Saturn on the rocks

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

–Kenneth Rexroth, “On What Planet”

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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”

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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

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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


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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

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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.

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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.

 

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!

 

Seasons of Planets

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Montage of planets and Jovian moons imaged by the Voyager mission, Image Credit: NASA

Four Haiku for Planets

Shy Mercury peeks
Flowers tickle its south pole
In young frosty air

Venus flashes Earth
Nubile dome-draping bright orb
Nude in the warm dusk

Jupiter dons stripes
Gas-lit hues of dying leaves
Cast through harvest breeze

Saturn trims the black
Storefront with icy china
Glints on Old Man’s breath

Poet’s Notes

The above represent more completed homework assignments from my journey through Stephen Fry’s wonderful book The Ode Less Travelled.

For my previous foray into planetary haiku, please read this post.

And lastly, I hope you are having a good National Poetry Month.