EDIT Jan 11: Alan Treiman commented that he was the first to compose an LPSC haiku, in 2001; it's added below. I've also added several other authors' poetry.
Today was a high-stress day for many in the world of planetary geology: the deadline for submission of abstracts for the 2012 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). This deadline is always in early January, just a bit too soon after the holidays. For most large science conferences, abstracts can be hammered out in very little time: a title, a list of authors, and a few-sentence promise to talk about topics A, B, and C is enough. But LPSC abstracts are quite different. They are two pages of formatted text with references and illustrations -- basically, mini-papers -- and they generally cannot be banged out of a keyboard in a few minutes before a deadline.
A few virtuous sorts no doubt submitted theirs before the end of 2011, but for most people, it's been a mad rush to complete the work today. So I am sure there are quite a few tired geologists with sore fingers downing glad draughts of their beverages of choice this evening, happy that the ordeal of writing and submitting (or hounding their students to write and submit, or hounding their advisors to PLEASE review because the DEADLINE is in AN HOUR, for crying out loud!) abstracts is over. To all of you lunar and planetary geologists: cheers!
I was reminded of the deadline and also of a curious LPSC tradition this morning by a Tweet from asteroid astronomer Andy Rivkin:
#1537 CV chondrites show / spectra like the target of / MarcoPolo-R
To an LPSC alum, the "#1537" is clearly an LPSC abstract number. As for the rest: it's a haiku. Why would Andy be summarizing his abstract in haiku form?
The answer goes back to at least 2002 and quite likely before, but it'll take a little explaining. To a scientist, an "abstract" is a summary of a work of research -- it's the short version, the main points, the executive summary. But an LPSC "abstract" is a two-page paper with no summary. It can be a bit hard to get the gist of a work of research by scanning the whole article, yet the talk titles are often not detailed enough. At some point, around the time that electronic distribution of LPSC abstracts to conference attendees became the norm, the Lunar and Planetary Institute (which hosts LPSC) began to require submissions of short abstracts of the abstracts being submitted. However useful these short versions are, it also seems kind of silly to have to write an abstract of an abstract.
The silliness inspired a meme of writing short versions of LPSC abstracts in haiku form. It's spread to some other conferences, too. On its surface it's a silly idea and perhaps serves mostly as a coping mechanism for the stress of completing the LPSC abstract submission process. But there's an art to capturing the essence of one's consuming work in only seventeen syllables.
Although he's not sure if he was the first, or how it began, Ralph Lorenz (a scientist who's published papers on everything from Titan's dunes to the flight dynamics of Frisbees) and his coauthors have certainly been the most prolific composers of LPSC abstract haiku. These include such gems as:
Titan's surface forged
Not to be outdone by her spouse, Elizabeth Turtle (Titan, Moon, and Mars planetary surface process geologist) has composed a few, including possibly my favorite:
And Andy Rivkin, who I mentioned at the top of this article, got into the act last year:
I hunted through the abstract volumes for haiku by these three authors and came up with the following list. However, I know that others have imitated the meme. I invite people to comment or send me an email pointing to other abstract haiku, and I'll add them here!
Treiman and Thompson, 2001 (LPSC #1104): "The ALTA II Spectrometer: A Tool for Teaching About Light and Remote Sensing"
Bright leaves on dark sky / Beyond the brilliant rainbow / Vision fades away.
Lorenz et al., 2002 (LPSC #1165): "Tectonic Titan: Landscape Energetics and the Thermodynamic Efficiency of Mantle Convection"
Titan's surface forged, not by blows but by churning. Carnot tells us why.
Lorenz., 2003 (LPSC #1248): "Thermodynamics with a Pinch of Salt : Martian Landscape Energetics"
Melting ice on Mars / Carries salt to northern seas / Needs much energy
Lorenz et al., 2005 (LPSC #1682): "Titan's Elusive Lakes? Properties and Context of Dark Spots in Cassini TA Radar Data"
RADAR shows dark spots; σ0 seems like asphalt. Titan's ethane lakes?
Turtle et al., 2005 (LPSC #1990): "Liquid Hydrocarbons on Titan's Surface? How Cassini ISS Observations Fit into the Story (So Far)"
Atmosphere desires; radar, but not eyes, implies; hydrocarbon seas
Lorenz et al., 2006 (LPSC #1249): "RADAR Imaging of Giant Longitudinal Dunes: Namib Desert (Earth) and the Belet Sand Sea (Titan)"
Titan's dark regions. Long dunes, like Zen rock garden. Seas of sand, not oil.
Lorenz, 2007 (LPSC #1326): "Huygens at Titan: A Summary of Science Results from Engineering Measurements"
Huygens Probe was there; felt turbulence and soft ground; small sensors tell us.
Lorenz et al., 2007 (LPSC #1329): "Titan's Shape, Radius and Landscape from Cassini Radar Altimetry"
Titan: Flat, with hills; radar profiles new landscape: secrets from echoes
Lorenz et al., 2009 (LPSC #1990): "Ontario Lacus: Brilliant Observations of a Titan Lake by the Cassini Radar Altimeter"
Rad altimetry, Ontario, truly flat, Glints like a mirror.
Mitchell et al., 2009 (LPSC #1966): "A Global Subsurface Alkanofer System on Titan?"
Hydrocarbon sea, under Titan's icy wastes flows from pole to pole
Neish et al., 2009 (LPSC #1071): "Out of Africa: Radarclinometry of the Sand Seas of Namibia and Titan"
Far from the Namib; Dunes of organic solids; Mimic quartz cousins
Cohen et al., 2010 (LPSC #1533): "Robotic Lunar Landers for Science and Exploration"
Soaring toward the Moon / robotic landers will seed / cloudbursts of knowledge.
Cohen et al., 2011 (LPSC #2201): "Further Development of Small Robotic Landers for Planetary Missions"
Touching the surface / Lander designs grant access / To dazzling worlds.
Lorenz, 2011 (LPSC #1575): " A Long-Duration Stand-Alone Venus Lander Mission: Scientific and Mission Design Considerations "
Feel Venus' heartbeat / Try fifty days, or two hundred / Sun, Earth rise and set.
Neish and Lorenz, 2011 (LPSC #1412): "Titan's Global Crater Population: A New Assessment"
Titan's cold surface / Short on craters, big and small / A youthful planet
Rivkin et al., 2011 (LPSC #1439): "Observations of 21 Lutetia in the 2-4 µm Region with the NASA IRTF"
Lutetia's surface / Rosetta looked at its north / We looked to the south.
Turtle et al., 2011 (LPSC #1459): "Seasonal Changes in Titan's Meteorology Bring Rain to Low Latitudes"
Titan's equinox / Brings equatorial clouds / Rain amid the dunes
Heavy bombardment / stoked the hearth of the goddess / now frozen in time. (#1265)
How to date a rock? / Use potassium-argon / or bring it flowers. (#1267)
Lorenz: Neat gadget to gauge / Heat, moisture and momentum, / Sailing Ligeia
Turtle: After springtime rain, / Titan's weather's quiet as / northern summer looms.
Lorenz AND Turtle: Titan's methane rains / Days every century / Perhaps TiME will tell
Rivkin: CV chondrites show / spectra like the target of / MarcoPolo-R