Space poetry
Sometimes, it’s good to take a break from science and write a poem. Credit: bennyb/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Way back in 2001, Allan Treiman decided to write a haiku.

Treiman was preparing an abstract for the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) about an instrument called the Alta II Spectrometer, which he and his colleagues thought could help students learn about light and remote sensing.

“I cannot remember what it was that inspired me to make a haiku,” Treiman, a planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, told Eos. It was “one of those random thoughts I assume most people get.”

Maybe it was to make his abstract pop out from the hundreds presented at LPSC, or maybe it was just for fun. Whatever his inspiration, he put fingers to keyboard. Out popped the very first LPSC haiku:

Bright leaves on dark sky
Beyond the brilliant rainbow
Vision fades away

A haiku is a traditional Japanese poem formed from 17 syllables and split up into three lines. The first line consists of five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and then the third line contains the final five syllables.

The LPSC program is chock-full of haiku—there’s even a best-in-show contest this year.

Nowadays, the LPSC program is chock-full of such poems—there’s even a best-in-show contest this year—but that wasn’t always the case. After Treiman’s haiku in 2001, the tradition didn’t catch on for a few years. In 2002 and 2003, there were only three haiku. In 2011, there were 10. After that, the tradition started to catch on, with 55 in 2014, 195 in 2016, and this year a whopping 221 haiku.

“I think of the haiku to be a sneak-peek, like a movie teaser, but not the whole trailer” for a presentation, said Caitlin Ahrens, a Ph.D. student at the University of Arkansas’s Center for Space and Planetary Sciences. “It puts in perspective how to explain your research using less words.”

This year, Ahrens wrote two haiku, both about research on different aspects of Pluto:

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this image of Pluto shortly after its close approach on 14 July 2015. You can see Pluto’s vast icy mountains and flat ice plains extending into the horizon. The scene is 380 kilometers across. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto glacier slides
Rippling from slow collision
It’s a young feature

Carbon monoxide
Does it mix well with others?
Various changes

To celebrate this delightful tradition, we’ve sifted through this year’s abstracts from LPSC, which will be held in The Woodlands, Texas, from 19 to 24 March. Below are some our favorites, paired with their abstract titles. If we missed any particularly spectacular ones, please let us know in the comments!

High-Resolution Topography of Pluto and Charon: Getting Down to Details

Pluto surface pitted
Nitrogen ice sheet deep or flat?
Vigorous and sublime.

By P. Schenk et al.

The Role of Tides in Forming the Tiger Stripe Fractures on Enceladus

Enceladus fails
Are tides the culprit, we ask
Maybe in thin ice.

By A. R. Rhoden et al.

Microbial Ecology of the Johnson Space Center Meteorite Curation Lab and Associated Infrastructure

Clean is not sterile
Fungi are overlooked
Life uh finds a way

By A. B. Regberg et al.

Discovery of Alunite in Candidate ExoMars Landing Site, Mawrth Vallis: Evidence for Localized Evaporative Environments

Salty, localized
Mobilized aluminum
Alunite is found

By A. M. Sessa et al.

Noachian Intercrater Plains Bedrock Units Show Variable Olivine Enrichment

THEMIS spectra show
Olivine enrichments might
Not be volcanic

By J. C. Cowart and A. D. Rogers

Ice Caps Under Sand Caps Under an Ice Cap: Revealing a Record of Climate Change on Mars with SHARAD

Polar cap-ception:
Ice under sand under ice
Radar reveals it

By S. Nerozzi and J. W. Holt

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted some wrinkles on Mars’s surface that scientists think formed from thrust faulting. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Fault Rock Evolution of Large Thrust Systems on Mars

As thrusts on Mars grow
And offset accumulates
Wear on faults makes gouge

By Christian Klimczak et al.

Mapping Bennu with Sunlight and Lasers: The SPCOLA Methods

Two instrument suites
Two topographic techniques
Two ways to combine

By J. H. Roberts et al.

Ceres: Jawbreaker or Creamy Nougat Center?

Deep within Ceres
Mysteries still confound us
Is it mud or ice?

By S. D. King et al.

Convective Instability in Horizontal Decompaction Channels Inside Planetary Lithospheres

Melt gets stuck going up
Lithosphere porous layer
Convection onset

By J. Schools et al.

Thermal Moonquakes: Implications for Surface Properties

Sunrise and sunset
Cracking, creaking, and rumbling
The Moon never rests

By R. C. Weber et al.

Mars 2020 Cache Curation Protocol: Developing a Mars Regolith Analogue

Pick Mars regolith
Does it matter where we go?
Magic mixing starts

By L. C. Welzenbach et al.

Spectral Analysis of Lunar Cinder Cones in the Marius Hills Volcanic Complex

Glassy cinder cones
They can take three shapes or hide
Seeking spectrally

By M. J. McBride et al

Topographic Degradation by Impact Cratering on Airless Bodies Is Dominated by Diffusive Erosion from Distal Ejecta

Gentle lunar seas
Far away the ground is struck
Craters melt away

By D. A. Minton et al.

We saved our favorite for last. After all, we’re just specks of dust tumbling in turbulent flow from one place in time to the next…

The Importance of Sand for Understanding Dune Processes and Surface Conditions of Titan

A handful of sand
Brought by wind from close and far
The world in a dune

By Jani Radebaugh et al.

—JoAnna Wendel (@JoAnnaScience), Staff Writer


Wendel, J. (2018), Lunar and planetary science inspires out-of-this-world poetry, Eos, 99, Published on 19 March 2018.

Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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