Chondrule Conference: What Makes Your Research News (Part I)

This slice of the Allende meteorite bears strong resemblance to ALMA’s image of HL Tau (Wikipedia commons)


Another week, another conference. This week, I’m headed to Vancouver, Canada for the Chondrules as Astrophysical Objects workshop. But this conference has a different twist—I’m not only listening, I’m also speaking. Thanks to an invite from Aaron Boley, I’ll wrap up the conference by talking about what makes a particular piece of research newsworthy.

That seems like a simple question, but it’s actually not. Although I go through these calculations multiple times in a week, it’s a bit more abstract. It’s like trying to define what makes a particular painting art, or what makes a landscape beautiful. It varies for different people and publications.

Probably the easiest attribute to pick out is what I call the “wow factor” – a story that makes you sit up and take notice. In early 2015, Eric Mamajek and Matt Kenworthy announced the discovery of a ‘super Saturn,’ an exoplanet with rings 200 times the size of our infamous solar system world. Wow. Or observing the features on Pluto for the first time, especially its gorgeous ‘heart’. Wow.

‘First’ is another important word. The first time a planet was observed outside the solar system or the first discovery for evidence of water on Mars were clearly newsworthy. But so were the first batch of Kepler’s exoplanets, or the first detection of gravitational waves. The first multiply imaged supernova was another clear choice, especially since a prediction could be made about an upcoming appearance (leading to the first precisely predicted supernova).

Validating theories with observation is also pretty key. I wrote about David Nesvorny’s ejected gas giant after Kuiper Belt observations seemed to confirm it. Refining theories, such as the Late Heavy Bombardment and the source of Earth’s water, also make the press. I wrote up a great piece last month about how the age of Saturn’s moons may help solve some of the mystery around its rings.

And then there’s just the weird or out-there stories. The idea that many hot Jupiters could be varying shades of pink certainly caused a stir. While aurora grace the skies around Earth’s northern and southern poles, the idea that they could be not only spotted on Jupiter’s moon Io but also used to constrain the volcanic world’s interior was pretty cool.

Of course, most of what I’ve listed relates to what makes a piece of research interested for a news writeup. Next week, I’ll chat a bit about features, a different kind of beast.

What sort of papers have you seen published lately that haven’t gotten the press you think they should have?


Follow the Chondrules as Astrophysical Objects conference on Twitter at #astrochon2017

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