WRITING ABOUT SCIENCE

Whether it’s a feature on the risks of commodity chemicals due to genetic variability, an infographic showing how minerals lock positions with Earth’s magnetic field, or a news story on a volcano expedition, I cover a lot of ground. I love the challenge of exploring new science and influencing people’s understanding of it.

Features

The Little Furnace That Could: Using Space to Improve Radiation Detection

Credit: UPWARD

Everything around you emits radiation—from the bananas in your kitchen, to cosmic rays from space, to the piece of paper (or screen) from which you are reading this sentence. Some of these types of radiation are so insignificant that they are harmless. But some can be dangerous. So, how can we better distinguish and detect different types of radiation? One way is to improve the semiconductor and scintillator crystals used as radiation detectors.


Growing Green on the Red Planet

Credit: Thom Glick, ACS ChemMatters

In The Martian, a science fiction book a Hollywood movie blockbuster, Mark Watney is stranded on Mars after his fellow NASA astronauts think he died and left the Red Planet without him. His improvisation of a Martian potato farm and water making from scratch sounds more fiction than science. But research suggests that some soils on Mars could be used to grow plants.


Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: A Swirling Mystery

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The largest and most powerful hurricanes ever recorded on Earth spanned over 1,000 miles across with winds gusting up to around 200 mph. That’s wide enough to stretch across nearly all U.S. states east of Texas. But even that kind of storm is dwarfed by the Great Red Spot, a gigantic storm in Jupiter. There, gigantic means twice as wide as Earth. Today, scientists know the Great Red Spot is there and it’s been there for a while, but they still struggle to learn what causes its swirl of reddish hues.


Far Out There: The Hunt for the Mysterious Planet X

Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa, Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism

Scott Sheppard hunts for icy comets and other small bodies at the fringe of the Solar System, beyond the circumstellar disc covering the space known as the Kuiper Belt just beyond Neptune and Pluto. Far, dark, and icy, the Kuiper Belt starts at about 40 Astronomical Units (or 40 times the Sun-Earth distance). That’s a staggering 4 billion miles from the Sun, which means light takes around 5 hours to get there.


2015 State of the Climate: Carbon Dioxide

Credit: NOAA Climate.gov

Using measurements taken worldwide, scientists estimated that 2015’s global average carbon dioxide concentration was 399.4 parts per million (ppm), a new record high. At Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawai’i, where atmospheric carbon dioxide has been recorded longer than anywhere else in the world, the annual average carbon dioxide concentration was 400.8—also a new record, and a new milestone.


2015 State of the Climate: Ocean heat storage

Credit: NOAA Climate.gov

Ocean heat storage has increased substantially since 1993, hitting a record high in 2015, according to the State of the Climate in 2015report. Ocean warming accounts for over 90% of the warming in Earth’s climate system.


2015 State of the Climate: Sea Level

Credit: NOAA Climate.gov

The global mean sea level in 2015 was approximately 7 centimeters (2.7 inches) above the 1993 average, making it the highest observed since the satellite altimeter record began in 1993, according to the State of the Climate in 2015 report. Regional variations highlighted the short-term influence of climate phenomena like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the largest El Niño event since 1997/98.


NASA Goddard Technology Helps Fight Forest Pests

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Northeastern forests in the United States cover more than 165 million acres, an area almost as big as Texas. Soon, millions of pine and ash trees in those forests could be wiped out, thanks in part to two types of voracious insects—each smaller than a penny. A joint operation using technology developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will help the U.S. Forest Service understand the impacts of these pests on northeastern trees.


Clouds and Sea Ice: What Satellites Show About Arctic Climate Change

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

It is not news that Earth has been warming rapidly over the last 100 years as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. But not all warming has been happening equally rapidly everywhere. Temperatures in the Arctic, for example, are rising much faster than the rest of the planet. Patrick Taylor, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, says that one of the main factors for the Arctic’s rapid warming is how clouds interact with frozen seawater, known as sea ice.


Open for Discussion: Surviving on Mars

Credit: NASA Langley Research Center

NASA and other aerospace corporations are working to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. Beyond just exploring Mars, the ultimate goal is to stay there for months. Although scientists and engineers are trying to make space travel relatively fast, a one-way trip to Mars would take about 8 months. But when astronauts arrive, living on the Red Planet could be harder than the trip itself. So, what are some things the first astronauts should prepare for?


NASA Researchers Improve Hazardous Weather Forecasts

Credit: The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry field campaign

Forecasts play key roles in many people’s lives, from planning picnics at the park, to cancelling flights and avoiding weather-related tragedies. Because weather can be a life-or-death matter, researchers work hard to develop new technology and ways to provide earlier and more accurate forecasts. Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, are combining satellite images with novel algorithms to monitor hazardous thunderstorms.


Putting With Spacelike Precision: Former Goddard Physicist Finds a Second Career in Golf

Credit: Courtesy Pelz Golf

Millions of golf enthusiasts worldwide tuned in to watch Zach Johnson conquer the famed Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland on his way to victory in the 2015 British Open. That included former Goddard physicist Dave Pelz, a scientist-turned-golf instructor whose teachings were applied by many players in the tournament. Pelz’s unique scientific approach to golf has helped professional golfers worldwide.


Working to Create Healthier Environments

No one knows for sure, but experts estimate there are between a couple of thousand and a couple of tens of thousands of commodity chemicals in the environment. These chemicals satisfy global markets. They are mass produced to manufacture a myriad of end-use products, such as clothes, laundry detergents, and plastics. Commodity chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment, and exposures to some of them have clear effects on human health.


Dr. Ken Muneoka: A Pioneer of Regenerative Medicine

In the summer of 1978, graduate student Ken Muneoka attended a popular course on embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The course, taught by Muneoka’s future mentor, marked a crucial shift in his academic career. Almost four decades have passed since Muneoka attended that course, which transformed the way he thought about biology. Today he is an internationally recognized biologist, renowned for findings that have revolutionized the fields of mammalian limb regeneration and wound healing.

Q&As

Postdoc Spotlight: Looking at Planetary System Evolution with Meredith MacGregor


Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa, Carnegie DTM with photo courtesy Meredith MacGregor.

Gas, dust, and small objects. In the beginning, it’s a whole lot of nothing. After these materials collide and combine to eventually make planets, the material that’s left behind forms debris rings around the mature planetary systems. Astronomers call these rings circumstellar disks.

Postdoc Spotlight: Astrochemist Anaïs Bardyn

Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa, Carnegie DTM

Comets provide some of the best samples to study how the Solar System formed and evolved 4.5 billion years ago. But until recently, few space missions had provided data on cometary particles. Anaïs Bardyn, who used the Rosetta’s COSIMA instrument during her doctoral research, helped provide the very first observations of the chemical composition of comet 67P in late 2017.

What Did We Learn from the Neutron-Star Collision Discovery?

Credit: Robin Dienel for Carnegie Institution for Science

Over 100 million years ago, two of the smallest and densest types of stars (known as neutron stars) crashed in a nearby galaxy. Astronomers at the Carnegie Observatories observed that stellar collision on August 17, 2017 using the Swope telescope at Las Campanas Observatory. But until recently, no one had ever been able to get a glimpse of an event like this.


Postdoc Spotlight: Geochemist Jonathan Tucker

Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa, Carnegie DTM

There are nearly 3,700 confirmed exoplanets out there, with some 900 of those being terrestrial worlds. But as far as we know, none of them have that pleasant, habitable, and gentle environment that we can call home. How the Earth evolved to offer the right conditions for human life is a question astronomers devote lifetimes to explore. For Jonathan Tucker, a postdoc in the geochemistry group at Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM), that question might well be answered from a geological standpoint.


Planet Hunter and Governor Candidate: DTM Alumna Maggie Turnbull

Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa, Carnegie DTM. Picture courtesy Maggie Turnbull.

Some people might call Maggie Turnbull the person who knows most about habitable stellar systems. And she arguably is, thanks in part to her development of a database that includes over 1 million stars which could potentially support habitable exoplanets. In a few months, as Turnbull continues to lead cutting-edge planet hunting research with NASA, people in Wisconsin might also call her governor.


The First Interstellar Asteroid Ever Spotted

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

It came. It saw. It dazzled. The first interstellar object ever spotted with a telescope is a fast-spinning, cigar-shaped asteroid that buzzed into the Solar System, passing close to the Sun on September 2017. Asteroid ‘Oumuamua is now on its way out of the Solar System. As it dashes away from us, DTM cosmochemist and meteoriticist Conel Alexander shares his reactions and explains the implications of this interstellar visit.

The Milky Way As You’ve Never Seen It 

Humans have created maps since ancient times as a way of better understanding the places in which we live. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission did just that—only in a much larger scale—with the release of the most comprehensive star catalogue of our Galaxy, an unprecedented dataset made available to astronomers worldwide on April 25, 2018. Tri Astraatmadja, who was a collaborating member with the Gaia mission prior to joining DTM’s astronomy group, discusses the importance of this rich map of the Milky Way.

Infographics

News & Institutional

NOAA Climate Program Office 2016 Annual Report

At NOAA’s Climate Program Office, I managed the production of briefing sheets and reports for audiences including congressional members, scientists, and the general public.

DTM Takes to Stromboli for Ambitious Volcanology Research

Credit: Diana Roman, Carneige DTM

DTM went without volcanologists for two weeks in mid May 2018, as the volcanology team traveled to Stromboli Volcano in Italy for an ambitious field experiment that combines infrasound, seismicity, gravity, and gas emission data to better understand shallow volcanic explosions.

Climate Scientist Receives Peer Award in Earth Science

Credit: Debora McCallum, NASA Goddard

Dr. Claire L. Parkinson, Climate Change Senior Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, received the 2015 William Nordberg Memorial Award in Earth Science on June 10.

Top High School STEM Students Visit Carnegie BBR Campus

Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa, Carnegie DTM

Some of the nation’s top high school students interested in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) visited the Carnegie Institution for Science Broad Branch Road (BBR) Campus on February 14 for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) and Geophysical Laboratory (GL) research facilities.

Starry Sky Austin: Sparking Interest in Guatemala

Credit: Amy Jackson, Starry Sky Austin

Children from La Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta in Finca La Merced, Guatemala, recently got new toys to play with: two Orion FunScope Astro Dazzle 4.5’’ telescopes. They also got textbooks and educational materials to learn about the stars they will see with their new toys.

A Radio Show to Connect Haiti and the Universe

Credit: Rulx Narcisse, Haitian Astronomical Society

The Haitian Astronomical Society will soon be hosting live radio programs to teach Haitians about astronomy and update them on recent discoveries.

GAM in the Philippines: Showing the Beauty of the Universe

Credit: Astronomical League of the Philippines, Inc.

Last year, the Astronomical League of the Philippines, Inc. was highly involved in Global Astronomy Month. Their activities included events to raise awareness about light pollution, as well as solar observations and stargazing events. This year, they have similar plans.