Last week I attended my first science conference: The Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, TX. If you followed me on Twitter, then (for better or for worse) you also knew that I was one of about 40 people microblogging the conference. There was a lot of great science to cover and it was fun trying to distill that information into 140 character limit. I got to present a poster on the shock dike that I’ve been working on for over a year now and I received good feedback on the research. I also met a lot of great people, some of whom will be potential collaborators in research and outreach projects.
At the end of the conference I began to think about my favorite aspects and topics at LPSC. There’s no rhyme or reason to this list, but a few of these items will become blog posts once I sort through all my tweets and notes and can write something coherent.
Conferences are not restful– I wasn’t expecting a vacation time, but nor was I expecting to consume the same amount of coffee as I would during finals. Between microblogging and networking, there wasn’t much downtime. At the end of the conference, I was pretty beat.
Scientists are real people– This may seem like a silly thing to say, but the outside world thinks we’re either socially inept like those in the Big Bang Theory or we’re protected by the walls of the Ivory Tower. True, some scientists don’t have the best social skills, but most that I met are great to hang out with, play games, and enjoy a beer or two. And the fragility of the Ivory Tower has never been more apparent until Sequestration hit. The funding cuts meant that many scientist couldn’t attend LPSC and present their research, collaborate with their peers, and participate in the free flow of information. More importantly, some are concerned about job security.
One of many favorite tweets from the conference:
Pre-solar CAI’s– I nearly choked when I heard this in a presolar grains session. A CAI is a calcium aluminium rich inclusion. These things are composed of refractory elements, or elements that stay solid at very high temperatures. They are the oldest things in the solar system and condensed out of the solar nebula before the planet making process took off. Presolar indicates something that formed before our solar system. So, finding a probable presolar CAI is like sampling the proto nebula of another solar system. Pretty neat!
The MESSENGER mission at Mercury is churning out some of the best science in NASA- I’m of the opinion that the MESSENGER mission is kind of the underdog of the NASA missions. Cassini and anything Mars related get a lot of much deserved attention, but the people working on MESSENGER deserve accolades, as well. The lack of attention isn’t their fault- they have a fantastic website, but it’s hard to compete with the rings of Saturn and a laser shooting robot searching for past clues of life.
Mercurian meteorites– Few topics are as contentious as this one. A researcher from University of Washington claimed to *possibly* have a meteorite from the innermost planet, or at the very least, from a very similar planetesimal. Could we have a few Mercurian meteorites in our collection? Possibly. But current spectroscopic data from Mercury don’t align with any known meteorites. Another problem: crystallization age was revealed to be ~4.3 billion years old. This is too old to come from Mercury, but could possibly come from another asteroidal source.
The HED/4 Vesta debate– Another contentious topic in the meteoritics field. The HED’s are a group of meteorites that likely came from asteroid 4 Vesta. Spectral reflectance from the asteroid matches that of this suite of meteorites. However, a few within the meteoritics world will tell you that the science is wrong and one group of these meteorites, diogenites, may have come from two parent bodies. This would eliminate 4 Vesta from being the HED parent body. This is a fairly heretical stance because the link between HED’s and 4 Vesta is fairly well established, but still provides for some solid conference entertainment.
Platinum anomaly that may reignite the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis– The idea that the Younger Dryas extinction was caused by an asteroid impact has been a dead issue for the meteoritics community for some time now. The evidence wasn’t really there to support the hypothesis until a researcher found platinum anomalies in ice cores from Greenland. Now, he didn’t claim that it came from an impact, but the presented evidence could make things interesting for those on the paleoecology side of this issue.
Outreach should be embraced. Get the science to the people!- Science funding is at a dangerous crossroads in the US. Either we show the public why our research is relevant and drum up support or we watch our grants dry up and our science with it. Our research is publicly funded and we have an obligation to share it with the taxpayer and get them involved.
Finally, never admit to not knowing who Steve Squyres is during a game of Cards Against Humanity, the Mars edition. I learned this the hard way and I will forever be grateful to those who didn’t toss me out of the game in spite of my ignorance.