Why science?

November 27, 2017

This artist’s concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
Credits: NASA/W. Stenzel

Probably the biggest problem I struggle with as a space science writer is the “who cares” question. I’ll pitch a recent bit of research and my editor will remind me that my audience needs to know why this matters. It isn’t enough that something is super-freaking-awesome; I need to give a broader context.

Not surprisingly, I’m kind of a space nut. Plus there are some things that are just really cool. So, for instance, when I pitched a recent story to Scientific American about a pulsar masquerading as a black hole, I thought that by itself was kind of crazy. But my (wise) editor once again reminded me that I needed context.

It’s kind of like a recent blowup in the science writing community. A few weeks ago, one science writer admitted that she just didn’t care that astronomers had found the first evidence for a neutron star collision. I think she may have actually yawned. In her words,

I don’t understand physics or astronomy, and I don’t care about them.

What? How can anyone not care that two tiny (for-a-star) dense objects smashed into one another to produce tiny ripples in space that we can actually observe? How can people not care that a tiny rotating star is masquerading as a black hole? AAGGHH!

But there are plenty of people who really don’t care about space news, or even science news. They roll their eyes when I start talking about all the cool stuff New Horizons has seen, and think I’m nuts when I weep for Cassini. So I’m working to provide a broader context for the research I’m exploring, and hoping to find ways that the space science ‘trickles down’ to everyday folks.

Of course there’s the obvious things, like all of the innovations that have come from NASA’s space exploration. Or the cancer-fighting robot based on the mechanical arm (Canadarm2) on the International Space Station. But those tend to be more engineering than science.

There’s vague things, like inspiration. Countless researchers today were inspired by images captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, and decided to study astronomy because of it. There’s the pursuit of knowledge, which can only benefit humanity. But these tend to be somewhat nebulous and hard to pin down.

So tell me:

How does space science affect (and improve) your daily life?

(outside of your employment, if you are in the field) How does it improve the lives of those around you? Astronomy, exoplanets, planetary science – anything is game. I look forward to reading your comments


  • Hi, I read your stuff all the time as I’m a cosmo nut. To me it’s all fascinating, especially those 2 dark demons – Dark Energy and Dark Matter. It all started with that pie chart, you know the one.
    Once I realized that it was true. We only understand 5% of the universe. I got the bug. Actually it seemed too obvious to me – and you can bin this now with all the other crazies if you want – dark energy is what I now call cosmic gravity. Not pushing out like vacuum energy but just plain vanilla gravity pulling as usual. If you’re curious there’s some badly written stuff on my website. No creative mathematics just simple science.
    The universe has always been much bigger than we thought. 😎

  • Lindsay Forbes

    Hi, me again, but I promise not to plague you. I’m still playing with this Big Universe theory. It could explain a lot. I’m looking for tests and observables. One route would be through isotope decay. An isotope with a long half life and the decay stage of the sample suggests > 15b yes. A result like that would be ignored as an error but it would be proof that our universe is much older than we think. You never know, the universe has always been much older than we thought.

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