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.


Europa-Best Chance to Find ET Life and Congress Says We Gotta Go #NASA #science #tech #solarsystem

Europa_mosaicWho says Congress can’t get anything done? They’ve told NASA “you gotta go,” could be as soon as 2022. Jupiter’s gravitational flexing generates a lot of heat inside the moon – enough for a 150 km deep water ocean to exist under the ice crust.

What’s more, rusty colored stains on the ice around the cracks suggest that the water is heavy in salts and minerals. Chemistry plus energy plus time—all of which Europa has in the right mix—may be all that is necessary to cook up life…

[A lander’s] ultimate goal would be to peer directly into the calmer waters of the ocean and perhaps even go swimming.

Congress is a blunt instrument, so I hope their requirements don’t hurt the mission. NASA still has problems to solve. But I can’t wait to find out what’s swimming in Europa’s seas.

Thanks to for the article and quote.

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.

First Cat on #Mars – does #scifi #cat have a name? :\

Harvey posed for the cover of Glory on Mars

Harvey posed for the cover of Glory on Mars

In Glory on Mars, colonists take a cat with them to Mars, and he figures in a pivotal discovery. One reader says, given the title, the cat’s name should be Glory.

The book never mentions the cat’s name.

What is it?

Once a book is published, I think the author is no more an expert GLORY Ebook 300 dpithan any reader – maybe less so. The author is burdened with threads that didn’t work and abandoned versions that were changed – while the reader knows the story.

So perhaps readers should decide – what’s the cat’s name? I could add his name to the next edition.

Update: Readers really don’t like the cat not having a name. This surprises me – I’ve personally owned “lone cats” who never had a name beyond “The Cat” and they didn’t seem to mind. My current tabby – the model for my cover – is convinced he’s the only cat that matters even though I have a second cat! (And had a third until recently.)

The cat in my story plays an important role at one point – he offers a clue to survival – but is not a main character. He’s a real cat – no magic. Just a cat. That’s always been enough for any act I lived with. What do you think?

glory-ebook-267x400UPDATE: For 2017 I’ve put out a new book cover for Glory on Mars. It’s more science-fiction-y (I hope) and less quirky. So Harvey can retire from his modeling career – but to tell you the truth, he doesn’t seem to care much.

#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.

Pluto – We Are Coming

how I killed plutoWay back in 1999 I read a book Pluto and Charon – Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System by Alan Stern & Jacqueline Mitton. I learned that plutophiles share a remarkable dedication. For example, when a rare occultation of a star by Pluto was visible only in Israel, “[a]s luck would have it, the great Israeli-Jordanian airwar was just then taking place overhead… Almost unbelievably, [the astronomers] managed to observe the event despite the circumstances overhead…[producing] the only astronomical observation ever made through a sky filled with dog-fighting”. Their observations led to the discovery that Pluto has an atmosphere.

When Eris was discovered in 2005, it became clear Pluto wasn’t a unique oddity but a member of a class of objects – the largest “plutino” in the Kuiper belt, but smaller than Eris in the scattered trans-Neptune disk. Pluto was famously downgraded to dwarf planet status by the International Astronomical Union in 2006 and many people were furious.

The last chapter of Stern and Mitton’s book described the slow progress towards launching a mission to Pluto. The authors noted “it will take NASA more years to get the Pluto mission out of the Washington, D. C. beltway, than Pluto Express would need to cross the whole solar system!” But they were optimistic a mission would be launched and ended with “guard your secrets while you can, Pluto! We are coming.”

They were wrong about one thing – it only took seven more years to launch the spacecraft New Horizons on January 19, 2006; while it’s taken nine years for the craft to reach Pluto. Alan Stern leads its team. Its systems have been activated and the exploration of Pluto and its many moons begins January 15, 2015.

Why spend millions of dollars to learn about a few rocky ice-balls at the edge of our solar system when there are so many problems here on Earth? That question implies money is all we need to solve our earthly dilemmas, but politics, prejudice, and pig-headedness are bigger impediments. If we wait until we solve all of today’s problems, we’ll never get to tomorrow. As Bill Dunford said, why waste time trying to figure out agriculture? We have so much work to do hunting and gathering. Why spend effort on boats? We have so many issues here on the land. Why fiddle with computers? There’s so much calculating to be done with these pencils.

Why explore space? To find out why. Good luck, New Horizons.

#Pluto! We Are Coming! #space #poem #poetry by Kate Rauner #writing

If you were standing on Pluto...

If you were standing on Pluto…

Pluto, god of underworld,
God in darkness, god in cold,
Fit to reign, but not below,
Not given domain over souls.
You mark an area of space,
Not under sea or under hill,
But far away and high above,
A belt of frozen volatiles.
Beyond the giant planets
Large objects should exist,
Not thinly scatter icy crumbs,
Never did we look for this.
Humans did not make the trip,
An imager will be our eyes.
We have a way to count the dust,
Spectrometers to scan your skies.
What surprises now await
To teach us of creation?
When sun was young and planets
Were early in formation?
Why are you red, not white or gray?
Our ignorance is stunning.
Now instruments are aimed at you.
Pluto! We are coming!

After a nine-year journey, NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons is about to answer some questions and raise a whole lot more.