Tuesday, July 22, 2008


As you might have guessed, I'm a big fan of space exploration. Not manned exploration, which is dangerous and needlessly expensive and yields relatively little actual science, but unmanned exploration, where you fling probes out there to all the coolest spots in the solar system (and beyond!) to see what they look like. Everything in space gets weirder the closer you look at it. And Lord knows I like weird.

The "Golden Age" of unmanned NASA probes is coming to a close, as they retool for President Monkeybone's meaningless manned missions to the moon and Mars. There's a probe currently going out to the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud (ouch!), and I think there's one en route to a comet. And there is, of course, the uber-cool Martian Lander looking for water and whatnot there at the Martian south pole. But the glory days of the "faster, better, cheaper" space probe era at NASA are coming to a close.

Cassini was my favorite of all the probes (at least until they arrive at the edge of the Oort Cloud). These pictures are a couple years old by now, but are truly remarkable. Somebody on the Cassini team clearly has an eye for composition.

That's Saturn on the left, the rings, and Titan on the right (if you look at Saturn through binoculars, you can usually see Titan hanging off to the side, quite brightly). Lots of the pictures that Cassini took were in black and white, to save on data. I now next to nothing about Art Deco, but the B&W shots always remind me of Art Deco.

That's Titan and Dione at bottom, Prometheus at the center; Telesto a mere speck in the darkness above center.

Saved the best for last. This has been called the most stunning photograph of all time. That might be taking things a tad far, but it is pretty amazing. You really need to click on this to enlarge it and get the full effect. I've read that when this image was first released, someone in th crowd burst into tears, so moved by the beauty of it. It'a a picture of Saturn backlit by the sun (something you can't see here on Earth, as the Sun and Saturn are on either side of us) which revealed never-before-seen details, like Saturn having 2 rings that no one had ever seen before. If you look closely you can see several of Saturn's 60-ish moons flitting about amid the rings.

I got all these pix at the Cassini Favorite image contest. The winners are here. The nominations (way more interesting) are here. In addition to lots more pictures, there are breath-taking movies (which I would've shown if I could have embedded them) of moons creating ripples in the rings, of ice geysers, of moons racing each other across the blackness.

I'm off to Rockygrass! Best weekend of the summer. I will listen to bluegrass with my feet in the water, a beer in my hand, my wife and children and good friends splashing in the shining water before me. See you next week.


Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Those are incredibly beautiful pictures.

I love the last one. It is the best... and it's something we'd never have seen without the efforts of those whose heads are forever in the clouds and beyond. Thank God.

And thank you, I very much enjoyed this brief interlude.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Irrelephant said...

Jeebux, old bean, those are...wow. So, going to Rockygrass AND getting probed...sounds like a busy weekend! *lol* Hoist one for me, pinch a lovely girl on the bum for me and I'll see you back here Monday. I'll see if I can't catch a triggerfish for ya.

Mona Buonanotte said...

Those photos are amazing? Are they fer real? Wow....

Bluegrass festival? Lucky dog. Have a great time!

Eric Shonkwiler said...

Am I a space loser for not drooling over those? Particularly for not finding the last amazing at all?

I find it interesting that you don't like manned exploration. I imagine that comes from your more practical take on the issue. To me sending a probe out of the solar system is like throwing a rock across a river and saying you'd been to the other side.

Jo said...

Sounds like a really great weekend, lucky duck.

I liked the first pic with Titan--you're right, it does have an art deco feel. As for the last photo, I think I'm more intellectually stunned that it's real, but visually I can't get past the airbrushed quality of it, seems manufactured.

My son dreams of going on one of those manned trips to Mars. I need to figure out how to send monthly cookies & meatloaf that far.

Irrelephant said...

I missed it by one day--Happy Birthday, old bean! Half a century, eh? You've probably got undershirts older than me. *lol* Many (belated) happy returns and best wishes for another half century.

Clowncar said...

Yeah, Scarlett, there are alotta people to thank for these images. Alotta people to thank for alotta things. Good to hear from you again.

I hoisted several, Irr, and did me some pinching, as you requested. Where's my triggerfish?

You are not a space loser, E. Space cowboy perhaps....

Jo, my wife had the same reaction. Couldn't get worked up about an image that seems so artificial. Me, I picture an actual space probe taking an actual picture out there in space and get all goosebump-y.

Thanks, Irr. I am indeed an ancient legume. Just read that I am 1 day older than NASA, which turned 50 today.