January/February 2000 Table of Contents
Astronomical Society of the Pacific
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
C. White II, Ph.D., Editor