Wednesday's Cassini flyby of Enceladus

My favorite little moon. Cassini made a pass that traveled just 31 miles from the surface, and I know they’ve got to have fantastic new images - I just wish I could find them. I think I read they’ll make 6 more passes with the most daring attempt being just 15 miles above the surface going straight into the mouth of a geyser. For a comparison… the SR-71 blackbird flies at that same height over Earth and balloonits have ventured up even higher. In space terms, that’s close!

For anyone wondering what the big deal is about Enceladus:

liquid water

Looks like the raw images should be available here:
It’s really, really slow at the moment.

This page had links to the above, some press release type stuff, and a link to NASA blogs about this (which might be interesting).

Yeah it’s really slow, but according to JPL the raw imagery should be up there. They posted a couple to the blog.

— Alan

It’s interesting that as we continue to blow each other up and obsess over sex scandals and whatnot, the scruffy nerds at JPL do their bit to redeem the human race.

Thanks for the heads up jpinard.

Seriously, is there any cooler science than astronomy?


Crocodile biology, naturally.

I’ve been trolling through the images. Just thinking about exactly what they did here blows my god damn mind.

Some would say Astronomy is a pseudoscience because it, by nature, doesn’t allow for experimental control. You know: philosophers.

You’re thinking of cosmology. Astronomy is very much a science that has generated eons of experimentation.

I kind of thought that too until I took an upper-division university astromechanics class. We basically started from zero and proved many things only by looking at the light emitted by stars (things like distance, temperature, size, and composition). Previously I thought these things were “guesstimated” through hypotheses and best guesses and stochastic/statistical fiddling and so forth, but it turns out that even for the most distant stellar objects, the mathematics are rigorous and well understood, and don’t get into the potentially goofier areas like advanced physics such as singularities, imaginary numbers, etc (I should caveat that I classify loftier things like space-time and black holes as physics and cosmology more than astronomy).

It was at that point that I realized astronomy is as rigorous and well documented as other “hard” physical sciences like geology and chemistry and Newtonian physics. Seriously, I feel that we may as well have a lab in which we can directly analyze stars and planets because the science is that well founded.

However, I admit defeat in that krayzkrok has one again trumped all with crocodile biology. Dammit.


That they can fly millions of kilometers, and then cut past a moon travelling at who knows what goddamned speed, so close… it’s just crazy. Crazy awesome, but still crazy.

It’s also a testament to the amount of solid science behind the whole thing.

And to imagine that they had the trajectory of the probe set 11 years ago. That, IMHO, is damn impressive.

11 Years Ago, in a bar outside of Pasadena, CA
Drunken Man: You wanna make a bet? I bet you 500 bucks I can make a several ton vehicle pass through a plume of steam from a geyser more than a billion kilometers away! Oh, you don’t think I can do that, eh? Well, let’s up the ante! I’ll fly the bugger 52 kilometers away from the geyser! See you in 11 years, asshole!

3.5 billion kilometers, actually. And yeah, totally awesome.

Hard to wrap my mind around the size of our solar system sometimes. Millions, billions, what I really meant was “incomprehensibly far”.

edit: Although I guess I can understand millions, as a family friend has been driving a truck and trailer rig for many many years, and he’s driven over 13 million kilometers. At highway speeds!

Oh they can make course corrections with Cassini and I’m sure they have, but yeah they do plan the routes out well in advance.

Yeah, there’s a little matter of making sure the satellite has enough fuel (plutonium) to complete the mission. Something you can only determine if you know where it’s going :)

Yeah, it’s pretty hard for anyone to conceptualize these sorts of distances, I think. And then, if you want to go a step further, you can consider that 3.5 billion kilometers is an insignificantly small distance compared to gulf between our solar system and the nearest star.

At that point I switch over to “how many years it would take to get there at the speed of light” and leave it abstract, or let my sci-fi neurons take over.

You ever see a joke that you wish you’d thought of? Yeah, happens to me all the time.