kottke.org posts about saturn

The truth of science with your own eyesMay 14 2014

Clive Thompson recently saw the moons of Jupiter with his own eyes and has a moment.

I saw one huge, bright dot, with three other tiny pinpoints of light nearby, all lined up in a row (just like the image at the top of this story). Holy moses, I realized; that's no star. That's Jupiter! And those are the moons of Jupiter!

I'm a science journalist and a space buff, and I grew up oohing and aahing over the pictures of Jupiter sent back by various NASA space probes. But I'd never owned a telescope, and never done much stargazing other than looking up in the night unaided. In my 45 years I'd never directly observed Jupiter and its moons myself.

So I freaked out. In a good way! It was a curiously intense existential moment.

For my birthday when I was seven or eight, my dad bought me a telescope. (It was a Jason telescope; didn't everyone have a telescope named after them?) We lived in the country in the middle of nowhere where it was nice and dark, so over the next few years, we looked at all sorts of celestial objects through that telescope. Craters on the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, Mars, and even sunspots on the Sun with the aid of some filters. But the thing that really got me, that provided me with my own version of Thompson's "curiously intense existential moment", was seeing the rings of Saturn through a telescope.

We had heard from PBS's Jack Horkheimer, the Star Hustler, that Saturn and its rings would be visible and he showed pictures of what it would look like, something like this:

Saturn through a telescope

But seeing that with your own eyes through a telescope was a different thing entirely. Those tiny blurry rings, visible from millions of miles away. What a thrill! It's one of my favorite memories.

Saturn without its ringsOct 17 2013

Over at The Planetary Society, Emily Lakdawalla highlighted an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Saturn separate from its rings.

This enormous mosaic showing the flattened globe of Saturn floating amongst the complete disk of its rings must surely be counted among the great images of the Cassini mission. From Earth, we never see Saturn separate from its rings. Here, we can see the whole thing, a gas giant like Jupiter, separated at last from the rings that encircle it.

Taking this idea one step further, I removed the rings completely, along with the "ringlight" lighting up the night hemisphere, creating a more-or-less pure look of what Saturn would look like without its rings.

Saturn Without Rings

Larger version is available on Mlkshk.

Waltz Around SaturnJul 25 2013

Fabio Di Donato made this fantastic short film about Saturn using hundreds of thousands of images taken by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft.

I love the editing technique employed here...the film feels like a silent short from the 1920s but also very contemporary. (via ★interesting)

Photograph from the surface of TitanFeb 05 2013

So far, humans have taken photos from the surfaces of Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars. But I had no idea that a photo from the surface of Titan existed:

Titan Surface

The photo of the Saturnian moon was taken in 2005 by the Huygens probe, which was designed to land safely on the moon's surface. From Wikipedia:

After landing, Huygens photographed a dark plain covered in small rocks and pebbles, which are composed of water ice. The two rocks just below the middle of the image on the right are smaller than they may appear: the left-hand one is 15 centimeters across, and the one in the center is 4 centimeters across, at a distance of about 85 centimeters from Huygens. There is evidence of erosion at the base of the rocks, indicating possible fluvial activity. The surface is darker than originally expected, consisting of a mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice. The assumption is that the "soil" visible in the images is precipitation from the hydrocarbon haze above.

And a special close-but-no-cigar award goes to the NEAR Shoemaker probe, which snapped this photo from about 400 feet above the surface of the near-Earth asteroid Eros:

Eros surface

The probe landed on the surface of Eros in February 2001 and transmitted usable data for about two weeks afterwards, none of which was photographic in nature.

Lovely watercolor mapsMar 21 2012

Well, now, this is gorgeous. Stamen Design overlaid watercolor textures on OpenStreetMap map tiles to show you what it would look like if your favorite watercolorist designed Google Maps.

Watercolor maps

It's fun to scroll and scroll. (via @tomcoates)

And since we all could stand to look at more pretty things, watch this video of what different landscapes would look like if Earth had Saturn's rings. (via @ianmurren)

Solar eclipse...by SaturnSep 12 2011

The Cassini spacecraft caught this remarkable photo of Saturn eclipsing the Sun in 2006.

Saturn eclipse

Click through for the big image and the massive image. If you look close can see the Earth in the image, for reals!

Saturn fly-by videoMar 15 2011

There is no 3-D CGI involved in this amazing Saturn fly-by video...it's made from thousands of hi-res photographs taken by the Cassini orbiter.

Wait for the full-frame full-color video starting at around 1:00. (thx, sam)

Imagining Earth with Saturn's ringsDec 09 2009

This video of what Earth would look like with Saturnine rings is pretty ho-hum, yeah, there's a shot from orbit of the Earth with Saturn's rings around it, and then BAM! here's what it would look like at night in NYC:

Earth with Saturn's Rings

The view from Ecuador is pretty great too.

Update: Greg Allen wants an iPhone app that adds in Saturn's rings to any shot you take with the camera.

With the combination of GPS and orientation data that's baked in to so many digital photographs, it should be possible to create a filter -- I hear the kids call them apps now -- that automatically inserts properly positioned Saturn rings into any sky you want.

An augmented reality app would be nice too.

Quadruple transit of SaturnMar 18 2009

The Hubble Space Telescope captured four of Saturn's moons crossing its face at the same time. (via cyn-c)

We're still finding lots of new moonsMay 04 2005

We're still finding lots of new moons around the planets in our solar systems. Twelve new ones were just discovered around Saturn and Jupiter now has 63.

Amazing Hubble photo of Saturn's ringsSep 16 2003

Amazing Hubble photo of Saturn's rings.

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