking of the author, if you’re at the Emerald City Comicon this weekend, you can meet Der-shing Helmer in person. Lucky!

Those gamma rays!

I have edited many science articles. And to this day, whenever I read about gamma radiation, I think of the Hulk. For example,

Science Article: “Likewise, no significant loss of photosynthetic activity was observed after exposure to γ rays at 6 kGy—the lowest dose applied for this type of radiation.”

Me (in awe): “That’s what got Bruce Banner! Those gamma rays!”

(Also, note use of the Greek letter in the sentence above, in accord with ACS Style Guide rules.)

Europa: Gettin’ it done

The Astrobiology Primer v2.0

Everybody, the Astrobiology Primer version 2.0 is online. I have been looking forward to this moment since 2009, when I encountered the first version of the Primer. I found it helpful and engaging, and I wondered when an update would come along. You see, I love what the Astrobiology Primer does. I love how the Primer is created. And I love why the Primer exists.

Longer than a science article but shorter than a textbook, the Astrobiology Primer presents a summary of astrobiology. It is an introduction written for a broad audience, especially for young scientists and just generally curious people who like to think about science.

The Primer proceeds through a series of questions—awesome and epic questions that have always preoccupied humankind: What is life? How did Earth form? What do we know about the possibility of life beyond Earth? Of course, we have so much further to go to answer these questions. Yet it is amazing to realize how much we do know. The Primer provides a starting point for discussing current knowledge and introducing new realms of research.

What makes this project particularly rewarding is the people behind it. The Primer is written by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. It represents the future of astrobiology, with enthusiasm and fresh perspectives. It means a lot to me that the journal I work for can support these newcomers. And I admire the authors for successfully bringing together topics as diverse as planetary accretion, phylogenetic trees, and the presence of methane on Mars; forming these topics into a clear and consistent narrative; and persisting through all the reviews, proofs, and final touches of the publishing process.

In conclusion, a word of praise to astrobiology. I love it so. A diverse collection of disciplines (geology, biology, astrophysics, chemistry, engineering, philosophy, climatology, sedimentology—to name just a few) converges to address the most essential questions. Who are we? How did we get here? Are we alone? How can we find and communicate with others? Astrobiology is microcosm and macrocosm. It is the very ground we walk on, and it is the farthest reaches of space. It is our past and our future.

So read the Astrobiology Primer! It is available for free download! Right now: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ast.2015.1460

NASA’s Day of Remembrance

Charles Bolden 2014January 31 is NASA’s Day of Remembrance. Please take some time out of your day to learn about those we remember: http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/DOR2014/index.html. In the name of space exploration, they made the ultimate sacrifice. We think of them and thank them.

The photo was taken last Friday at Arlington National Cemetary. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden laid a wreath in memory of the men and women who lost their lives. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Adjectives for astronomical bodies

Titanian haze

Observe the glorious titanian haze.

Oh man, I have been wanting to post again for weeks but have struggled to find the time. So it is past one o’clock in the morning, and I figure, why not?

Yesterday I found myself needing to know the adjective for Titan. I’m well acquainted with martian, jovian, and saturnian. Occasionally I encounter venusian. In terms of moons, though, I’ve only dealt with lunar and europan. But… Titan? Does it have an adjective? All the moons in our solar system—there are quite a lot—do they all get adjectives of their own?

Once again, the Internet answers everything. I found on Wikipedia this List of adjectivals and demonyms of astronomical bodies. And I found titanian. And I felt happy.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Drilling an Ice Core in Greenland

As proof of my continuing existence, I would like to post something today. Recently I learned of the The North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling project, the purpose of which is to obtain core samples of ice from the Eemian, an interglacial period that ended over 100 thousand years ago. (I’m having trouble finding out exactly when the Eemian occurred. Any geologists out there?) Anyhow, the point is to reach back in time, with use of ice core samples, and learn more about changes in Earth’s climate. The drilling is scheduled to finish next year, at which point over 2 km of ice core will have been obtained. Sounds like fun!