Trial Balloon

Trial Balloon: April 27, 2009 Archive

Followed By a Moon Shadow

Posted at 5:20 AM on April 27, 2009 by Dale Connelly (29 Comments)

Welcome to Monday!

We so often feel besieged by disappointment and calamity - war, financial collapse, possible swine flu pandemics, tragedy, etc., etc., etc.
But the universe is big and our problems quite small by comparison, so when things appear bleak, why not step back and take the long view?

How long? How about 700 million miles?

No matter how miserable things become in the next few months, (and misery is not guaranteed or required - feel free to have a great summer), by August we will feel some justified amazement from otherworldly images from space. The Cassini spacecraft is still out there, orbiting Saturn, taking pictures.
Lauded in yesterday's NY Times, the Cassini has a busy few months ahead of it, as NASA scientists explain:

One of the happy results of Saturn's 29-year revolution around the sun is the changing elevation of the sun seen from the planet, and the changing elevation of the shadows of the rings and moons that the sun's apparent motion brings.
Between now and equinox in August, the shadows cast by the moons on the rings will grow longer with time.

The statement goes on to discuss "vertical displacement" of the ringplane and the ramifications of changing orbital inclinations with regard to the position of the sun, but in layman's terms the result is this:
Wicked cool photos of moon shadows across the rings of Saturn are on the way!
We should be seeing them all summer!

Pan between rings.jpg

Here are some recent shots. You can click on any image to see a larger version. The photo to the left shows a tiny white dot, Saturn's moon Pan, comfortably nestled between the rings. The very small stripe above the dot is Pan's shadow.

Epimetheus shadow.jpg

To the right is a shadow cast by another one of Saturn's moons -
Epimetheus. Often we see the shadow but not the moon itself. Not to worry - NASA has photos of those too.

Janus double light.jpg

Here's one. Janus is a misshapen lump, like a chunk of blueberry muffin that fell in the sink one day when I was snacking on the sly. Janus is getting bright light from the Sun on one side, and light reflected off Saturn on the other.

Dione.jpgOn the right we have Dione, looking like a backdrop painting for a high school production of South Pacific, ready for some nurse and a French guy to come along and sing a love song in front of it.

All this goes spinning through space, oblivious to our troubles. Thanks to NASA and JPL and Cassini, we can watch in amazement, and when we have too many burdens, we can send a few of them them off to cast shadows across the rings of Saturn.

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