Sunday, September 17, 2017

Casinni, cranes, and colors

 Artist's concept of Cassini diving between Saturn and its innermost ring.

I watched much of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's control center's last couple of hours following the Cassini spacecraft's final moments before burning up in Saturn's atmosphere.  I've been fascinated by space stuff since Alan Shepherd's first Mercury flight.

When it finally plunged into Saturn's atmosphere it was going well over 70,000 miles per hour (112,654 kph). Radio contact was lost and Cassini was no more. It was launched in 1997 and took seven years to get to Saturn. It orbited Saturn, checked out the rings and the moons (Titan, Europa, and 50 plus others) and gathered data for thirteen years about the makeup of all these places that only existed in little more than our imaginations previously. Amazing things like water on Titan, ice jets spewing from Enceladus and unbelievable things about the rings. There are volumes of things I could tell you about, but I only have what's left of my lifetime. Follow the link above and be amazed. At the end of its twenty year mission everyone in the control room looked a bit misty-eyed. After so long and all the dedication and time put into it I can't blame them. The scope of what they have been a part of is nearly unbelievable and will continue to educate and fascinate for many years to come.

You may wonder what connection I have to such a thing. I wouldn't have believed it either, but I owe it to my father. Remember when he was a foreign student at N.C. State back after WW2? Some faculty would bring the foreign students to their homes for dinner and discussions and broadening horizons. What I didn't know until after my father, Otto, died was that he had kept up a correspondence with the young daughter of one of the faculty members he met at one of these dinners. Otto regularly corresponded with hundreds of friends and relatives throughout his life and in going through mail that kept coming from these people (I did respond to all of them in one way or another)  I found several from Jim and Barbara in Pasadena. It was hand written from Barbara about Jim's exploits at the JPL there and had all this cool stuff about the satellites and probes that NASA sent out into the universe. It turns out that Jim was the Deep Space Radio guy transmitting and receiving from all these probes. He's the guy setting up communications with Mariner, Viking, Galileo, Deep Space 1, Dawn and numerous others. Holy shit!

About five years ago Jim and Barbara were on their way from Pasadena to visit their kids near the Adirondack Mountains of New York. They stopped my my humble abode for a quick visit and I was thrilled, honored, and overjoyed at getting to meet them. I lost contact for a while and am now trying to re-establish it. Wish me luck!

The sandhill cranes stopped by for a visit. Probably thinking about heading south for the winter. At least the have the sense that god gave geese to figure out that this is a good idea. They probably spent a winter here once and that was enough. They were way down in the pasture, but since they are about four feet tall I spotted them when going out to feed the horses this morning.

Fall colors have started in earnest now. With the wet conditions all summer and a gently cooling fall predicted it should be a good show this year. Predictions being what they are and Nature being what she is I'll just keep my fingers crossed and my eyes open for some good photo ops.


  1. When I was growing up landing on the moon was science-fiction. We have come such a long way.
    Loved the cranes and am really looking forward to your arboreal fireworks. Autumn is a truly beautiful time of year.

  2. Pretty cool about your dad's friends! And I got choked up just thinking about the scientists sending Cassini to its end when I read about it a few days ago. I can only start to imagine how they actually felt.

    Our significantly smaller migratory birds than your cranes are starting to flock together in the trees and do practice swooping in a big gang. It won't be long until our leaves start to turn colour also. How did the summer go so fast?

  3. I am so interested in space and the stars.
    My Father worked for Kitt Peak Observatories when I was in High School. He worked on some of the first telescopes built.
    Casini was unbelievable, 20 years.

    cheers, parsnip

  4. I've been interested in all things celestial from a young age. PBS had a special on when Cassinni came to an end. What marvelous information we received from the probe. I almost hated to hear its demise.

    Nice shots of the cranes. Yes, time for the migration to begin again. I'm not a fan of winter ...

    You really should have a pretty fall this year. I know how pretty it got when I lived in MN. (But, it gets pretty here - if we go for a drive - it's mostly oak around the house.)

  5. I am envious that the cranes land in your field! I am British Columbia and am on their migratory path. They seemed to have picked our locale as a spot to circle, catch warm air and re-group. We watch them as they gather up and then disappear. Most of the time I only know they're overhead because of their unique honks.

  6. What a cool connection. And that's awesome that your father kept up correspondence with so many people, and through handwritten snail mail at that. I feel overwhelmed just when I have to compose 5 e-mails in the morning.

  7. Elephant's Child, A trip to the moon captured a spirit in this country that we haven't seen since. It's too bad. Autumn is looking very promising. It should be good.

    Sioux, Thanks! You're not so bad yourself. ;)

    jenny_o, The old man was full of surprises, but always very low key about these things. Eleven years after his death he still amazes me. We have a lot of hawks heading south as well as every other species that does that.

    angryparsnip, I think I would have followed your father up the mountain to work a lot. That is very cool!

    Sharon, There is very little light pollution where I live. I look up quite a bit after dark. The aurora was out last night. It was at least 200 yards to the cranes. I am less a fan of winter every year, but I try to make the best of it. I have to go at least a hundred miles south to see a few oaks.

    Research, Their honks are what drew me to them when they started showing up about fifteen years ago. It is unmistakable. I need to get out to B.C. before I kick the bucket.

    ABFTS, It was phenomenal how much he wrote and all those who missed it when he was gone. Birthdays were always a good excuse for him. I don't mind writing, but finding something to write about is always a challenge.

  8. There's a lot to BC so make some time! From rain forest to hunkering mountains to wide open range lands. It's all here. My favourites: west coast of Vancouver Island (Tofino or Ucluelet), Nelson and pretty much anywhere in the Kootenays, the south Okanagan (where I live), and Victoria. If you do plan a trip, post your itinerary so I can make some suggestions.

  9. wow..I've always been fascinated about space..I remember buying a color tv to watch them walk on the moon..who knew it would be in black and white.ha..

  10. Lovely pictures as always, Jono. I actually worked at JPL one summer. 1978 ?? I think.

  11. piseth san, It is, which makes the transition into "the cold, dark time" more bearable.

    Research, B.C., like several places I would like to see, deserves at least a year to explore and appreciate. If I get a chance to visit I will contact you.

    JACKIESUE, Haha, yeah there wasn't any green cheese after all. I was a little disappointed about that.

    Donna, You got to work there? How cool is that. It might even be fun just being a janitor there. I hope you are well these days.

  12. What a cool connection to the space program! I hope you manage to make contact with Jim and Barbara again. I enjoyed your photos of the sandhill cranes, too. A flock of them used to hang out near our acreage in Alberta, but I don't know if they come this far west. We're still learning about all the indigenous flora and fauna here - great fun!

  13. Our astronomers have done some pretty amazing things. But then your dad sounds like he was pretty amazing as well. (P.S. My daughter is a post doc at NC State.)

  14. Diane, I got an email from Jim last night! They are both well and he is STILL working full time. I envy your discovery of the local species and all the "what the hell was THAT" questions that will come up.

    Tom, I am still reading about and looking at the pictures from our more recent exploits in space. I was accepted at N.C. State College of Forestry on the same day as as the college I went to. I was barely seventeen and didn't have a clue as to what I wanted to be when I grew up. Still don't.

  15. How cool to have such a close personal connection to the space program! My first job here in Florida was at an engineering firm where one of the geologists who helped pick the landing site for the first moon landing worked. And he was such a regular guy, too - very friendly and approachable.

    I'm looking forward to your fall foliage photos!