Monday, August 18, 2008

Every Time You're Mean To Your Sister, A Unicorn Cries

The title has nothing to do with the rest of the post, it just popped into my head this weekend and has been stuck there ever since. I didn't say it. Wanted to. But didn't.

No camping trip last weekend, due to heavy rains. And although rain is always welcome here in the high desert, and Saturday was a dream, cabin fever settled in with a vengeance by Sunday afternoon. Thus the crying unicorns.

I know I've written about it a lot in the past, but I can't help but gush: the Cassini spacecraft is the single coolest thing we've ever flung into space (at least until the New Horizons probe gets to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt and eventually even our good friend The Oort Cloud). The Cassini mission just gets cooler and cooler, weirder and weirder, dipping and diving among the moons and rings and other strange critters orbiting Saturn, changing course every few weeks to check out something new and improbable. It's not a pre-programmed path, but done somewhat on-the-fly; whenever they find something cool they scoot Cassini past it for a closer look. A few months ago Cassini did a spectacular fly-by of Saturn's bizarre ice-spewing moon Enceladus, where it flew through a giant ice geyser to see what it was made of, how hot it was, etc.

Now it's back! Flying at an altitude of 30 miles, going 64,000 miles an hour, Cassini took this shot:

Let me repeat that: 64,000 mph, and skimming only 30 miles above the surface. That's an exacting flight path, particularly when it's being flown by people literally 800 million miles away.

Next pass will be from 15 miles high.

The reason Enceladus is getting so much attention is because of those geysers. They come out of a set of four great cracks in the ice called the Tiger Stripes. Beneath the cracks is some sort of heat source, probably in the form of tidal friction from Saturn (though the Babe in the Universe thinks, predictably, that it may be a black hole). The combination of water, a heat source, and the presence of carbon molecules (discovered in the ice geyser during the last fly-by) have made this number one with a bullet on the short list of places offering the possibility of life in our solar system. Nowhere else have water, a heat source, and carbon molecules been found in the same place. All three are considered prerequisites for life.

This is an exciting time. Ice on Mars. Methane lakes on Titan.

Life here on Earth is tenacious and resilient enough so that we find it in the Arctic, in deserts, in acidic environments, high radiation environments, huddled against underwater volcanic vents. Perhaps it's merely a hedge against my Godless world view, but I'd like to believe life is as plentiful out in space, and as infinitely varied, as it is here on Earth.

We might find out real soon.

I'd be remiss if I didn't add that Pedro pitched a poem of a game this last Saturday, his best outing of the season. 7 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 8 hits, 1 walk. He's back! And, not coincidently, the Metros are in first place.

The Yankees, meanwhile, with virtually the same record, are 10 games out of first place. Ah, the vicissitudes of baseball.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Sorry you didn't get to go camping.

I want to make a nod to Transformers because of your typo in the title, but I'm pretty sure it would fall on deaf ears even here, where wild Gigans roam.

So, is Enceladus mostly water under the icy shell? I'm puzzled by the tidal friction notion. Does the moon do the same to the Earth, or vice versa? Or would the effect on Earth be negligible?

Jo said...

Cabin fever & sounds like a Stephan King bedtime story.

That close-up looks like elephant skin!

I'm blaming tidal friction for why I spazz out every month :P

Irrelephant said...

I've always maintained mostly the same outlook--if Life can occur here in sooooo many varied manners and methods who are we to say "Nah, we're alone out here in the nearly infinite universe." Talk about foolishness. *G*

Nancy Dancehall said...

LMAO! I'd use that, but the boyos would want to know how I know, and where they live, and then they'd want to see the unicorn, then yell at me for not being able to produce one for them, and then _I'd_ cry.

I've always loved Cassini, and it is truly mind-boggling that they can control it from 800 million miles away. Think about the fun (and sheer what-if-I-break-it? anxiety)of driving that thing!

Mona Buonanotte said...

Garsh, but your photos are so awesome!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

So go camping this weekend, if you are able to. The weather will be warm and the mountains will be cool and beautiful!

Cassini has done incredibly well; it's always a delight to see the images it sends back; my favorites keep changing.

We are *SO* not alone out here... floating around on our orbit ring as an anomaly of the universe.
There is life out there.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

OH yes... and my co-worker is solely responsible for the Rocks loss to the Dodgers today.


She is not allowed to watch any of the games or listen to them on the radio... cuz every time she does, they lose.

So there you go.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Clowncar said...

There is a transformer named Unicron? That's very cool, E. As you guessed, the transformers aren't on my cultural radar at all. And our moon is cold and dead - tidal friction works on Enceladus cuz Saturn is so big. And other moons pull at it from other sides.

Well, I spazz out daily, jo, and so cannot use tidal friction as a result. Glad to have you back in blogland!

Nancy, tell the boyos that every time they're mean to each other, Unicron will come kill them. That should shut them up for awhile.

Not my photos, Mona. Casinni's. I can barely take pictures of my kids.

Hey, Scarlett! No camping this weekend. Back-to-school means we gotta reign in bedtimes, buy pencil boxes, get new hair-dos! Plus, the State Fair parade is tomorrow! Woo-hoo!

I had a friend who I quit taking to Mets games, cuz they'd always lose. It was like 9 times in a row. Scary. He lives in LA now,so maybe he's dooming the Dodgers.

Clowncar said...

Jo: result=excuse. I do not use tidal friction as an excuse. I blame society.

paula said...

OK, that is a great line - every time you are mean to your sister, a unicorn cries.

You wanted to say it, but didn't. What did you say? What do you say when one is mean to the other?

I think this could be a good story.