Breathtaking Goodbye to an Amazing Mission #Cassini #Saturn

Cassini's Grand Finale - artist's conceptionCassini’s last transmission arrived on Earth at 1146 GMT on September 15 as it plunged to a fiery end in Saturn’s atmosphere. The spacecraft had run out of fuel, but only after orbiting the ringed planet for an incredible 13 years. NASA sent it to burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere rather than risk contaminating any of the moons – which may harbor life.

We know more about Saturn than ever before – its storms, hexagonal jet streams, rings, and a seemingly endless supply of moons. We also know that an American agency can cooperate with the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency, and astronomers around the world for two decades on a single mission (more if the design phase is included.)

Cassini’s mission lasted over twice as long as expected. The Huygen probe that piggybacked along made the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System and the first landing on a moon other than our own.

Along the way, Cassini confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity, measured the length of Saturn’s day, studied its fantastic rings, and discovered the amazing variety of its moons – including water geysers from warm water oceans and lakes of liquid methane. It showed scientist and citizen alike that the Saturn system is beautiful – a beautiful pinpoint in a beautiful universe.

If you think the money could have been better spent – tell me, do you believe humanity’s problems come from a lack of money? More likely, they arise from a lack of heart – or maybe from a lack of soul. Cassini gives us wonder, joy, and beauty. It feeds our souls. If you don’t feel that, if you don’t look up in wonder, I’m sorry for you.

One of the greatest legacies of the mission is not just the scientific discoveries it makes, and what you learn about, but the fact that you make discoveries so compelling, you have to go back.

Read more at wikipedia, watch for ongoing discoveries as scientists study Cassini’s data, and hold your metaphorical breath until we return.


Mission to Saturn Hardest of Hard #SciFi #book #space #hardscifi



‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ by Caravaggio in 1599 – PD in USA. What’s that got to do with Saturn Run? Read on…

“Hard” doesn’t mean “difficult.” More like “real.” No magic swords or last-minute rescues by elves in hard scifi.

John Sandford is best known for his prolific series of hard-boiled suspense thrillers (there’s that word again), but here tackles science fiction with co-author Ctein in Saturn Run.


An American telescope detects an object entering orbit around Saturn. Natural objects don’t act this way – it must be under intelligent control and no one else on Earth seems to have noticed. The Chinese are about to launch a colony to Mars, so they could quickly repurpose the mission and beat America to Saturn and whatever awaits there. So the race is on with only America aware they’re running – at first.

No Wantum Mechanics
A large part of the story follows how the characters turn an existing Earth-orbiting space station into a ship that can reach Saturn in a remarkably short time. The authors reject “wantum mechanics,” or “totally made-up non-science that saves the crew in the last dozen minutes of a bad Star Trek episode. ‘Captain, if we invert the polarity of the phasers and couple them to the warp drive, we can produce a beam of… unbelievablon particles.'”
As explained in the fascinating Authors’ Note, they spent a lot of time solving their technical problems, even running orbit simulations in a special Windows program. Saturn Run shares every bit of that effort with you. They admit to one piece of wantum mechanics, but given what that is (no spoilers in this review!), I think it fits the story.
What you get
are loads of technical descriptions and political machinations in a story that runs 448 pages in my epub edition. The story may be engaged in a race to Saturn, but the book is leisurely, taking its time to explore technology and present characters.
For example, one engineer is seated on a Virgin-SpaceX shuttle (nice tie-in to real-life) about to leave Earth for the space station. Instead of taking off right away, the story regresses to describing her amazingly automated apartment and the details of propulsion problems.
There’s even a cat on the mission – a detail I especially like since I sent a cat to the first colony on Mars in my book (shameless plug) Glory on Mars.
Here’s a taste of the book’s style:
• The f-bomb pops up quite a few times. [Meh. I’ve gotten used to it.]
• “A thousand kilometers above the Washington machinations, Captain Naomi Fang-Castro wrapped up the last meeting of the day, a report on the ongoing repairs to backup electrical storage units. The repair work was fine, but there was a shortage of critical parts…” [Space can be as tedious as your job.]
• “She wasn’t an obligate vegetarian and vegetarianism wasn’t obligatory in space, especially not if you were the station commander.” [Interesting detail.]
• “He ripped off the top of the envelope, using the dangling ribbon that protruded from one end.” [How about – He ripped the envelope open.]
• “The ten o-clock train arrived three minutes after she walked onto the platform. She scampered aboard, sank into a seat, and sighed. She was twenty minutes from downtown Minneapolis, not much to see on the way but endless tracks of suburban houses. Way too late for sanity’s sake, and Senior Star power engineers didn’t get overtime.” [Not just technical issues get detailed treatments.]
• “Massive-scale heat pipes with fractal fluidic passages to pump the energy from the fissioning fuel into boiling superheated fluids that drove the generator turbines. Thermomagnetic liquids and magnetic pumps and transformers to siphon waste heat.” [The authors assure me this isn’t simply techno-babble.]
• “He lived in a condo complex built around an enormous swimming pool, and populated by affluent, good-looking people. Most affluent people were good-looking, not because they inherited the right genes, but because the surgery was so good and painless and safe.” [Basically irrelevant to the story.]
• “When the station personnel paused by the window, framed in a rectangle slightly wider than it was high, they looked like paintings by Caravaggio.” [This didn’t help me much – I had to look up Caravaggio, who gets mentioned three times. Therefore, the picture above – by Caravaggio.]
• “… unhitched the lid… pressed it up against… nudged the controller… fifteen-second pan… killed his rotation… did a slow zoom-in… moved closer… alarm beeped.” [I’m getting tired of typing, and admit I got tired of reading at times, too. I skimmed ahead to the part I was waiting for.]
How Saturn Run stacks up
From the common-wisdom writing advice I’ve read, only an established money-making author could get this much “telling” past an editor. But, the day I checked, Saturn Run was ranked 15th in its Kindle category (scifi space exploration) out of 2,235 titles. That means it’s selling in the top 1%. And you can’t claim Sandford’s reputation suckered buyers in. The book has 4/5 stars from 600 reviews.
But clearly this book is for fans of hard science fiction.GLORY Ebook 300 dpi

Glory on Mars is also called hard science fiction, but the flavor is a bit different – no physics lessons 🙂 since these are real people going to live the rest of their lives on Mars. The first colonists to Mars have taken a one-way trip and that leaves them alone to face danger on the Red Planet. Journey with them as they struggle to establish their colony and explore Mars near Olympus Mons, the largest (extinct!) volcano in the solar system.

#NASA ponders sending #spaceship to icy moons: Enceladus – What Tell Ya Us? #poetry #science #poem

Enceladus orbits i Saturn's E Ring - it's water geysers may have created the ring. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute PIA08321

Enceladus orbits in Saturn’s E Ring – it’s water geysers may have created the ring. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute PIA08321

Wrenched by Saturn’s gravity,
By tides within its core,
Or radioactive isotopes
Releasing heat galore.

A water ocean circulates
Beneath an icy shell
That blocks the solar photons.
Here living things could dwell.

Consider near-bacteria,
Imagine pseudo-fish.
Supporting life like this.

Oceans are revealed, by geysers
Blasting through the cold.
Jets from the southern pole.

Mostly water vapor,
Some nitrogen, organics.
A sample thrown into the sky
If we can just collect it.

What may have surfed its boiling plumes?
What from the depths might rise?
A pseudo-fish’s brethren
On Saturn’s rings may ride.

By Kate Rauner

R&R 1 2nd edition ebook cover

2nd edition now available! Expanded!

Visit for possible missions to Europa and Enceladus, two moons that may harbor life in their liquid water oceans. See more on Enceladus at wikipedia.

Visit me for a new poem every other post (or so.) Or try one of my collections – science inspired rhyming poetry, and a few haiku too.

We’ll Find We’re Not Alone – a poem by Kate Rauner



Hydrothermal vents are able to support extremophile bacteria on Earth and may also support life in other parts of the cosmos.

We will find we’re not alone,
The proof is at our finger tips.
We have the means, robotic craft
Extend our touch on epic trips.
We know where round the Sun to look,
Know how to search for traces.
Moons and planets wait for us,
Within our reach are many places.
No wormholes, warping space required,
No need for hyperdrives.
Technology is here today
To find unearthly lives.
With chemistries like ours – or strange,
Not likely grays or bug-eyed men,
Expected small, but bodies huge
Are not beyond imagining.
Mars only lost his oceans
A million years ago.
Solar winds stripped air away,
And with it, oceans go.
But liquid water blankets
Some moons of Jupiter.
Beneath their crusts of ice,
Hordes of life may stir.
To feed on broth by magma brewed
May be an easy strategy.
Get energy not from the Sun,
But twisted tides of gravity.
And Callisto,
Or methane lakes on Titan,
Life free from H2O.
Geysers may toss microbes high,
Bouquets to passing hands,
Till we can pierce a mile of ice
To meet them in their lands.
To find that life is commonplace
Will not diminish me,
But will expand my mind and soul
And all that I can be.

“I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years,” Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA, said at a public panel Tuesday in Washington. “We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.”

That would be amazing, astounding, awesome… and that’s just the “a” words I can think of. Extraterrestrial life is discussed in many places, for example, , , or wikipedia extraterrestrial life

For me, even a real microbe will be better than all the movies put together – reality always trumps fantasy.

Born of Earth and Jupiter – a #poem by Kate Rauner

zeiss projector

Zeiss projectors, like this one at Kiev Planetarium, allow planetarium visitors to see a scientist’s view of the solar system and the universe.

Two thousand planets have been found
By our current generation.
Five hundred systems, like our own,
Escaped their sun’s damnation.
Most planets are much closer
To their stars and therefore hotter,
With a thousand times thicker air
Than the Sun’s rocky daughters.
And super-Earths are common,
Ten times larger than our own.
Perhaps with days that equal years,
So different from our home.
Most gaseous giant planets
Orbit their stars nearer.
Why we have no super-Earth
At last emerges clearer.
The proto-Jupiter that formed,
To proto-Earth was hostile.
And, five billion years ago,
It stole away our volatiles.
It scrambled inner rocky worlds
And smashed the proto-Earth to bits;
Tossed half of it into the Sun,
The rest then reformed planets.
This left our world, our remnant Earth,
Thinly veiled in wispy air.
Self-organizing, growing life
Could then arise and evolve there.
Surviving heat and pressures vast,
Life on extra-solar worlds
May not resemble any forms
That upon our Earth unfurled.
We may not discern our distant kin
Nor understand life’s game.
It’s hard enough to love our own
And we are all the same.

Kevin J. Walsh and his colleagues detail their findings this week in the journal Nature. “A wandering Jupiter may have wreaked havoc on the large inner planets of our early solar system, leaving behind an apparently rare configuration of planets.” [] Whether that rareness holds up as we develop way to discover smaller planets remains to be seen.

Salty Waters #poem #poetry #space #planet #NASA

Artist's concept of Casini studying Titan

Artist’s concept of Cassini studying Titan

Salt preserves a water’s flow,
Suppresses freezing in the cold.
Cassini’s gravity data show
There is salt water down below
Titan’s outer crust of ice,
And liquid water does entice.
Salt on Mars may also say
That water flows there some days.
Ten times the salt of earthly seas
But for a very few of these.
The Dead Sea harbors microbes small
That only thrive when rain drops fall.
Alga, fungi, biofilms
Find fresh water most welcome.
Yet methane found on Titan, Mars,
Cannot survive the sunlight scars.

Here's where NASA's Phoenix landed

Here’s where NASA’s Phoenix landed

On Earth we’d say that life is there
Releasing methane in the glare.
So is there life on Saturn’s moon?
Did Martian soils ever bloom?
Now we’re poised to learn more,
To fly the missions, and explore.

by Kate Rauner

There are many places to read about the solar system. Try one of these.