Saturn on the rocks

“She climbs slowly, precisely, / With unwasted grace.”

–Kenneth Rexroth, “On What Planet”

saturn-cassini-rhea-mimas
Saturn, Rhea and Mimas by Elisabetta Bonora, Savona, Italy, Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/E. Bonora

On the Poetry Foundation’s website can be found wonderful poems like the myriad moons of Saturn. And in at least a couple of those poems, the planet Saturn becomes a principal character. Such is Kenneth Rexroth’s beautiful poem, “On What Planet.” The poem is not about Saturn, but about adventure-seeking rock climbers. Short and sweet, and with a delightful audio performance by the poet, this one is a gem. Check it out.

On What Planet

Note the “Amateur Images” logo on the above picture. This image also deserves a couple of minutes of your time. Let the video and web analyst herself explain the journey this vista took from Cassini’s camera, to her computer, to ours.

Saturn, Rhea and Mimas by Elisabetta Bonora

The Cassini spacecraft ends its two-decade mission on the morning of September 15th. It will have been one of the great flagship missions of space exploration. For more information, visit NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit.

To stay in the poetry vein, try Papery Cassini Farewell.

Mother, Son, and Saturn

“He loves the buoyant, frictionless / plate / his father has in focus.”

–Stefanie Marlis, “Saturn”

cassini-saturn-camera-test
Cassini’s first color composite of Saturn, the moon Titan visible at upper-left, imaged from 177 million miles away in October of 2002, Credit: NASA/JPL/Southwest Research Institute

As we get ready to say goodbye to the Cassini spacecraft, I hope you’ll take this chance to read an example of Saturn embedded in our culture, as well as our individual psyches. Stefanie Marlis’s poem, quoted above, is a wonderful and pointed glimpse into the matriarchal mind, in relation to an imperfect but precious and promising child. Saturn makes a crucial appearance at the end. Short poem. Quite accessible. Give it a try:

Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft ends its two-decade mission on the morning of September 15th. It will have been one of the great flagship missions of space exploration. For more information, visit NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit.

To stay in the poetry vein, try Papery Cassini Farewell.

Raw Cassini from Star Wars Day

W00107385
Saturn image taken by Cassini on 5/3/17, received by Earth on 5/4/17

Rise Force fans, Sith friends,
Snatch photons with lens
Praise clean lines, though dim
Soar spacecraft or swim


N00280971
Saturn image taken by Cassini on 5/4/17, received by Earth on 5/5/17

There’s beauty in the rawness;
When processed, it is stolen.

With stars speckling glossed rings,
like marts selling us Darth treats,

Sun’s children shopped May the 4th;
Cassini grasped rays of worth.

Poet’s Notes:

For both images above, credit goes to NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

For more information on the first Cassini image, go here.
For more information on the second Cassini image, go here.
To explore raw Cassini images, and even search them by date, visit the galleries!

For more information on Star Wars Day, aka May the Fourth (be with you), visit Wookieepedia!

Lastly, for Mom and anyone else who is still reading, you are invited to read a thoroughly polished/baked piece of Cassini poetry here.

Poetry for the Grand Finale

cassini-paper-model
Paper model of the Cassini Spacecraft, which ends its almost 20-year mission to Saturn on September 15, 2017, Image Credit: NASA

Papery Cassini Farewell

With six sheets of cardstock
my fingers learned you
in the lone winter of 1997
clipping, creasing, clasping
manila bus and high-gain scraps
assembling
like a cleanroom engineer
in an atmosphere of monastic air
during late-night breaks
from my college freshman blizzard
hiding
model and boy
in the fairing of a Huntsville basement
until by tugging circumstance assisted
I dropped you Huygens-like
into a shoebox painted cosmic black
displayed for boy alone
falling
artfully within
a long Saturnian spring we passed
clean through glamour’s halo
only to be robed
in the dust of stoic worlds

In the crushing summer of 2017
my fingers outlived you
wringing, riffling, wrinkling
model and boyhood
so they flutter tissue-thin
like burning leaves
in the angling winds of a northern storm

—Jake Christensen, September 2017

Author’s note:
While a college freshman in 1997, I built a model Cassini similar to the one pictured above. I encourage you to head over to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website to learn more about this marvelous spacecraft: Cassini Grand Finale

Readying for the goodbye kiss

When you make one final flyby of Titan, before disintegrating in Saturn’s clouds, you experience a gravitational nudge which scientists call “the goodbye kiss.” If you experience this kiss, your name must be Cassini. And you must be nearing the morning of September 15, 2017–the last day of your life.

cassini-plunge-nasa
Artist’s depiction of the Cassini space probe descending into Saturn’s atmosphere, Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars in 2012, I thought it might be the greatest space achievement to occur in my life. I supposed, this is my generation’s Apollo 11 moment. However, as the end of the Cassini mission approaches, I realize its finale may be the most meaningful, albeit bittersweet, moment of my space-enthusiast life.

Cassini’s two-decade mission has spanned my adulthood years. I plan to do some poetry blogging here in the coming days to process that fact. Hopefully the output will be enjoyable for any who stop by Lit for Space. Bottom line, I need to savor this finale. I’m even taking the day off work on September 15th and plan to be glued to NASA TV that morning.

I strongly urge readers to take special note of this grand mission’s passing. For the public, at an absolute minimum, Cassini has provided some of the most awe-inspiring imagery of our solar system. The scientific data collected has made and will continue to make entire careers for some of the world’s brightest scholars. Indeed, Cassini’s success makes us a little less ignorant of the universe in which we struggle to survive.

To explore Cassini’s mission, try this starting point: NASA’s Grand Finale Toolkit. Here is a brief yet epic video dramatization of what is about to happen.

 

Re-rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama (Rama, #1)Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Some people go to bars on Friday nights. Married couples often go on dates to keep their courtship alive. These days, I spend most Friday nights in my living room watching Star Trek reruns with perhaps the only group of Twitter users I can still tolerate. Then, on typical Saturday mornings like this one, I sit in a coffeeshop nursing my junk-food hangover with iced coffee. Today I reflect on a beautiful experience which I relished last week. Not the 2017 Solar Eclipse. The other beautiful experience I had last week.

“All his professional career he had looked upon the universe as an arena for the titanic impersonal forces of gravitation, magnetism, radiation; he had never believed that life played an important role in the scheme of things…”

The copyright page indicates I bought the above Del Rey paperback edition of Rendezvous with Rama in or after 1988. Four years earlier, I’d been converted to Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction by Peter Hymans’ movie 2010, itself a sequel to Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I read Rendezvous with Rama and loved it. Yet like so many books and flicks I consumed in those pre-internet days, Rama remained a solitary experience, largely unshared with family and friends.

“The real New York, like all of man’s habitations, had never been finished; still less had it been designed. This place, however, had an over-all symmetry and pattern, though one so complex that it eluded the mind. It had been conceived and planned by some controlling intelligence…”

I read Rendezvous with Rama again in 2008, admiring Clarke’s efficient storytelling. The novel’s plot effects an elegant marriage between grandly impersonal architectural themes and a thoroughly romantic awareness of humanity’s puny footprint in the cosmos. In this universe, could it be that intelligences exist so advanced as to be indistinguishable from gods? Might they be utterly disinterested in humans, so disinterested as to leave their ship’s door unlocked?

Might superior intelligence only threaten us inadvertently, as an ant is threatened by the shoe of an otherwise peaceful human failing to notice the insect in its path, and so crushing the smaller being unawares? Might there be something fundamentally healthy about considering the possibility humans are only a supporting character in creation? Yes, life may only be a precious accident.

“He believed that the universe operated according to strict laws, which not even God could disobey…”

Last week, for the third time in my life, I read Rendezvous with Rama. I found its door still unlocked. I crept inside while it slept. I witnessed as its gigantic interior awakened, punctuating its general quiescence with storms of electricity, wind, and metallic tsunamis. Then, as it prepared to sleep again, I fled back outside and watched it eclipse our sun.

Ours?

My third encounter with Rama felt intensely familiar, as did the second and first. Rama—a vast cylindrical alien ship on an intergalactic journey—seemed familiar as a childhood backyard, deep and vivid in the memory. Rama, you remain a place where I feel less alone. And I know that I love you, because even though you make me feel smaller and more fleeting, I feel blessed to have been altered by your appearance in my life.

Capturing Eclipse Reactions

Yesterday I saw not one, but a half-dozen total solar eclipses. Such was the odd privilege of being stuck inside an office cubicle for most of the day, relying on internet coverage. From Oregon to South Carolina, again and again, I watched the sun disappear, become a coronal ring around the moon, and then burst forth in an audience-delighting “diamond ring” glow.

More than just astronomy, this event became both ritual and communion. Below is a touching video put together by The Washington Post which provides a good balance of eclipse footage and human exultation.

Each time another crowd witnessed the eclipse, I found myself especially taken with the audible reactions. Animals can’t possibly sleep during a total eclipse. They must sit alert, waiting tensely for the light to return so the humans will stop squealing and shouting for joy.

And people? They struggle for words. The oral history of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, from seasoned reporters to little kids, begins and ends with the word “Wow!”

To sum it up, as I watched the reactions again and again yesterday, they seemed a marvelous mingling of two things: 1) feeling like an ecstatic kid; 2) feeling something deep and profound, mystical or spiritual even. Feeling like the sun and moon at once?

Below is a good 360 view. Press play. Then click and drag upward to see the sun as a pillar of light which recedes into a tight ring surrounded by temporary night. Thanks to The Salt Lake Tribune for putting this one together. Old-school newspapers are giving me the best highlight footage to share. Awesome!