So there's this wonderful little internet invention called The Up-Goer Five Text Editor. Designed by parasitologist Theo Sanderson, the application was inspired by a recent xkcd comic that attempts to explain NASA's Saturn V rocket using only the thousand most common words in the English language (whereby "Saturn V Rocket" becomes "Up Goer Five"). Sanderson's text editor challenges you to do the same with a complex topic of your choosing, by alerting you whenever you enter a non-permitted word into the applet's text field. For example:
Any topic is fair game, but scientists have been particularly keen on Sanderson's challenge (search twitter for the hashtag #upgoerfive and you'll be greeted by a veritable deluge of upgoerfived research abstracts, dissertation summaries, and job descriptions). The results have been amazing, and the consensus is clear: upgoerfive-ing is not easy; it is a remarkable exercise in straightforward communication; and it is an exacting test of one's mastery and understanding of any given subject.
For a roundup of some of the best upgoerfives, you'll want to check out Ten Hundred Words of Science, a tumblr set up yesterday by geologists Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson. But we wanted to show you our favorite. It's by Rachel Klippenstein. It's about Saturn and three of its moons (try to guess which ones — hint: they're all included in this list) and it's just beautiful. Adding to its allure is the fact that Klippenstein isn't even a planetary scientist. She's a linguist. (Which — given the task at hand — may have something to do with the power of her words.) But her sense of wonder, her admiration of and appreciation for these celestial bodies, is immediately obvious in her upgoerfive-compliant treatment.
It's powerful stuff. If somebody illustrated it, we think it could easily make it as a children's book, à la Le Petit Prince (in fact, if you or someone you know is interested in helping Klippenstein out in this regard, you should get in touch with her). Without further ado:
A loving upgoerfive intro to Saturn and some of its moons
There is a world that goes around the sun, ten times farther away from the sun than the world we live on. This world is really big - about ten times as wide as our world - and most of it is thick air pulled tight together. It has big beautiful rings around it, made of many pieces of ice.
There are also seven smaller round worlds made of ice and rock that go around this big ringed world. Most of the small worlds going around the big world have lots of marks on them that were made by pieces of rock or ice hitting them. All of these worlds are interesting, but some are especially interesting.
People wanted to learn about the big ringed world and the smaller worlds that go around it, so they sent a computer into space with computer eyes and a computer nose and other parts to see and smell these worlds and tell us about them.
The smaller world with air and wet stuff:
The biggest of these smaller worlds is about a third as wide as our world. It is especially interesting because it has lots of air, and wet stuff running on its outside.
There are very few worlds that have wet stuff running on their outsides, so it is interesting and surprising that this world does. The wet stuff on this world isn't water. This world is so cold that all the water is ice. But because it's so cold, other things that would be like air on our world are wet on it.
There also aren't very many worlds with lots of air, and it is the only world with lots of air that goes around another world. Also, its air is surprising, because most of it is the same kind of stuff that most of our world's air is made of. It's the only other world with air made of this stuff. Its air isn't totally like our air, though. Our air is see-through (except where water in the air gets in the way), but this world's air has stuff in it that makes it red and not see-through. The space computer's eyes are different from our eyes, though, and they can see a different kind of light that can go through its air, so they help us see it.
This world also doesn't have very many marks made by things hitting it. This tells us that something is changing its outside, because things must hit it and make marks, but something makes the marks go away. We are still trying to find out why, but it might be because wind moves stuff into the marks and hides them.
The smaller world with water coming out of it:
A different one of the worlds going around the big ringed world is interesting because it has water coming out of it. This world is much smaller: ten of it side by side would be as wide as the big one with lots of air and wet stuff. Like the biggest one, most of it is so cold that water is ice. But something makes part of it warmer and moves it so that bits of water come out of one of its ends. (We are still not totally sure what makes it warm enough, though we have some ideas.) This water goes into space around it, and the space computer can not only see it, but also smell it and tell us what other kinds of stuff the water brings with it. The space computer's different eyes can also look at light we can't see to tell us how warm different parts of this world are, and it can see that the place where the water comes out is much warmer than the rest of the world.
Some of the water that goes into space falls back down on this world as tiny bits of ice and makes it very bright white. It is one of the whitest worlds we know. Other parts of the water that goes into space turn into one of the rings that go around the big thick-air world.
The two-color world:
Another of the worlds is interesting because its front half is black while its back half is white. This world is smaller than the one with lots of air, but bigger than the one with water coming out of it. If you put ten of it side by side, they would be a bit wider than the world we live on.
We think it's black in the front for a few reasons together. First, it runs into black stuff that sticks to the front of it. That black stuff takes in more light from the sun and makes it warmer. That makes very tiny bits of the ice it's made of turn into air, and the bits of air go around it and turn back into ice on the back side of it. Second, when the bits of ice go away from the front side, they leave behind dark stuff that was between and under them, and that makes the front side even blacker, and helps it warm up even more, so things go on and on and on. The back side is white because it didn't get black stuff on it, and also because the ice that went away from the black side went there and made it bright.
This world also has an edge of stuff running almost all the way around its middle, from front to back to front again. People are still trying to figure out how the edge was made.
The big world with rings is beautiful, and the smaller worlds that go around it are also beautiful. They're a bit like people - all different from each other, and each one beautiful in its own way. It's good that we have a space computer to show them to us and tell us more about them.
This upgoerfive originally by Rachel Klippenstein. It has been published here with her permission. Klippenstein is a graduate student in linguistics with a lifelong interest in space and astronomy. She is especially fond of dwarf planets and the moons of gas giants.