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.