Why science?

November 27, 2017
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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

 

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