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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Jesse "Doc" Wendel: "Look What We Can Do!"

All Planet Sizes relative to each other. Outward from the Sun, the planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Jupiter's diameter is about 11 times that of the Earth's and the Sun's diameter is about 10 times Jupiter's. Pluto's diameter is slightly less than one-fifth of Earth's. The planets are not shown at the appropriate distance from the Sun. Image Credit: Lunar and Planetary Laboratory

We can always count on "DOC" WENDEL to presence our essential humanity. THANK YOU DOC for touching our hearts.

Truckin': Lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it's been

Ten years ago a spaceship named Cassini left Earth and headed towards Saturn by falling inwards towards the Sun and letting gravity speed her up. Cassini only had enough fuel to fire her engines occasionally, so the scientists running her mission used gravity assists & flybys : they played crack-the-whip around the planets while simultaneously lining Cassini up for the solar system's biggest game of pool.

Cassini's target was Saturn and to get there, she headed for the Sun. This is called "How to pick up speed. Fast." Here's a short movie of the whole sequence: Cassini ducked tightly around Venus, flew out past Mars' orbit, then headed back in for another close pass around Venus picking up even more velocity. She got another push going back out past Earth, and yet another kick passing Jupiter taking pictures all the while. Finally in 2004, a full seven years after she started, Cassini arrived at Saturn.

Listen... I'm trying to tell you something. Listen with your whole heart please. Three years ago a spaceship crossed a distance so far I can't explain it to you or to myself with any example which will actually communicate the distance in terms of distance. The best I can do is say it took seven years one-way in conditions so harsh it isn't yet possible to send a living person there or even a dog (like Laika, the Russian space dog who died within hours of launch from stress and overheating.) And even if we could send a human (and we can't), we couldn't bring her (or him) back home alive.

Just three years ago we crossed this distance with a large spaceship. It's only the third time in human history we've crossed to Saturn and the first two times were tiny Voyagers simply passing by.

Just last week as I write this, NASA posted new photographs from Saturn. Last week. In the whole of human history, after ten years and crack-the-whip and a four-planet pool shot with the Sun's gravity as the cue-stick, after three years orbiting and dodging so many moons I'm not even certain how many there are, not to mention all those gorgeous rings, with Steve in the hospital and open-heart surgery, with people living, dying, getting married and breaking up, with kittens still being cute and... and nothing. There's no opposite to kittens being cute; they're cute.

With everything that is and everything that isn't, I can say this: On March 1st, 2007, human beings posted photographs on the world-wide internet, taken from around the planet Saturn... taken from Saturn.

As a species, we rock. When we commit to learn, we move from Bulls in China Shops to Beginners, from Beginners to Advanced Beginners and then to Competency. Then to Proficient and Virtuosity, and a few people even become Masters, inventing new distinctions in the domain which alter the domain of learning for everyone who comes afterwards. 104 years ago we didn't even have controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight. And now, Saturn. Cassini orbits Saturn.

Look what we can do...

Viewing hint 1: The high-resolution links below each photo kick serious ass.
Viewing hint 2: I've saved the best for last -- a link to the Cassini Photo Essay. If you're easily bored, simply must read the end of the post first, or just want the best stuff as fast as possible, then click the above link now (turn your speakers on.) It's as if you are flying near Saturn yourself. If you can, please first come along with me below and be in awe at these three photos. The above link is for the "can't wait" crowd. *grins*

Pastel Planet

With pastel blues, pinks, greens and golds, Saturn displays a dazzling diversity of colors and hues. The small moon Janus (181 kilometers, or 113 miles across) can be spotted off the planet's western limb (edge) near the image bottom. Image scale is 60 kilometers (38 miles) per pixel.

High Resolution: PIA08359: Pastel Planet
<-- Best viewed in High Resolution Symmetry in Shadow

Magnificent blue and gold Saturn floats obliquely as one of its gravity-bound companions, Dione, hangs in the distance. The darkened rings seem to nearly touch their shadowy reverse images on the planet below. Dione is 1,126 kilometers (700 miles) across. Image scale is 75 kilometers (47 miles) per pixel.

High Resolution: PIA08358: Symmetry in Shadow <-- Best viewed in High Resolution

Blinding Saturn

Surely one of the most gorgeous sights the solar system has to offer, Saturn sits enveloped by the full splendor of its stately rings.

Taking in the rings in their entirety was the focus of this particular imaging sequence. Therefore, the camera exposure times were just right to capture the dark-side of its rings, but longer than that required to properly expose the globe of sunlit Saturn. Consequently, the sunlit half of the planet is overexposed.

Between the blinding light of day and the dark of night, there is a strip of twilight on the globe where colorful details in the atmosphere can be seen. Bright clouds dot the bluish-grey northern polar region here. In the south, the planet's night side glows golden in reflected light from the rings' sunlit face.

Saturn's shadow stretches completely across the rings in this view, taken on Jan. 19, 2007, in contrast to what Cassini saw when it arrived in 2004 (see PIA05429).

The view is a mosaic of 36 images -- that is, 12 separate sets of red, green and blue images -- taken over the course of about 2.5 hours, as Cassini scanned across the entire main ring system. This view looks toward the unlit side of the rings from about 40 degrees above the ring plane.

The images in this natural-color view were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera at a distance of approximately 1.23 million kilometers (764,000 miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 70 kilometers (44 miles) per pixel.

High Resolution: PIA08362: Blinding Saturn <-- Best viewed in High Resolution

AND FINALLY -- Make certain you hit this. Speakers on. Sit back. And enjoy the Cassini Photo Essay as you ride with Cassini in orbit through near-Saturn space.

This is genuine human accomplishment. This is beauty writ across the face of the Solar System.

- posted by Jesse "Doc" Wendel

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit The Cassini imaging team homepage is at . Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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