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The Ballad of the Lonely Star1

Miriam Mogilevsky, PhD2

Many, many years ago,

A lovely G23 star was born.

It was, of course, our lordly Sun,

Which now our heavens does adorn4.

But was our sun an only child?

We always just assumed it so.

Yet recent research shows us now

That there is much we did not know.

We5 found an ancient6 meteorite

That put us into quite a pickle:

Iron should have dwelled within,

But we, instead, discovered nickel7.

But iron 60 turns to nickel,

And its half-life is obscenely brief8.

So how could the iron have arrived

Within the ast‟roid‟s rocky fief?9

1 Watch out for the footnotes! They‟re important.

2 HAHA. As if. Maybe someday.
3 Well, G2V, if you want to get technical about it. That wouldn‟t have fit into the poem‟s structure, though.
4 MS Word‟s grammar check HATED that sentence. I really hope you‟re not grading on grammar too much…
5 In case you‟re confused by my usage of plural first person, I‟m writing from the perspective of the scientist(s) (and any terribly-paid graduate students

thereof) who did this research.

6 And by “ancient” I mean, from the dawn of the solar system.
7 Technically, it‟s nickel 60, which occurs when iron 60 radioactively decays.
8 2.6 million years. Yes, that‟s short. By cosmic standards. Actually the article uses the phrase “cosmic eyeblink,” and I love that phrase but obviously

could not utilize it for fear of running amok of Northwestern‟s academic integrity policy thing.
9 Wow, this was truly a terrible stanza. I apologize. The rest will be better. It‟s just so hard to explain this sort of thing in verse! Basically, the iron 60

had to have gotten there early enough to decay into nickel 60, which, according to my calculations, must have been, um…a long time ago.
Just one thing could be the culprit—

Though it‟d have to be close by10—

A supernova could have done it,

Making iron atoms fly.

But how could a star have passed so close?

Such a theory won‟t pass muster.

Unless, of course, the Sun was then

A member of a starry11 cluster.

We always thought there‟s only two

Varieties of these arrays.

We group them based on density;

At age, as well, we‟re sure to gaze.

Galactics lie inside the plane;

They‟re young and sparsely populated.

Globulars are old and dense,

Throughout the galaxy located12.

Which type could our Sun have favored?

The answer is anticlimactic,

For its age suggests a globular13,

And its location—a galactic14.

10 For instance, five light-years, or as little as 0.07 light-year.

11 AKA a star cluster. I needed another syllable. Plus it‟s cuter this way.
12 Basically, galactic clusters lie within the plane of the galaxy, whereas globular clusters don‟t give a damn darn about such conventions and locate

themselves wherever they feel like it.

13 The sun is 4.6 billion years old, meaning it‟s old enough to be in a globular cluster rather than a galactic one.
With the sort of hand-waving

That‟s common in the realm of science,

We then declared another type

Of cluster in this cosmic alliance.15

For it is clear that some young stars

Are born in clusters very dense,

So maybe our own Sun once had

Some siblings16 (and a white picket fence17).

So question is, why should you care?

This cosmic family‟s long gone.

And you most likely have a meeting,

Or you need to mow the lawn.

(Actually, you‟re likely home

And waiting for some yummy turkey,

So you must be thinking now,

This so called “paper” is too quirky!18)

Anyways, back to my topic.

(My apologies for the diversion.

14 The sun is located in the galaxy‟s disk, so it should‟ve been in a galactic cluster, not a globular one.
15 Here I have engaged in my own literary sort of hand-waving. The scientists doing this research found other research showing that another cluster
(namely, R136), similarly exhibits characteristics of both types of star clusters. So no, they didn‟t just invent a new type of cluster (at least, not until they
found more evidence). I also hand-waved very significantly in the writing of that last line, which, as you may have noticed, has an incorrect number of
16 And by “some” I mean, maybe about 10,000.
17 Being a sociology major, I can‟t help but insert a not-so-subtle allusion to the idea of the “American Dream” into my astronomy paper.
18 Here ends a six-line diversion from my topic. Wait, what was that again? Oh, right. Stars and stuff.
But you see, I am a writer19,

And to facts I have aversion.)

This research is important, for

If we locate the Sun‟s lost brothers,

We may very well discover why

Our planet‟s different from all others.

For we‟re the only ones with life—

Our solar system is to blame20,

And something in its early days

Helped it in its rise to fame21.

Our lonely star‟s lost family

May tell us what this something is

(Or at least provide more questions

For your next quarter‟s pop quiz22).

So why‟d these siblings have to leave?

Perhaps they found this „hood23 contrary.

Or they felt they‟d much to lose

By choosing to stay stationary24.

Actually, it was because

19 My other major is journalism, so I really am a writer (though, I‟m afraid, not much of a poet). Science is hard.
20 I mean, praise. Not blame. Life is good.
21 Er, helped the development of life, that is.
22 By the way, you really need to teach those pesky quizzes some manners. Don‟t they know it‟s rude to interrupt a professor‟s lecture?
23 Sorry. It fit.
24 I borrowed the contrary/stationary rhyme from Weird Al‟s “White & Nerdy,” which you probably have never heard (but should). It is a pretty good

description of how I feel writing a poem about astronomy.

The cluster‟s biggest stars exploded,

And the smaller stars were forced to leave

As gravity had been eroded25.

To where did these small stars disperse?

For me to answer is not prudent.

Such silly trivialities

Are best left to a graduate student26.

Well! This explains an awful lot—

Like the presence of that nickel.

Even comets‟ awkward orbits

Now don‟t seem nearly as fickle27.

So concludes our vital research

And I hope you have learned much28.

This paper‟s no great work of art,

But when you grade, please treat it as such29.

25 After the cluster‟s most massive stars died off, there wasn‟t enough of a gravitational field to keep the smaller stars in the cluster, so they dispersed
over a period of 100 million to 200 million years. Wow, how did they ever get such a specific number?!
26 Just poking fun at the fact that the author of this paper says he‟s having one of his students comb through a catalog to find the stars. Though he

does narrow the possibilities down a bit—50 of the stars should be within 300 light-years of us, and they should be either in the direction the solar
system is moving or the exact opposite direction.
27 Some comets in the solar system have skewed orbits that would be really hard to explain other than if we assume that a star passed 1,000 AU away

from them, which would imply that this was all part of a star cluster.
28 And if not, well…at least I have!
29 I‟ve finished the poem and just realized that I‟ve completely forgotten to “evaluate the accuracy and reliability of the article based on what you have

learned in this course.” Oh no! Well, here it is. In my opinion this article was accurate and reliable because it provided examples and reasoning for all
of its claims. For instance, as I said, the author didn‟t just assume that a third type of star cluster exists; he found further evidence in the form of
another cluster. However, some might disdain the high amounts of anthropomorphism used in the article (and in this paper/poem as well). To me,
though, that only makes the article perhaps less professional; it does not detract from the value of the research itself. The biggest problem with the
article is that the author doesn‟t really make it clear that this is, after all, a hypothesis. Since he‟s writing for Scientific American, which caters toward, well,
Americans who are scientific, he shouldn‟t assume that his readers will be able to understand that this is just a theory and hasn‟t been fully researched

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