Originally Published: May 8, 2017 6 a.m.
Farewell Cassini! We appreciate your efforts and are saddened that The End is near. Yes, NASA’s ambitious little spacecraft was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. It began its mission by photographing Titan and taking the most detailed pictures of a far away moon in the history of mankind. Then it was on to Saturn, giving students of space exploration a thrilling in-depth look at those mysterious rings which engulf the distant planet. Sadly, all good things must come to an end.
Over 700 million miles away, this work-horse of a spacecraft will begin making its final dive and then crash and burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere. What have we learned? Sometimes things are never as they appear. The great, vast “dusty rings” that scientists were so certain of are actually pretty barren.
Now tagged, “The Big Empty,” it is startling to so many space experts that their predictions and models were so wrong. Welcome to the world of science! Where facts evolve and models of understanding change.
Does it take a little spacecraft called Cassini to show us that no matter what we think, things can somehow be different? For instance, did humans arrive in America more than 100,000 years earlier than expected, as recent research indicates?
Actually, science remains the last, great adventure of humankind. It gives us the notion that our planet is not so big after all, that the universe is infinite, that life is pretty darn precious and there is always something new to learn.
Get out your telescope! Point up to the darkened sky and behold, the crazy, ringed world of Saturn. And look a bit further to its moon Titan, the place where if we ever get a chance to go back, we might bring sailboats, submarines and rovers! Because, what we found was rivers and oceans and lakes . . . a planet so far away yet an environment with possibilities of life. And then there is the moon Mimas that absolutely looks like the Death Star, with a crater a third of its own size. Okay, so we did not find intelligent life on other planets – but let’s face it, sometimes that is a challenge right here on Earth! But that was never the goal. It was exploration of the Great Unknown.
School children all over the world have been writing thank you notes to Cassini and the team who worked on this project for the past twenty years. My ninety-four year old mother has enjoyed looking at the NASA photos on her iPad that have been streamed down to Earth.
My four year old great-granddaughter wants to be an astronaut and colleges everywhere claim that there is an uptick in applicants interested in math and science. Cassini . . . . . . you have inspired us!
What does it all mean, Dear Readers? That our solar system is bigger than our small worries, more vast than our wildest dreams and discoveries made in far-away places help us think, create, imagine, invent and solve the mysteries around us. Enjoy the stars! And one lovely spacecraft.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and local realtor. Have a story or a comment? Contact Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.