An astronomers’ meeting turns into a haiku competition

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IN 2001 Allan Treiman, a researcher at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, in Houston, was working on the one-sentence summary that the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) requires of presenting authors when inspiration struck. To communicate the essence of a paper entitled “The ALTA II Spectrometer: a Tool for Teaching About Light and Remote Sensing”, he wrote down:

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

The next year Ralph Lorenz, another planetary scientist, followed his lead, summarising “Tectonic Titan: Landscape Energetics and the Thermodynamic Efficiency of Mantle Convection” thus:

Titan’s surface forged,
not by blows but by churning.
Carnot tells us why

And thus was a tradition born. The astronomical followers of Basho have multiplied until, this year, more than 200 of the papers at LPSC have such haiku summaries. Some are purely descriptive:

Remote imaging
Of halite habitats in
Dry Atacama

Some impart lessons:

Counting craters is
Easier when you use a

Others ask questions both scientific…

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

…and ethical:

Absence of voices
Lost paths, lost thoughts, lost ideas
Who we are missing?

And some go beyond the fun of an in-joke or the satisfaction of word play to evoke a sense of change and cycles very fitting to the form and the orbiting subject matter, as in Renee Weber’s summation of “Thermal Moonquakes: Implications for Surface Properties”:

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

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