Thursday, June 25, 2009


Today I finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trillogy (+1 for the short story collection) for the second time. Robinson's work has always had an interesting element of the objective for me; it's a product of the amount of research that goes into his books. At times, this can make him a hard author to read, but there are dividends to be paid to a patient audience. I know that it took me several tries to get into Antarctica, but it was well worth it in the end. But even in a work so well plotted, with so much hard science and engineering for a background, it was a completely different experience for me this time around.

You see, when I first read the books, I was involved with my udergraduate work. At the time I was studying to be an engineer, but I'd always had an idle interest in science fiction since I was young. In fact, I might have gone straight into astronomy, had it not been for the frustration I had experienced with a certain telescope in my youth. Since then, the idea of space travel always seemed a bit disconnected from reality for me. The type of thing you might daydream about, but not something you would actually do as a career.

But these books showed me that there was something more. Perhaps I could turn my interest into my career. And so, I enrolled in and completed a doctorate in planetary science after finishing up my undergrad. As a result, I now know much of the background material inside and out. So while I was interested to read the books once more, just to meet all the familiar characters over again, I was even more curious to see what I would think now that I knew the language.

You see, reading a book is not a passive activity, but depends highly upon what you bring to the table. This is something I've encountered before with the Ender's Game series from Orson Scott Card. When I first read the books at 16, it just could not get better then the first book where the main character is a child and then a teenager. Later, when I was 25, I re-read the series and now I've come to feel that the second book "Speaker for the Dead" is the better one. Will I prefer the third book when I am fifty? I would not be surprised.

And so this time when I reread the books, it felt more like summing up. Mars is a place I've visited, if only by proxy, over the course of the Phoenix mission and in my research. What interested me more this time around wasn't the excitement of the initial exploration and colonization or even the terraforming ("Red," "Green") but what comes next ("Blue," "Martians"). How is it that people choose to live their lives and all the little stories that come together to make up a culture.

I know these last two have earned the derision of many, but I really appreciated the tapestry being put together, even if it was less technical and less plot-driven then the others. I even appreciated how Robinson brings in short stories written before the books that mildly contradict what happens in the 'canon.' Each of us sees reality in subtly different ways, and neither of us ever walks the same road twice, changed as we are by the interviening time.

Perhaps this also appeals to me because I feel like I am at a bit of a cross-roads. I've completed my training, discovered, explored and constructed my world, so to speak. So now it is time to figure out how to live in it. However, this year, I seem to be stuck going sideways. Even though I've entered a new field, (out of necessity, admitedly) I feel like I'm just rehashing the past five years over again. And I'm ready to return to planetary science. I'm ready to forge on ahead. I'm ready for a new challenge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Who am I?

Let me introduce myself. My name is John Moores and I'm a Planetary Scientist currently working in Toronto, Canada. I graduated last fall with a doctorate from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona where I studied under Peter Smith, Principal Investigator (or P.I. as we call him - watch out for plenty of acronyms on this blog) of the Phoenix Mission. Prior to my time at LPL, I completed a Bachellor's Degree in Engineering Science at the university of Toronto.

I've worked on a bunch of space missions (Phoenix, Huygens) and hope to work on a bunch more, with a little luck. Scientifically speaking, I seem to enjoy studying water particularly in its frozen form. I did my dissertation on different types of water on Mars and am really excited about studying comets, glaciers, clouds and icy satellites. Even ice on the moon, which hopefully we'll know more about soon once the results are in from LCROSS (which successfully launched today - congrats to them and the LRO spacecraft which shared the fairing).

If you "want to know more" (*) feel free to drop by my page over at

Next post: Actual content (I promise)

(*) That line from "Starship Troopers" has to be useful for something, seared as it is in my brain. Those looking for (good) Heinlein, give "The Moon is a harsh mistress" a try. It even fits in with today's theme.

Third Time's a Charm

Hello, and welcome to HTWT! For those of you keeping score, this will be the third time I have attempted to keep a blog. So, if you've come by and haven't seen any new posts for years, I sincerely apologize.

However, there is reason to hope that this one may be more successful then the last two. First, to mine and my wife's surprise, I've been maintaining a twitter account for a couple of months (@ArcticSaxifrage). This suggests that I may be able to find the time and stick with online expression on a semi-regular basis. Secondly, I have a compelling reason for starting this blog and attempting to maintain it. I'll be blunt: I'm a recent doctoral graduate in planetary science who is looking for a job and opportunities for scientific collaboration. By allowing a bit more of myself online, hopefully I'll get the chance to advance both aims. So, if you fit the bill and can help, then I've done my job.

As such, I see this as just one other facet of my online presence. I hope to use it to compliment each of the other three: my professional website ( , twitter account (@ArcticSaxifrage) and LinkedIN profile. Each of these does some things well and others not so well. In particular, a venue for more in-depth and considered writing and interaction has been lacking. Hopefully this blog will adress this.

That doesn't mean that this blog will be overly technical. I hope that what I write will be accessible to a broad audience interested in planetary science. As well, do not hesitate to ask questions. As a former academic, there's nothing we like better then the opportunity to help. One of the benefits of planetary science is the broadness of the enterprise. As such, those of us so-trained get enough of a taste of the entire field to be a bit enthralled with it all without getting to bogged down everywhere in minutia. We also are forever learning new things and are keen to share what we find. As such, the focus of this blog may change over time.

So there you have it. This is why I'm doing this and I hope that you find reason to enjoy what you find written in this space. I have "fancy plans and pants to match"(*). You and I will both see how it turns out.

Next Post: Who am I?

(*) Ahh "News Radio" - from the biography translated out and back again.