Wallpaper Tuesday: Cassini


I forgot to post a wallpaper yesterday because holy cow, did you see the Tour de France stage? It was incredible! We were glued to our TV.

Today is a rest day on the Tour, thank heavens, because I need to get some work done. But first it’s time to catch up on something I’ve let slip — the tenth anniversary of Cassini’s arrival in the Saturnian system.

There have been lots of geeky anniversary celebrations, but if you like pretty pictures, Ars Technica has the best selection (and the easiest to page through), including the image at the top. That’s Titan — the largest of Saturn’s moons and the second largest in our solar system — crossing the face of Saturn with the planet’s rings in a remarkable edge-on view. The shadow of the rings covers much of Saturn’s lower half.

If you’d like a blast from the past, check out Carolyn Porco’s blissed-out essay, written the day after her dream of exploring Saturn’s system — fourteen years in the making! — came true with a flawless insertion of the long-traveling Cassini probe into Saturn’s orbit. The essay is a textual time capsule, a space pioneer’s thoughts at the very beginning of what is now a 10-year success story of immense proportions. If life were fair, Carolyn Porco would be a household name.

Her essay begins:

There are times when human language is inadequate, when emotions choke the mind, when the magnitude of events cannot properly be conveyed by the same syllables we use to navigate everyday life. Last night, the evening of June 30, 2004 was such a time.

In a history-making maneuver so flawless, so perfect it seemed dreamt, one comparatively tiny machine, along with its builders, its operators, its scientists, its well-wishers — indeed, all of humankind — fell into the embrace of giant Saturn, a place that had been a distant destination, in the mind and in the future, for nearly a decade and a half.

It’s long, but very much worth the read. Like her colleague Carl Sagan, Carolyn Porco is a scientist with the heart of a poet.

Star Talk Radio interviewed her this month, in two episodes titled “Madame Saturn: A Two-Part Conversation with Carolyn Porco.” If you listen to podcasts, check this one out. Here’s an overview of the second part, which will give you a taste.

And this is two weeks late, but: Happy anniversary, Cassini and Carolyn.

(Click the image to titanate.)

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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