Sunday, September 17, 2017

Machines and People: Why Do We Have Feelings About the End of Cassini?

From NASA: "In the shadow of Saturn, unexpected wonders appear. The robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn drifted in giant planet's shadow for about 12 hours in 2006 and looked back toward the eclipsed Sun. Cassini saw a view unlike any other. First, the night side of Saturn is seen to be partly lit by light reflected from its own majestic ring system. Next, the rings themselves appear dark when silhouetted against Saturn, but quite bright when viewed away from Saturn, slightly scattering sunlight, in this exaggerated color image. Saturn's rings light up so much that new rings were discovered, although they are hard to see in the image. Seen in spectacular detail, however, is Saturn's E ring, the ring created by the newly discovered ice-fountains of the moon Enceladus and the outermost ring visible above. Far in the distance, at the left, just above the bright main rings, is the almost ignorable pale blue dot of Earth." Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

 “See the dark night has come down on us
The world is livin' in its dream
But now we know that we can wake up from this sleep
And set out on the journey
Find a ship to take us on the way.”

- Gerry Rafferty, “The Ark,” with apologies to Bill DeYoung 

In the early morning hours of September 15, as I awoke and readied for work, Cassini started its final plunge into Saturn, its home of 13 years. Launched in October 1997 from a Titan IV-Centaur launch vehicle, the spacecraft had spent its last few months conducting “dives” into the unexplored region between the gas giant and its signature rings. But alas, 20 years dissipated into a matter of seconds, and at 7:55 a.m. EDT JPL received the last signals from the minivan-sized spacecraft, just before it turned into a meteor among the high clouds of Saturn. By that time, I was clocking into work during a challenging week; my job had been relocated across town due to Hurricane Irma damage. Still, as I checked out the Cassini updates on social media, I found myself welling up with tears. Why?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hurricane Irma Updates and Live Blog - Largo, FL

"The NOAA-NASA satellite GOES-16 captured this geocolor image of Hurricane Irma passing the eastern end of Cuba at about 8:00 a.m. EDT on Sept. 8, 2017... Please note: GOES-16 data are currently experimental and undergoing testing and hence should not be used operationally." Entire NOAA caption can be viewed at this link. Image Credit: NOAA/NASA
7:40 p.m. Sept. 9: We are currently in Largo, Florida, having evacuated from our home in Saint Petersburg, waiting for what is being anticipated as the worst weather event in the Tampa Bay area since 1960's Hurricane Donna. As of 7:30 p.m. EDT, the track has the storm making its way through Tampa Bay in the early hours of Monday, Sept. 10 as a Category 3 hurricane. We are in a non-evacuation zone with plenty of food, sodas, water, and snacks, plus we have our cat, Felix, here by us, so we're about as safe as we will be given the situation. Still very nerve-wracking, nobody here is sure what they'll endure or find at homes once the evacuation orders lift. I figured I'd deal with my nerves by trying to document the storm as much as I can. 


Video filmed around 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9. Please excuse the terrible production quality.

12 a.m. Sept. 10: Sleepless, so I thought I'd share this cool 1960 radar image of Hurricane Donna over the Florida Keys, which was mentioned in the above update. As you can tell, radar technology at that time was rudimentary; the colorful, detailed images we see presently were still well into the future, but these images did mitigate what could've been a worse loss of human life and infrastructure in Florida. I know I linked a Wikipedia article above, but it's not a bad read, plus there is a cool time-lapse of radar images of Donna in there, if you're interested in that kind of thing.

Radar image of Hurricane Donna over the Florida Keys, 1960. Retrieved from http://www.whyy.org/tv12/franklinfacts/sep1200ff.html (Original source: NOAA) 
4:38 p.m. Sept. 10: Please check out my Facebook profile (http://www.facebook.com/emilybot) for updates concerning Hurricane Irma; as long as I have battery power, I will keep everyone updated as much as humanly possible.

So far, we are getting tropical storm-like conditions, and we are safe. For meteorological updates, I suggest checking out Denis Phillips' page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/denisphillipswfts/). 
 *****
Please stay with This Space Available for further updates; if updates cease we may have suffered a power or Wi-Fi outage, so please be patient. Thank you.