The Albuquerque Journal is engaged in a strange new experiment in running a front page column every day. There is a stable of three regulars, writers who are solely columnists, and a couple of us who are otherwise straight reporters share the remaining slots.
This is the most interesting journalism I’m doing right now, but it’s a weird experience. The normal trajectory of a story involves news happening – an event, an issue, an idea – that provides a news peg, and I figure out how to “storyize” it, then I write it and go into newsroom marketing mode. The columns are different. I’m handed a 600 to 800 word slot on the front page once every few weeks to do what I want with.
It’s a joy.
Today’s was a science riff, about observations done by the Very Large Array (and many other telescopes) about the most distant object ever seen. An ordinary story would peg this off of the news here: an exploding star, the epoch of reionization, understanding the early universe, etc. But the really cool thing here is how incredibly cool it is that humans can look back that far in time. The column format gives me the elbow room to play with that theme:
No human has ever seen an object as distant as the tiny dot of light that showed up in telescopes April 23.
“Thrilled” is how Socorro astronomer Dale Frail described his emotions the day the Very Large Array radio telescope first spotted the dot.
The image had been traveling 13 billion years to get here. Which means that, for Frail, the VLA is a sort of time machine, conveying the great privilege of allowing him to look back to the very dawn of time.
Frail’s a lucky man, and he knows it.