I was going to call this piece “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” but someone had already thought of that, a long while ago. And in reality, this is neither a real departure or a real ending. Nonetheless, starting on June 8th 2020 the blog “Life, Unbounded” will be archived and I will be contributing to the pages of Scientific American via opinion and news pieces.
It’s been a terrific ride to this point. When it started back in 2011 the idea of a “blog network” was kind of a hot thing (I know, history is a cruel beast) and I was lucky enough to be invited to join the fledging network at Scientific American. For me it was a new experience to try to maintain a steady flow of writing under the watchful eye of real editors and real writers who knew what they were doing. Over time it became a natural part of my work, an opportunity to step back a few times a month from doing scientific research and teaching and to think about how to express ideas and discoveries in a way that was interesting and accessible. The discipline required of that process was, and still is, an amazing gift because the act of writing is a living, evolving thing. You need to use it, keep using it, and use it some more.
The rather shocking thing (for me) is that nine years of writing roughly four pieces a month results in a pretty absurd library – tipping the scales beyond 430 individual articles. I’m also in awe of how many people have read these articles along the way, including teachers and students across the educational spectrum of the planet who have, at various times, been gracious enough to let me know that the material has served a pedagogical purpose. I’ve even discovered, thanks to friends of my children, that some writings have ended up gracing the pages of SAT practice tests. For which I can only apologize to teenagers everywhere.
The main problem with the size of this history is that I honestly can’t remember half of what I’ve written over the years. I know I’ve discussed exoplanets and exomoons, as well as stellar astrophysics and cosmology. I’ve wrangled again and again with the puzzles of life in the universe and the contentious notion of habitability. I’ve been in awe of space exploration and planetary science, and our ever-growing familiarity with the other worlds and environments of our amazing solar system. I’ve also commented on the state of the Earth and its varied history and delicate future. And I’ve rummaged around in the speculative, out-there, notions of extreme physics and ‘what if’ scenarios that are oh-so-much-fun as well as sometimes genuinely helpful as science pokes around the borderlands of what is known and what is unknown.
I’ve also had fun coming up with titles for the pieces. An act that involves some soul-searching on just how willing you are to succumb to the click-bait rules of online writing. If I had a dime for every “You Won’t Believe How This Turns Out” title that I tore up and consigned to the electronic garbage heap I’d be sitting slurping cocktails on a remote island right now. But there some fun ones made it through, like these:
Humans Bring On Many Changes, Most Are Far From Painless
The Fastest Spacecraft Ever?
The Stars Are Beginning to go Out
The Panspermia Paradox
From Andromeda With Love
The Interstellar Internet
The Long Hard Road to Mars
This is What We Don’t Know About the Universe
Where Would You Leave a Message From the Stars?
Can Starshot Work?
Death on Mars
The Lowest-Bid Universe
The First Wooden Spacecraft
The Real Expanse
And finally, a reminder that cute headlines are not what we should want our species to be remembered for (assuming anything comes along to remember us). It’d be better to be remembered for managing to rise above the indifference of natural selection to be creative and compassionate. To be the very best representatives of the astonishing novelty that the universe is capable of generating, and to act as one, free from the burdens of prejudice and inequity. In that regard we all have a lot of work to do.