The Planet Hunter’s Headache

by Mikaela von Kursell
The pressure to publish: stellar jitter,
instrumental noise. Better spectrographs.
He described his work as plentiful
liquid water, no signs of a planet.
Just marginal. Not robust.
No gas-giant scorchers.

“At some point you're going to hit that wall,
which is the noise level of the star,”
his colleagues said, yet his optimism about finding
such planets was less than premature.

No periodic shifts. No real activity.
Upon further inspection:
perhaps, a wobble, or none at all.

“Going forward,” the veteran said,
“you should focus on quieter stars
and develop new techniques for treating stellar jitter.”

“This may reduce interstellar noise,
which may in fact be a noise illusion.”

Noise illusion? He was willing to concede
the mirage of stellar jitter, and yet he knew
from experience: some found a wobble,
some found none at all,

Instead: only headaches, the gravitational tug
of flagged uncertainties and a growing catalogue
of hazy claims.

Jitter—illusion—publishing—wobbling—
he could not see the phantom planets,
but he could hear the sound of his exo-body
hitting that wall.



Note: The source material for this found poem/collage is Ron Cowen’s “Noisy Stars May Make Phantom Planets” from the Scientific American Online. The original article can be found at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=noisy-stars-make-phantom-planets


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Mikaela von Kursell is pursuing her M.F.A. in Fiction at Florida Atlantic University. When she is not writing fiction, she enjoys horseback-riding and translating Swedish poetry.

© 2013, Mikaela von Kursell