Week 8: A packed week

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Sunday, July 20, 2014


Stephen Skolnick

Looking back, I'm always amazed how much we manage to pack into each week. Last Tuesday, I ended up at Bill Nye's "The Lure of Europa" event; a talk he was giving at the Rayburn house office building, courtesy of the Planetary Society. I stood in awe as one of my childhood icons, now with a bit of old-man-rasp creeping into his voice, spoke about Jupiter's icy moon as our best shot at finding extraterrestrial life. According to Nye, the icy surface of the planet is just a shell around a global ocean of liquid water, heated by tidal flexing from its core's interaction with Jupiter's tremendous gravity.

Staring at the false-color image of Europa on the front of the podium, orange sulfurous ridges crossing its surface, I was struck by the resemblance between the network of fissures and the growth patterns of organic life--both are fractal, as are many things in nature.

A funny thought occurred to me--perhaps we've already seen the first signs of life on Europa. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk.Immediately after the Bill Nye event, I made my way to the College Park Aviation Museum, where Dr. Dylla, AIP's CEO, hosted a dinner reception for the interns, mentors and some AIP staff. We were given a fantastic barbecue buffet and a brief tour of the museum. Every part of it was delightful, except the animatronic Wilbur Wright; he's just lifelike enough to make you wince when he opens his mouth to speak and it cracks a little beyond the edge of his lip. Uncanny robotics aside, it was an evening of laughs and good conversation; Dr. Mather made another appearance, and the incredible opportunities afforded by this internship were highlighted for me yet again when I got to chat with him about a hypothesis of mine dealing with galactic formation and dark matter.

Later in the week, we toured NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center facilities. We learned a lot about the James Webb Space Telescope, but my favorite part might have been the enormous centrifuge chamber. It's used as a storage room when the centrifuge isn't operational, but the machinery in there was truly humbling in its size. Thanks to some clever scheduling, we also got to attend NASA's "science jamboree" event, a sort of open-house where scientists from all wings of the administration set up booths and talk about their work.

Over the weekend, a friend and I rented bikes from the capitol bikeshare, took a late-night tour of the city, and visited the natural history museum. For being so dense with activity, time sure seems like it's flying; only a few weeks left in the summer!

Stephen Skolnick