HD 189733b. Try squeezing some poetry out of that.
No, really, do. HD 189733b, otherwise known as the deep blue Jupiter-like planet that rains glass sideways, has made headlines this week as scientists announce that they have been able to identify the true color of an exoplanet for the first time.
Descriptions of HD 189733b are filled with vivid “gee whiz” facts that easily capture the imagination of non-scientists:
“Scientists think it’s possible the alien world’s atmosphere is filled with tiny silicate particles, much smaller than a grain of sand, that get blown sideways in howling, 4,500-mile (7,242-kilometer) per hour winds. The silicate particles are thought to form hazy clouds that scatter blue light and give the planet its unique color.”
The “blue marble” narrative is hard to ignore from a writer’s perspective. Scientists, seeking a planet like our own outside of our solar system, found a world with a brilliant blue exterior and comically (to the lay-human) harsh conditions on the surface. In other words, “This is not the pale blue dot you’re looking for.”
Why does science make good poetry?
As a non-scientist, science writing is an endless source for found poetry. Science stories tap into other worlds, using language that activates the imagination while its true meaning sometimes remains mysterious. If your source text covers an unfamiliar subject, your reading will be naturally divorced from the original purpose. In some cases (for example, math texts), though written in English, what you’re really seeing is another language. For writing found poetry, that looser connection to the source might actually be ideal. You’ll see an image that wasn’t intended or a story that wasn’t informed by the scientific facts; rather, you’ll work the raw language of data into universal truths.
This weekend, wherever you fall on the spectrum of lay person to NASA scientist, create a found poem from texts describing HD 189733b. As always, please share what you write in the comments or submit to an upcoming issue.
Submission tip: Our editors generally prefer found poem subjects that differ from that of the source material.
Image: An artist’s rendering of the planet HD 189733b (NASA/ESA)