In a pleasant shock to our editorial employees, Sky & Telescope’s authors have swept up two of the three science communication awards conferred this yr by the Photo voltaic Physics Division (SPD) of the American Astronomical Society.
The award for a science author goes to Information Editor Monica Younger, for her November 2020 characteristic “To Contact the Solar.” The award for a scientist goes to Contributing Editor Monica Bobra (Stanford College) for the September 2020 infographic “Crossing the Fringe of Our Photo voltaic System,” which she created with illustrator Nicolle R. Fuller (Sayo Studio).
Annually, the SPD Common Media Awards Committee considers a variety of science journalism items, in search of the most effective tales in regards to the Solar or its results on Earth’s setting. You will discover a listing of previous winners right here. (Though S&T is a part of the AAS, we preserve a strict coverage of editorial independence, and our science journalism is judged accordingly.)
However as an alternative of merely touting our personal horn, we thought our readers would possibly get pleasure from a peek into how these tales got here into being. So right here, we’ll take you backstage for a glimpse of how we create S&T.
What the Voyager Spacecraft Encountered
The story of the infographic “Crossing the Fringe of Our Photo voltaic System” begins with the Voyager spacecraft. Each craft have now handed the sting of the photo voltaic system — or, extra exactly, the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble surrounding the Solar and its planetary household. However what precisely did the spacecraft encounter? What does it imply to depart the photo voltaic system?
This illustration reveals the place of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, exterior of the heliosphere, a protecting bubble created by the Solar that extends nicely previous the orbit of Pluto.
NASA / JPL-Caltech
In January 2020, Bobra began speaking with S&T Science Editor Camille Carlisle about tips on how to clarify the Voyagers’ journey to readers.
“We use so many phrases to explain magnetic fields all through the heliosphere — like ropes, pipes, islands, boundaries, and clouds,” Bobra says. “It’s troublesome to visualise what these really seem like. That’s why I wished to go for an information visualization as an alternative of a conventional characteristic article. I wished readers to see how two satellites may go away the bubble of our photo voltaic system and nonetheless expertise completely totally different magnetic situations.”
Over two months, Bobra (a photo voltaic physicist) dove into the analysis papers, immersing herself in what scientists had anticipated to see versus what they really noticed, and the way these information modified scientists’ understanding of the heliosphere. “In studying all these papers, I ended up with quite a lot of questions in regards to the magnetic barrier noticed by Voyager 2,” she says — so many questions, in reality, that she reached out to colleagues to assist her examine. They ended up discovering one thing new: The barrier on this a part of the heliopause enabled energetic, charged particles to cross the heliopause, as an alternative of blocking them. “We ended up writing a paper on that!”
Bobra drew a sketch synthesizing her analysis and offered it to Carlisle and S&T Artwork Director Terri Dubé, together with a caveat: We shouldn’t illustrate this in a method that suggests each element is totally true. “Extraordinarily graphic illustrations can lead readers to imagine all of the little particulars — like refined variations in colour and dimension — symbolize actual scientific data,” Bobra explains. “However in actuality, we don’t know this stage of element.”
Primarily based on that steerage, Dubé prompt a “chalkboard” look, to convey visually that this scientific subject is a piece in progress. “We even added eraser marks to recommend the concept of iteration and dealing via a course of,” she says.
Dubé reached out to illustrator Nicolle Fuller to recreate Bobra’s sketch. “Along with her lovely illustration expertise, Nicolle additionally consists of technical analysis in her course of, and that’s invaluable,” Dubé explains. “This enables us to additional brainstorm any technical particulars which will come up throughout the design course of.”
Fuller created the primary illustration in Could, and after just a few weeks of backwards and forwards, the 4 finalized the infographic in June and despatched it to press within the September situation.
“Crossing the Fringe of Our Photo voltaic System” infographic (click on to enlarge).
Monica Bobra and Nicolle R. Fuller
To Contact the Solar
Younger’s characteristic “To Contact the Solar” started in Hawai‘i — not on a seashore, however in a convention room. She and Carlisle had been trying to fee a characteristic on NASA’s just lately launched Parker Photo voltaic Probe, and for concepts Younger attended displays by the science staff on the 235th assembly of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu. “The preliminary outcomes they had been presenting had been so thrilling — and there was nonetheless a lot extra to return,” she says. “I knew then that I wished to be the one to write down this story.”
Younger quickly adopted up again within the Boston space and was hooked by the fascinating (and hilarious) tales instructed by Justin Kasper (College of Michigan) throughout a chat on the Heart for Astrophysics, simply down the road from S&T’s workplace. She additionally organized a tour of the Photo voltaic Probe Cup lab with Kelly Korreck (Heart for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian) in early March 2020 — “simply within the nick of time,” Younger says.
“COVID-19 was creeping up on us,” she explains. “I keep in mind foregoing handshakes, and Korreck provided me hand sanitizer.” It was right here that Younger noticed the warped and corroded items of discarded refractory metals researchers had examined whereas looking for one thing that might survive close to the Solar.
The very subsequent week, COVID lockdowns commenced within the Boston space. Younger carried out the remainder of her interviews by Zoom and wrote the article from residence together with her husband and three youngsters. “My daughter’s daycare was closed, and my two younger sons had been in digital faculty, so there have been many late nights,” she admits. “But additionally moments of peace and laughter throughout the day!”
An artist’s idea of the Parker Photo voltaic Probe, nearing the Solar. Credit score: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben
Carlisle helped Younger do some sprucing of the wording, after which Younger labored with S&T Illustration Director Gregg Dinderman to create the article’s diagrams. She and Dubé picked a gap illustration that conveyed “Parker’s temerity” in approaching our fascinating however hostile Solar, Younger says. Dubé then constructed a visible story round Younger’s phrases.
“The inspiration for this design was to make the reader really feel immersed within the opening picture,” Dubé explains. She then grouped the images and illustrations to visually spotlight key components of the story — first, what Parker appears like and the place it was going; second, the probe’s parts and ; and third, graphics as an instance the cruel situations that the must survive. “This group of visuals helps the reader make connections between totally different items of knowledge and extra simply visualize the advanced ideas in play.”
The finished article went to press in August 2020 and appeared within the November 2020 situation.
And there’s your peek at how we create Sky & Telescope’s award-winning content material. Congrats to the 2 Monicas! You possibly can discover Bobra’s infographic right here and Younger’s characteristic right here.
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