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Editorial: An Evolving Critter  

Mercury, January/February 2000 Table of Contents

©2000 Astronomical Society of the Pacific

The climb up the hill had been difficult...slip-sliding on wet stones, pulling along by gnarled tree-trunks, navigating sightless through the dense fog. But the small clearing at the top gave us a chance to even our breathing, wipe our brow, and suck down a long sip of water.

Then we spotted it. Just a glint at first, a lance of sunlight through the perpetual fog of this place, reflected off its semi-gloss hide. We crept closer to it, all the while trying to be quiet as we pulled net and harnesses from our satchels. As we neared the small creature, we noted even through the mist that this one was different. Roughly the same size as others we'd seen for several years, yet perhaps a little sleeker while at the same time more substantial. Despite the opinions of small bands roving the lands themselves, we had come upon an example of evolution: a critter that had changed and adapted several times in its short twenty-eight years of existence.

I slowly bent to touch it, and the four-color skin touched back. A new species of Mercury we had discovered. It was much unchanged from its ancestors—familiar departments and continuity in layout—but there were subtle differences.

I like astronomy as you might guess, but one thing that might surprise you is that it is the human element that makes the science so appealing to me. And I try to make Mercury reflect this awe I feel for us, for humans, as well: in large part because it is what you tell me by letters and email that you enjoy, and in small part because I cannot think of another way to craft a magazine such as this.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific, you see, is a motley bunch—research and amateur astronomers, elementary school teachers, preachers and priests, weekend skygazers, and more than a few authors, artists, and musicians. I seek to bring to this group a body of work that touches our different parts: the heart, the mind, the gut. You'll not be surprised to find in future issues: more science, as always spoken in the voices of the scientists; a smattering of poetry, for prose often fails us when we're touched by the cool splendor of the heavens; humor in several forms ("There once was a Flrem from Awlrem, who made his livin' a sellin' the Ylem..."); and quite a number of personal essays from you—from us—about the delight or terrors of outer space.

Astronomy really is a story, and we, as creatures of language, participate in this Great Narrative by interrogating the Universe and each other. Goodness, this is what makes us grab our honey or even a stranger and say, "Look at that sky!" The science is compelling because it makes us lessen our doubt and uncertainty about where we are and where we're heading, but it is the lump in our throats when spying on ringed Saturn for the first time or seeing a "falling star" that always returns us to the story of astronomy. And what a literary experience it is.

This experience is what I attempt to bring you in Mercury as we enter this year of three zeros. And with a Society now 110 years old and diligently striving to make the astronomy story accessible to ever increasing numbers of people, we cannot imagine not reading new chapters in this dynamic saga.

Never at rest, we tagged the small, sleek beastie, and released it once again into the wild of swirling mists and tangled undergrowth. Fortified with our discovery, yet wondering what else might lie ahead, we cinched our buckles and turned to face the slope again. Up we climbed, to the stars.

James C. White II, Ph.D., Editor


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