For thirteen years Cassini joined the dance of Saturn's 62 moons.
September 9, 2017 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Beautiful and absorbing four minute video of Cassini's life one week before it burns into Saturn.
posted by plexi (40 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow.

That made me google for Cassini's images of Saturn's rings.

I'm not going to cry over a damn non-sentient spacecraft I just heard of 5 minutes go.
posted by bunderful at 3:20 PM on September 9 [9 favorites]


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posted by ElKevbo at 3:31 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I'm not going to cry over a damn non-sentient spacecraft I just heard of 5 minutes go.

Look it's not Cassini's fault that you haven't been paying attention to our robot friends exploring space for us. And truly, Cassini is okay with you crying. It's the end of a spectacular mission that has taught us more than we dreamed about our universe.
posted by hippybear at 3:38 PM on September 9 [10 favorites]


Beautiful and absorbing four minute video of Cassini's life one

=D

one week before it burns into Saturn

wait what

I'm not going to cry over a damn non-sentient spacecraft

that's okay i'll make up for you ;___________________;
posted by curious nu at 3:52 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


The odd thing about disposing of Cassini in Saturn's atmosphere is that one of the most habitable environments in the Solar System might be the upper atmosphere of Saturn itself.

Saturn is large but lightweight, and the gravity near its surface is about the same as Earth's. While it's cold out there temperature increases as you dive into the atmosphere, and it turns out there is a stratum where the air pressure is about the same as Earth's, and so is the temperature. There are places on Saturn where, if you were floating in the gondola of a balloon, you could live comfortably with nothing but a respirator to supply you with oxygen in the ambient environment.

That environment contains water and hydrocarbons, all the stuff you would need to build a life-sustaining civilization. Your one big problem would be energy; solar isn't much of an option that far from the sun, and neither is nuclear, what with all the heavy stuff being down at the center of the planet. Still, there are powerful winds -- some of the most powerful in the Solar System in fact -- and temperature gradients, and there might be ways to harvest those.

If we could get a handle on it, it might be a place for humans to live much more hospitable than Mars will ever be, tens of thousands of times larger than the biosphere of the Earth, and largely immune to a lot of nasty stuff we take for granted on the third planet. But it would also be a one-way trip; with an escape velocity of over 50,000 miles per hour, while we could drop into the atmosphere with aerobraking, we don't really have a technology that could lift us out again.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:54 PM on September 9 [24 favorites]


"We cannot risk an inadvertent contact with that pristine body," Maize said. "Cassini has got to be put safely away. And since we wanted to stay at Saturn, the only choice was to destroy it in some controlled fashion."


I call BS. Plain and simple. Why is one planet "pristine" and another is not? No one was concerned about Mars.
posted by shockingbluamp at 4:07 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I got a little weepy at the end. Brave little Casini all by itself for twenty years finally ending its life to prevent contamination of the cosmos.
posted by octothorpe at 4:08 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


Why do I always cry over the end-of-life of these dang machines
posted by taterpie at 4:28 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


See also this outstanding video produced by NASA JPL, Cassini's Grand Finale, from which the NYTimes drew a lot of its imagery.

I call BS. Plain and simple. Why is one planet "pristine" and another is not? No one was concerned about Mars.

Actually, NASA cleans and biologically decontaminates all spacecraft destined for a planetary landing. The reason they're torching Cassini in the upper atmosphere of Saturn is that it is a deep space probe and hasn't really undergone that sort of deep cleansing (and I'd guess safe disposition of the spacecraft became a more urgent priority after its discovery of a large planet-girdling liquid ocean on Enceladus a few years back, making that moon one of the Solar System's best non-Earth bets for life).
posted by killdevil at 4:29 PM on September 9 [12 favorites]


Cried over the NASA video too. At least I'm not the only one.

Maybe it's the music and the subtle anthropomorphism in the narration - the use of terms like "brave" and "struggling."
posted by bunderful at 4:38 PM on September 9


I call BS. Plain and simple. Why is one planet "pristine" and another is not? No one was concerned about Mars.

Also, Cassini has a plutonium power source, which could be highly contaminating on a small plant.
posted by claudius at 4:45 PM on September 9


Cassini had an amazing run - magnificent science work! We will miss you little probe - thanks!
posted by Golem XIV at 4:46 PM on September 9




Your one big problem would be energy; solar isn't much of an option that far from the sun, and neither is nuclear, what with all the heavy stuff being down at the center of the planet.

Well, there's fusion, which we should have within ten years. Some ten years. I think a bigger problem is metals generally . It's not much use having hydrocarbons if you can't replace metallic parts as they wear out. And that includes living organisms – eventually you'll run out of iron for hæmoglobin and magnesium for chlorophyll.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:11 PM on September 9


I got to wondering if someone might have written songs about Cassini. So far the internet has yielded up the following:

Image only, sadly, of Cassini team members singing parodied lyrics

This ukulele piece inspired by images of Earth from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft taken in 2013

A planned funeral for Cassini which will feature poetry and music in south-east London

Which reminded me of the Saturn movement from "The Planet" by Holst which seems appropriately sad and grand.
posted by bunderful at 5:20 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


Godspeed you brilliant machine.
posted by notyou at 5:22 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I watched this with my boys (who love Cassini so much they wanted to name their baby sister "Nasa Cassini") and one of them has spent the last ten minutes in wracking sobs over the death of Cassini and I've been trying to explain how Cassini did the best work of any probe and how it learned amazing things about Saturn and how it LOVES Saturn so much that what it wants more than anything in the universe is to dive into Saturn and "be snuggled" by Saturn forever. He may not be convinced because I keep crying too. :(
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:22 PM on September 9 [41 favorites]


Aww Eyebrows ((((((((hugs))))))))
posted by bunderful at 5:23 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Geeze Eyebrows, your post made me sniffle all over again! (but that's ok). I'm glad I'm not the only one.
I remember when this launched I was very worried that if there was an accident, we'd have a nuclear contamination issue, possibly over a wide area. But I'm glad nothing happened and I'm glad it got to explore for us.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 5:34 PM on September 9


I wish someone would organize a Seattle Cassini funeral.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:46 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I call BS. Plain and simple. Why is one planet "pristine" and another is not? No one was concerned about Mars.

It's been a concern since at least 1956, see a Brief Timeline of Key Developments in Planetary Protection.
posted by m2ke at 5:55 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Both the NYT and NASA/JPL videos are amazing! As is Cassini itself.

Btw, here's Huygens landing on Titan! Check out the dry hydrocarbon seabed and shoreline that can be seen (at about 2:35) just before it lands.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:56 PM on September 9


I remember pre-launch, my nutty anti-nuke uncle was all up in arms about how dangerous Cassini was - "Doncha know there's plutonium inside?" and I was all "Nothing's gonna happen." So many incredible pictures... actually, something did happen. Good-bye, brave robot, and thanks to the Cassini team!
posted by Rash at 6:01 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


"Well, there's fusion, which we should have within ten years. Some ten years. I think a bigger problem is metals generally . It's not much use having hydrocarbons if you can't replace metallic parts as they wear out. And that includes living organisms – eventually you'll run out of iron for hæmoglobin and magnesium for chlorophyll."

Yeah. Colonists on Saturn would have to bring their own metals, and their own dirt, sand and rock. Anything solid - except for plastic, which maybe they could make. I think wind power might be enough, but they'd have to be extremely clever about how they designed their infrastructure. Imagine a place where things are gone forever if they drop off and you can't catch them.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:08 PM on September 9


Is it weird that I want to see someone turn this into a single-season anime show?
posted by chrominance at 6:21 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I call BS. Plain and simple. Why is one planet "pristine" and another is not? No one was concerned about Mars.

Oh, you bet they are. I work on the Mars 2020 rover project, and there has been no shortage of analysis, re-analysis, discussions, meetings, debates, specifications, revisions to the specifications, rebuttals to the revisions, and counter-rebuttals to the rebuttals about how to not only minimize living critters being sent, what thresholds are acceptable, and even how much of certain organic chemicals can be allowed on critical parts that could be confused by the instruments as being Mars-native, but aren't.

I see people every week whose sole job is to be concerned about what might hitch a ride to Mars, and how close to zero we can get, short of actually rendering parts of the rover inoperative.
posted by tclark at 6:56 PM on September 9 [20 favorites]


They're dropping Cassini into Saturn to protect the moons of Saturn. The moons are solid and potential places for life and places where we could eventually search. In addition Saturn is deep at the bottom of the local gravity well.

If they leave the satellite in orbit around the planet, eventually it'll have a close encounter with a moon and its orbit would change, eventually flinging it into one of the moons potentially contaminating it. This could happen next year or 10,000+ years from now. Then eventually an asteroid could hit that contaminated moon and throw contaminated rocks off into space that fan out and land on the other moons contaminating them too. If they fling it into a gas giant, it'll sink deep into the atmosphere and none of it will ever leave Saturn no matter how many asteroids hit the atmosphere of Saturn.

This is the disposal strategy for the gas giants which all have a bunch of moons. For the terrestrial planets Mars and Venus, they fly the satellites into the atmosphere to burn up like with Earth so that they don't create space junk around the planet. Also Mars and Earth already exchange rocks naturally. Maybe Venus receives Earth rocks as well.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 8:00 PM on September 9 [7 favorites]


I have some friends who have worked on Cassini, and spoken incredibly eloquently about Cassini in the larger scope of a career. I'm having a pool party next weekend, with the poolside movie being Galaxy Quest, and some friends might not make it because the night before might be kind of a lot.

(It is a little bit profound to have friends who are planetary scientists.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:58 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Well this thread has been informative and awe-inspiring. Thank you all for sharing! I'm looking forward to seeing what we hear back from Cassini in its dying moments.
posted by mantecol at 10:51 PM on September 9


Mild curiosity led to do a bit of googling and there's a lot more of the little fellas zipping around the solar system that what I would have thought.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:54 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]




Bunderful: One of the songs on Aimee Mann's newest album opens:

Stuck in the past,
Drawing rings around Saturn.

Makes me think about Cassini, even if the song's not actually about it.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:57 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to cry over a damn non-sentient spacecraft

I watched this with my boys (6 and 3) and I was mostly feeling a little reflective about how emotional this must be for the engineers who have been working with it till I started getting the questions:

"So if it's out of fuel they're going to use Titan's gravity to slingshot it back to earth?"
"Well, how is it going to get back to earth then?"
"You mean it's just going to orbit Saturn forever?"
"What do you mean it's going to burn up? Why didn't they give it enough fuel to come home?"

I was doing okay and explaining how they didn't want to leave junk just lying around making a mess in space when suddenly I remembered the XKCD about the Spirit rover--you know the one--and suddenly had to change the subject very quickly.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:58 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of an old Red Skelton TV comedy sketch of the first spaceman to land on Saturn. Because of a technical glitch, he is poignantly abandoned there to die.
posted by ovvl at 9:31 PM on September 10


Fantastic movie!

For those who want to be awed by robots in space doing great work, well worth listening to RadioLab's podcast "Where the Sun Don't Shine" about Voyager 1 crossing over our Solar System threshold.

(Yeah, I know a lot of you seem to hate RadioLab, but still a great episode).
posted by greenhornet at 10:39 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


I'm not going to cry over a damn non-sentient spacecraft I just heard of 5 minutes go.

Odyssey: We have to go!
Cassini: Nope, I can't make it! My main circuits are gone, my anti-grav-systems blown, and both backup systems are failing.
Odyssey: You can make it!
Cassini: It's no use, Odyssey! My useful days are finished! But part of me goes with ya. You'll never be obsolete... Carry on the tradition... We're the best...

(this movie traumatized me as a small child. now it's your turn)
posted by um at 1:20 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I've learned from 17776 that it's ok to feel emotions for these spacecrafts. I had a good tearin' up after that movie. It felt right.
posted by numaner at 1:10 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


“A Few Last Words On The Best Spacecraft of Our Lives, Before It Dies,” Rae Paoletta, Gizmodo io9, 13 September 2017
posted by ob1quixote at 11:37 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I'm going to sleep through the immolation and final radio signal grab. I will awaken to a universe that is greatly enriched by the mission and has suffered loss by the death of this robot friend.

Bravo! You did well!
posted by hippybear at 11:47 PM on September 14


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posted by notyou at 5:09 AM on September 15


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