2012 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: Astrobiology Short Story Contest

Project Progress

The Astrobiology Short Story Contest sponsored by the New York Center for Astrobiology was held for the first time in Spring 2012. The contest is intended to excite the imaginations of students in grades 9 through 12, especially with respect to the exciting discoveries from NASA’s Kepler Mission and other telescopes of multitudes of planets orbiting other stars. The contest was open to students based in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont, and 70 entries were submitted. The authors were asked to select one of two themes and submit a story based on their choice:

Theme A: Imagine a terrestrial-type exomoon orbiting a Jovian-type planet within the habitable zone of a star. This exomoon has a thick, cloudy atmosphere that completely fills the sky, except for breaks in the clouds that occur about once every 400 years. When a break does occur, it is short-lived and reveals only a small area of the sky. Describe the civilization on this exomoon that has rarely seen beyond the clouds, including its culture and value system.

Theme B: Imagine a double-star system where each star has an inhabited, terrestrial-type planet within its habitable zone. One of those planets has developed an Apollo-era technology. When the orbits of those two planets bring them close enough for a launch opportunity, a mission is launched. Describe the mission and its first encounter between the habitants of these two planets. One of the planets has twice the mass of the other planet.

The panel of judges was chaired by John Delano and included five teachers who are alumni our Astrobiology Teachers Academy (see separate report). Three winners were selected from the 70 entries: Samantha Scibelli from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School for her story 'A Cyclic Secret’ (Theme A); Morgan Lee Brailey from Red Hook High School for her story entitled 'Homecoming’ (also Theme A); and Ariana Ray from Hastings-on-Hudson for her story entitled 'The Expedition to Morden’ (Theme B). The three winners attended a special prize-giving luncheon at RPI on July 2 with their parents and teachers, and also interviewed at WAMC Northeast Public Radio for the nationally-distributed program 'The Best of our Knowledge’ (see separate report). The students each received a check for $200, an award certificate, and a copy of the book 'Left Hand of Darkness’ by Ursula Le Guin.

The joint winners of the Astrobiology Short Story Competition with John Delano at the prize-giving luncheon, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, July 2, 2012.