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Captain's Log

December 24, 2014

As another year in Saturn orbit draws to a close, and with Christmas a day away, I thought I would present, as my gift to all of you, some lovely visions ... not of sugar-plums, but of astounding things we have seen at Saturn, and the vision that such things have left in my mind, rendered by one of the most renowned astronomical artists of our time.

One vision that made an indelible impression on those of us who have been fascinated by Saturn's rings since the days of Voyager is the one, seen in images taken during the planet's equinox in mid-2009, of the tall, spiky features and the long shadows they cast at the outer edge of Saturn's most massive ring, the B ring. These incredible structures are nothing less than mountainous waves of icy rubble extending more than 2 miles high above the 30-feet-thick disk of debris that forms the plane of the rings. As this is the site of the strongest resonance with a Saturnian moon that exists in the rings, we believe it is the repeated compression of the ring material around large, embedded moonlets that jams the particles together and then upwards, like a wave crashing around a giant rock at the ocean's shore. [Links to these images and more, with further explanations, can be found here.

I have often thought: What a surreal sight this would be if you were flying low across the rings in a shuttle craft. To your eyes, the rings would seem like a gleaming white, scored, gravelly sheet below you, extending nearly to infinity. And as you flew, you would see in the distance a wall of rubble that, eventually, as it neared, you would come to realize towered 2 miles above your head. There isn't another sight like it in the solar system!

Michael Carroll, a beloved and skilled astronomical artist, took this idea, mentioned often in my public lectures, and turned it into a piece of art.




This holiday season, as you're kicking back and enjoying the peace and quiet and Christmas sparkle that this time of year has to offer, let your mind wander to that ringed planet clear across the solar system that we have come to know so well.

Imagine yourself in that craft, joysticking among its many moons and across its rings, and revisit in your mind all the glorious places we have seen during our decade's time there, including this phenomenal sector of Saturn's rings. Ten years ago, it would not have been possible for you to have such a reverie. And now it's yours and mine ... to enjoy at will, whenever we wish.

Happy Holidays to all you kindred souls and space cadets and lovers of new wonders. Here's looking forward to another splendid year at Saturn up ahead.

Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
Director, CICLOPS
Boulder, CO



More Captain's Logs

Alliance Member Comments
NeKto (Jan 9, 2015 at 8:50 AM):
with all the horrible things bombarding us on the news almost every day, this is one of the good things our species is doing. the images here and the science they imply always lifts my spirits. Thank you Carolyn and the entire CICLOPS team, for being among the 'good guys' of the human species and giving so much of the good stuff to anyone who wants to take a look.
PiperPilot (Jan 6, 2015 at 8:37 PM):
Ciclops Team....Have another great year....you folks are the best.

Cosmicart.....Take care and Happy New Year to you too.

Featinwe.....You are so, so right!!
featinwe (Jan 5, 2015 at 1:42 AM):
Carolyn, this is one of the best entries here. What you said there is a quintessence of why I'm coming back to this place. You, CICLOPS allow us to travel in space together with Cassini and you make us feel as if we were really there, it's astonishing - thank you for that. It's a little late for Christmas wishes but not too late for New Years - I wish you more beautiful discoveries and a long long journey for Cassini, you and all of us!
cosmicart (Jan 2, 2015 at 3:57 PM):
Dear PiperPilot: Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you didn't know who Carolyn was; I was just pointing out that someone with her creds appreciates the scientific value of modern space art (which has little to do with Flash Gordon, etc). The International Association of Astronomical Art has, as one of its goals, to teach and mentor space artists to do the very best science they can within the artistic framework. Their art is frequently used by scientists precisely because it does depict reality as science understands it at the time. But I really apologize if I sounded in any way snippy! Best wishes for the new year.
PiperPilot (Dec 28, 2014 at 10:35 PM):
Dear Cosmicart:

I will give you that some of the space art is very beautiful. Does it depict reality? I don’t think so. As a kid I just knew that Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Space Patrol were giving me a wonderful look at the future and space in general. Over the last forty years I’ve learned first hand that they weren’t even close. Space is much grander than they had imagined. As for the book “The Art of Space” I’m afraid I must pass. Some of the comments read that it will be of great interest to those who like science fiction, and includes artists conceptions of aliens. If I wanted that I’d be headed out to Roswell. So, although the prints are pretty, I’ll just wait for all the pixels to come together in a JPG. Lastly, thank you for setting me straight. All these years I have come here to Ciclops, several emails of mine that she responded to, I had no idea what Carolyn did around there! LOL

Robert (Dec 27, 2014 at 11:23 AM):
Michael Carroll's image of the B-ring gives me a new perspective on the dynamics of Saturn's ring system. And that is the marvelous advantage of space art. It illuminates perspectives, physical interactions and atmospheres that we know exist but that we can not image directly or imagine easily.

The Cassini-Huygens missions have provided us with an unparalleled wealth of the seen and the unseen -- startling images, penetrating radar, real particle collection, invisible magnetic fields, and atmospheric sensing. Each of these require scientific and technical interpretation to make sense to us. Space art is another kind of interpretation that can combine this information in ways that the separate instruments can not. Space art provides us with an instantaneous view of both what we can see and what we have learned.

A good source for space art is www.novapix.net/us. That site has a myriad of beautiful and intriguing space art that will give your imagination a thorough workout. This site has works by Michael Carroll, Don Dixon and many others.

I feel so fortunate living in the era of space exploration. The Cassini-Hugens missions have been a particular favourite of mine. They have given me so much -- fantastic images and inspiring explanations of how dynamic and alive our solar system really is.

cosmicart (Dec 25, 2014 at 5:58 PM):
Dear PiperPilot: A great deal of data that we get today is numerical rather than visual. We also do not have images on a human scale for places other than a handful of landing sites. In both of these cases, astronomical art is of great value, and this value is appreciated not only by the public but by the scientists whose work is being visually "translated". If you are further interested, I would highly recommend Ron Miller's new book "The Art of Space" with an opening by Carolyn Porco. Carolyn (who, as you know, is imaging team leader for Cassini) wrote a nice intro that will answer your objection well.
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Dec 25, 2014 at 7:53 AM):
We will be posting a larger version of Michael's glorious painting come next week, when the CICLOPS staff is back at work. Cheers!
carolyn (CICLOPS) (Dec 25, 2014 at 7:53 AM):
We will be posting a larger version of Michael's glorious painting come next week, when the CICLOPS staff is back at work. Cheers!
jsc248 (Dec 25, 2014 at 4:30 AM):
Thanks Michael,
Despite some reservations of visual context to CASSINI data, you have produced an image of great detail and imaginative zest. The image gives a vision of being there despite whatothers may say. Truly fantastic work, well done.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone (Carolyn and the whole team) a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
rgedaly (Dec 24, 2014 at 11:54 PM):
Thanks Michael. What's particularly interesting is that your work provides a sense of scale. That's something I've had a hard time getting my head around.
PiperPilot (Dec 24, 2014 at 5:59 PM):
I will say that I have never cared for artists conceptions of astronomical renderings. I don’t feel that they are even close to what the true image would be. With all the imaging we have coming back in our solar system I don’t even see the need for it. If the discussion is about some where that we haven’t been yet I’d much rather wait for a JPG than to have someone’s WAG.
cosmicart (Dec 24, 2014 at 4:08 PM):
Dear Stevekasian: Udanax is correct, but it's a very tricky problem. I had discussed the phenomenon with Carolyn Porco at length, and we even had a lunch with piles of napkin drawings. In the end, I had to make a sculpey version of what we see (see my updated caption, which should appear on CICLOPS soon). Michael Carroll
cosmicart (Dec 24, 2014 at 4:07 PM):
Dear Stevekasian: Udanax is correct, but it's a very tricky problem. I had discussed the phenomenon with Carolyn Porco at length, and we even had a lunch with piles of napkin drawings. In the end, I had to make a sculpey version of what we see (see my updated caption, which should appear on CICLOPS soon). Michael Carroll
Udanax (Dec 24, 2014 at 3:46 PM):
Stevekasian,

We can observe the same kind of mismatch on the Moon. It is a matter of lighting angle: when sunlight falls obliquely, shadows are elongated and this exaggerates every irregularity.
Lunar mountains are actually "shaped like smooth, rolling hills", but their shadows, observed with a telescope or an orbiting spacecraft, "show sharp, jegged, craggy peaks".
In fact, Michael Carroll could not have got it righter.
hank (Dec 24, 2014 at 3:09 PM):
Is there any chance of getting that photographed, maybe on the last daring dive down the gravity well? Because a movie of that would be -- heck, you should invite bids from the major motion picture production companies.
hank (Dec 24, 2014 at 3:08 PM):
Is there any chance of getting that photographed, maybe on the last daring dive down the gravity well? Because a movie of that would be -- heck, you should invite bids from the major motion picture production companies.
stevekasian (Dec 24, 2014 at 2:02 PM):
I can't help but notice that the "beloved and skilled" Michael Carroll didn't even think to shape and contour the 2 mile high towering wall of rubble so that it matched the shadows he created for them. The edges are shaped like smooth, rolling hills, while the shadows, consistent with the actual photographs, show sharp, jagged, craggy peaks. So once again, as with almost all "conceptual artists" in the astronomical field, this artist's conception falls short of doing the concept justice. Not at all impressed.

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