The White House has proposed that $30 million of NASA’s $18.5 billion budget be set aside “for Planetary Science including formulation of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.” According to reports, NASA has been flirting with sending a probe called the Europa Clipper to explore the extremely deep oceans under its icy shell. NASA also hopes that the probe will uncover signs of multicellular life.
“For the first time in the history of humanity, we have the tools and technology and capability to potentially answer this question. And we know where to go to find it.”
– Kevin Hand, NASA astrobiologist
We’ve discovered life on this planet in the harshest of environmental conditions (hydrothermal vents on ocean floors), so I wouldn’t be surprised if NASA found something lurking in those frigid depths. And the term “multicellular” is so broad that my imagination swirls with wild possibilities.
What do you think we might find?
Or, do you think it’s a waste of money?
HOW TO WIN A SPACE RACE
by Kurt MacPhearson
the spacetime curve:
swing event horizons
and shrink years to months as Einstein
Originally appeared in Star*Line 32.1
The New Horizons space probe, launched in 2006, has now come close enough Pluto to start snapping pictures of the dwarf planet. According to Mike Buckley, of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, “with the spacecraft still approximately 130 million miles from Pluto, the pictures will be distant.”
From 130 million miles, Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, will appear as two bright dots in the blackness of space. It might not seem like much at first, but as the probe approaches for its six-month study, we will receive some truly spectacular images.
Yesterday I posted a scifaiku that reflects upon the relationship between planet Jupiter and Galilean moon, Europa. The following poem explores that relationship much further. It’s a combination of astronomy and mythology, an interplay about which I wrote in an earlier post. For this poem, I drew from “The Rape of Europa.”
Two paintings follow the poem, by Rembrandt and Titian respectively. I think that these paintings show that no matter how far from Earth the human race travels, our myths and legends will always be with us.
EUROPA’S STOIC STANCE
by Kurt MacPhearson
Vulcan forged your golden basket,
chased with figures depicting Io’s fate,
yet you still chose to befriend that bull
merely because its low contained more melody
than a lyre ever produced.
Oh, Europa, such creatures are never docile.
It’s contrary to their nature.
Then again, we weren’t there to stop you
when that bull bent its back.
You aren’t the first to be deceived
by Jupiter’s bright and swirling charms.
The honeymoon was awesome; the starry tour quite fun;
though isn’t it strange how quickly
the euphoria of new love can fade?
He promised children. He promised Crete.
But all he gave were icy rings to seal your fate.
Hadn’t made a single revolution before learning
you shared a resonant relationship
with Ganymede, and poor Io, who Jupiter
hides like a mistress opposite you.
And now, it seems there’s no escape,
especially since Jupiter rarely turns aside
his bloody eye.
It’s not fair, what he puts you through.
But you hide it so well.
Those tears, beneath an icy veneer,
when he rages with his belts.
Which is why we forgive your cryovolcanic tantrums
when the stress of his pull becomes too much.
Such a stance defines a true hero’s composition,
for even though he won’t relinquish
his jealous grip upon your heavenly body
we know he can never break
your iron core.
Originally appeared in Star*Line 34.4
JACK AND THE JOVIAN GIANT
by Kurt MacPhearson
you intergalactic farmer
to the tune
of celestial harp strings
that Jovian Giant
swinging satellite clubs
in your afterburner trails–
fee and fie
a deep core of molten fum
with an icy belt
and swirling liver spots
of caustic misanthropy–
to his cloud-shrouded castle
desperate corporate climber
let go your dream
of that elusive goose
no gold here
About a year after I started writing speculative poetry I submitted a batch of poems to Star*Line, the Journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). I was particularly proud of one called “Red Blinky Thing,” which focused on a dead planet that had been fitted with a blinking red beacon. I had a few poems published already, but nothing I’d written before could compare to the stunning imagery and profound message I’d stuffed into that poem. In less than a week, however, then editor Marge Simon responded with what was the most effective rejection I’d ever received.
“…overkill. See too much of this. Try me with the ‘inner space’ in your head.”
At first, I struggled with her statement. Why would I be searching inside my head, when I’m trying to write about outer space? The only thing that sort of searching would accomplish would be to dredge up all the crap in my life that I didn’t want to think about. I didn’t want self-examination. That’s what therapy is for!
What I wanted out of speculative poetry was freedom. I wanted to explore places I’d never been, and perhaps make up a few things along the way like a 16th Century cartographer who scrawls “Here there be dragons!” on an uncharted region just to toy with the minds of his peers. Inner space? Please. Marge Simon obviously didn’t have a clue about speculative poetry.
Click here if you’d like to see how wrong I was.
So I bit my tongue, closed my eyes, and proceeded to try it her way. But ever so cautious. I could bump into strange things in the dank recesses of my mind. Hell, I might not even find my way back. It may sound a bit facetious, but that was how I felt stepping into that inner space. And those dark thoughts led me to black holes.
a pin-prick point
lodged in the heart
a cosmic eraser
as the soul rides
originally appeared in Star*Line 28.3
I challenge all who read this entry to take Marge Simon’s advice. Search that inner space in your head and explore places you’ve never been, see things you thought you’d never see, and, in the speculative spirt, make up a few things along the way.
One of my favorite things about speculative poetry is the interplay between astronomy and mythology. We see it throughout the cosmos: moons, planets, stars, galaxies… even the asteroids that have caused us such worry over the last few decades have names derived from mythology. With these names, it’s natural (for me, at least) to imagine these celestial bodies with the background and personality of their namesakes.
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology recognize the names of the major players—Jupiter (Zeus), Mars, (Ares), Neptune (Poseidon), Venus (Aphrodite)—but most would raise the proverbial questioning eyebrow at the mention of lesser characters such as Ganymede, Deimos, and Charon, let alone the significance they, as moons, hold to the planets they orbit. I too had this lack of knowledge, but as I began to research the astronomical bodies and the mythological characters after which they’re named, the imagery unfurled like a tapestry depicting the Trojan War as if fought in space.
Similar to “Io’s Reality Check,” the following poem tells the story of how I imagined Callisto may have ended up orbiting Jupiter as one of the Galilean moons. Callisto was a minor character, best known for being turned into a bear by Juno for having an affair with Jupiter.
CALLISTO’S MURKY TALE
by Kurt MacPhearson
Your story began the moment
the Great Pretender lured you
from Diana’s train; bore him Arcus,
a strapping Greek lad, but with him
came Juno’s ire, which regardless
of her husband’s charms, got you
just what you deserved: transformation
into a bear, and a son dead-set
on spearing you
Your tragedy would have ended
at the point of a thrust
if Jupiter hadn’t stepped in
and flung you both to hang
like dippers in our northern sky,
so forgive us if your tale seems murky,
finding you the outmost Galilean —
a pitted bronze shell of your former self
with an icy-tear patina suggesting
your troubled history — yet no sign
of your wayward son
Some dare say you earned this fate
for lack of discerning core, yet few
resist godly charms; take solace
that your aren’t alone: Europa
knows how to handle stress,
Ganymede’s scarred shoulders
remain strong, and with stealthy plumes
of SO2, Io lags to warn
of a scornful wife’s attack
Though it may appear we’re only
concerned with crater formation
and how your hidden seas
generate a magnetosphere,
the truth is that we have many eyes:
the heavens may be a forest in which
even legends get lost, but if
we ever develop tools with which
to penetrate myth, we’ll certainly do
all that we’re able to reunite you
with your long-lost cub
Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares #96