July 19, 2014
A year ago today, the Cassini spacecraft was turned to image Saturn and its rings and moons during a total eclipse of the sun. It had been done twice before during its previous 9 years in orbit, but this time was different.
This time, the images collected captured a glimpse of our own planet far, far in the distance on a day that was the first time the Earth’s inhabitants knew in advance their picture would be taken from a billion miles away.
It was a day to revel in the extraordinary achievements in the exploration of our solar system that have made such an interplanetary salute possible. It was a day for people the world over to smile together in celebration of life on the Pale Blue Dot.
And that’s exactly what happened.
At the appropriate time, people the world over stopped what they were doing, went outside, gathered together with friends and family, thought about the utter isolation of our world in the never-ending blackness of space, relished its lush, life-sustaining beauty, and marveled at their own existence and that of all life on planet Earth.
And they smiled, knowing that others around the world were smiling too, in the sheer joy of simply being alive on a pale blue dot.
Tell us what YOU did at that moment on the day the Earth smiled?
July 19, 2014
So here we are … exactly ten years on and looking back with great pride and pleasure at the accomplishments of June 30, 2004, the night Cassini and we took up residence around Saturn and began our history-making explorations of the richest planetary system in orbit around our Sun.
To mark this special anniversary, I have posted today a new and brief Captain’s Log reflecting on that night. In it, I provide a link to an extended piece that I wrote ten years ago for The Planetary Society about the transforming events surrounding that remarkable time. I hope you’ll remember along with me the oh-so-perfect way it all went down a decade ago.
Tomorrow, June 30, will be the anniversary of Cassini’s entry into Saturn orbit 10 years ago, and what an fascinating decade it has been.
In celebration of the moment, an interview I gave to Star Talk Radio, conducted by the host of the radio show, man of the hour, and presenter of TV’s ‘Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey’, Neil deGrasse Tyson, will be posted to the Star Talk Radio website at 7 pm Eastern Daylight time (4 pm Pacific Daylight Time) today, June 29.
I myself have not heard the interview. But a preview post describing it, written by one of the show’s producers Jeffrey Simons, can be found here.
And for the real thing, after the appointed time on Sunday, June 29, log in, go to …. http://www.startalkradio.net/ … and listen in as I wax on about the thrill of discovery, feeling ‘the cosmic love’, and the meaning of life.
And let me know what you think!
Ten years ago today, the spacecraft Cassini, and we along with it, made our official entrance into the kingdom of Saturn. On that day, we performed our first, mind-blowing encounter — one of many yet to come — with Saturn’s outer moon, Phoebe. The sharpness of our images, the startling geological details on the moon’s surface, the clear presence of water ice, and the sheer jolt of excitement at such a daring strafing pass by this remote celestial body stunned us all into a happy stupor. We knew then we had a long, historic and thrilling adventure up ahead. And we were right!
As one of the planet’s outer `irregular’ moons, Phoebe is believed to be a Sun-orbiting outer solar system body that was gravitationally tugged into orbit around Saturn, and as such, it is cousin to Pluto and the other members of the Kuiper Belt. So gaze long and hard at these images of distant Phoebe, knowing that in a bit more than a year, humanity will complete the reconnaissance of the classical solar system when the New Horizons spacecraft arrives at Pluto, and we and it, at long last, come face to face.
Everyone…Marvel at the delicate work wrought by gravity on the countless icy bodies in Saturn’s rings in this week’s image from our cameras on Cassini. Gores in the sheet of debris extracted from the F ring by the moon, Prometheus; waves raised in the outer part of the rings by orbiting moons; the Keeler and Encke gaps cleared by the action of the small moons Daphnis and Pan, respectively; and more than the eye can see in this one view … have all been impressed on our collective psyche as a result of our historic explorations around Saturn.
Do enjoy…because this won’t last forever.
The last two episodes of Cosmos were glorious and actually made me look at myself differently.
Being more scientist than historian, I never knew of Cecilia Payne. And now I discover she, too, said this:
"The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience… "
So true, Cecilia. So true.
And I never knew of Marie Tharp, either. It’s telling that I was educated in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech, had certainly heard in reverent tones the story of Alfred Wegener, but had never even heard the name of Tharp.
Many grateful thanks to Ann Druyan, Steve Soter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the Cosmos crew for bringing to light the stories of these women greats of astronomical and geological history.
And to my fellow female scientists, I hope you now see yourselves differently, too. You and I are part of a fine & noble lineage. Walk tall and proud forevermore.
Do you relish the notion of being a Saturnian, and gazing out from the lofty heights of Saturn at the same planets we see here from the Earth?
Then check out the image we, the imaging team on Cassini, just released today. Far in the distance, beyond the rings of Saturn, lies the hazy blue orb of Uranus, a planet that was last visited by a spacecraft of our making 28 years ago.
Enjoy the view!
Now here is a vista that would be impossible to see here on Earth: Rings and their shadows, like violin strings, draped across the face of Saturn….this week from Cassini.
Enjoy this, because our journeys around Saturn won’t last forever.
Incredibly lovely of Robert Gonzalez, blogging for the renowned io9 website, to post Andy Chaikin’s interview of me and write THIS! “More People Need To Know About Carolyn Porco”
Thank you, Robert!
But tell me…don’t you think I have a trace of the madwoman in me? ;-)
What better way to celebrate today, the day devoted to our beautiful life-giving planet, than to be reminded of the greatest, most meaningful selfie of all: The Day the Earth Smiled image taken from our silent observer at Saturn, a billion miles away, of our tiny orb, awash in the blue of its oceans, with all of us on it.
Cosmic love to all of you on Earth Day!
What we’ve long suspected — that beneath the unique geological province capping the south polar terrain of Saturn’s moon Enceladus lies a deep, sunless sea — is finally confirmed by analysis of Cassini’s gravity results, published this week in the journal Science.
To see how close I came in ‘guessing’ the depth and size, don’t miss my 2008 Scientific American article about Enceladus, featuring work done by Ron Miller, renowned space artist, and myself.
So when are we going back to check it out???!!!
Are you, perchance, as fascinated as I am by Cassini’s discoveries at Enceladus, and the prospects for finding there a genuine, second genesis of life, thriving in the dark, salty sea underlying its south polar terrain?
Well, if so, you will want to read this article, just published today in the journal Astrobiology by my coauthors and me, in which we lay out the argument why Enceladus, more than any other destination in the solar system, is the most promising place to search for life or its precursor chemistry.
Our work, ‘Follow the Plume’, also presents the case why the next mission to Enceladus must include both a payload to conduct in-situ chemical sampling of the plume, more advanced than Cassini’s, and … wait for it! … a component to return a sample of the plume ice back to Earth.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it decidedly is not. We have the capability. We need only the will and the resources.
Are you on board?
[And look for exciting news about Enceladus from Cassini this coming Thursday…only 2 days from now. The journey continues…]
From far away, you’d never know how fascinating the tiny ring-region moons of Saturn really are. This week from Cassini!