NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has taken its first plunge past Saturn, and the results are pretty amazing. On its dive, Cassini goes from 45,000 miles from Saturn’s surface to as close as 4,200 miles from the spinning cloud cover, and it even threaded the needle by passing between the planet and its famous rings — where Cassini was hit by a few stray particles.
The brief video above shows some of the highlights of the first pass, and you can read about the first pass, and get links to the longer videos, here. Forget the fact that the video footage from Cassini is black and white, and focus on the fact that we are seeing video taken from a planet that is more than 750 million miles away from our little part of the universe. And take a good look at Saturn’s incredible strangeness — like the defined hexagonal shape that is formed by the cloud formations at Saturn’s north pole and the completely distinct eye that is found at the center of the polar vortex. What could cause the clouds to form such unusual, seemingly unnatural shapes?
This is a good idea, when you think about it. If you want people to bundle up against the approaching cold, telling them about winter storm “Ernie” probably isn’t going to do it. But limiting winter storm names to terrible inhuman beings from Greek and Roman mythology is too limiting; given the regular appearance of bad winter storms, eventually we’re going to run out of names, just as has happened with naming celestial objects.
So I suggest sprinkling in some popular culture references, too. Let’s start with the names of James Bond villains, Star Trek evildoers, and comic book and movie supervillains. Oh, yes — we’d definitely pay attention to news about winter storm Draco, polar vortex Khan, snowstorm Ultron, or the approaching icy clutches of Megatron.
Here in the Midwest, we’re bracing for the latest round of unpredictable weather. People have read that a “polar vortex” will be moving through this week, producing unseasonably cool temperatures in Ohio and its neighbors, and there’s been a lot of chatter about it.
The meteorologists are debating whether the incoming weather conditions really should be called a polar vortex at all — but the average Joe doesn’t care about the scientific mumbo-jumbo. The fact is, we like having weather phenomena to talk about. It’s basic, inoffensive stuff that you can talk about with anyone, and since it’s always changing, it’s a constant source of new fodder for conversation. “Hot enough for ya?” “That thunderstorm last night was a big one, wasn’t it?” “This is the snowiest winter in years.” Sure, it’s boring — but remember, this is the Midwest.
The predicted “polar vortex” (or not) that is headed our way consists of thunderstorms followed by a few days of high temperatures in the low 70s and lows in the low 50s. Compared to tornadoes and other bad weather conditions, it’s pretty tame. In fact, it sounds like a delightful break from the normal July menu of blazing days in the 90s and hot, muggy nights. We’ll probably open our windows and enjoy the cool air.