Cassini Iapetus Flyby

This is getting cooler than I really thought it would. Check out this incredibly ugly little Saturnian moon, Iapetus.

JPL has a lot more pics. It’s getting really close now. However, unlike Io or Europa, the closer it gets to Iapetus, the uglier it gets. This poor little moon has obviously been battered hard by meteor strikes. It’s little spine circling the moon is the source of a lot of speculation. However, my completely uneducated guess is those two really large strikes on the same side have something to do with it. If you’ve ever squeezed a pingpong ball really hard you’d know what I’m referring to. That’s just a guess tho. I’ll leave the hard science up to those who get paid to do it. I’m in the boat of those people who just LOVE seeing this for no other reason than curiosity.

Voyager II has left the solar system

Voyager I exited our solar system about a year ago.  Voyager II apparently exited the solar system very recently.  However, it wasn’t supposed to for another year.  This told some very smart people something.  The edge of our solar system apparently is not a circle, but an egg shaped object.  To make it understandable to people like me, they did what works best, they drew a picture:

The big red thing is apparently applying pressure to the heliopause causing it to blow away from it causing the egg shaped figure.

Now, they explain what the big red thing is, sorta:

The researchers think that the heliosphere’s asymmetry might be due to a weak interstellar magnetic field pressing inward on the southern hemisphere.

It just seems to me that something that would morph the figure of our entire solar system would be something a little more exciting than a weak interstellar magnetic field.  I bet this is where conspiracy theories come from.

Our Solar System unique?

Though researchers find more and more distant planets revolving around alien suns, the discoveries highlight that Earth and its solar system may be an exceptionally rare place indeed.

That was the consensus here Wednesday evening among five planetary science experts who spoke at the 5th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Panel Debate held at the American Museum of Natural History. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, moderated the informal discussion. At issue was whether our solar system is special, why it looks the way it does, and how others thus far detected differ. The debate took place between theoretical and observational scientists on the different aspects of detecting and categorizing alien solar systems. About 700 people attended the event.

And the Space.com report summarizes with this:

But with the vast majority of the alien planets found in eccentric orbits, Butler has a different view. “I think with the data at hand, we can say that our solar system is rare. Eccentricity dominates,” said “It’s just a matter of how rare we are,” he added.

And Benedict agrees. “The older I get, the less likely it seems to me there’d be a bunch of places like our solar system,” he said. Or as Tyson added, “There’s no place like home.”

I don’t know what the estimate is, but look out into space on some clear night.  Count the stars you see.  Then, take into consideration that people in the southern hemisphere see a totally different group of stars.  Then, take into consideration that if you waited six months, both you and the people in the southern hemisphere would see a totally different group of stars again.  Out of all those points of light, multiply it by 1,000,000 for all the stars that are too dim to see.  Out of all that number, We have documented about 5,000 planets so far.

So, how do these people justify their conclusion?  Just as aging scientists tend to grow much more conservative with age.  “There’s no place like home” was the scientific conclusion of a little girl lost.  I think the conclusion of this panel is about as the same.  I don’t think there is anything scientifically unique about a mid-sized sun with only one habitable planet circling it.  There may be no place like home to us,. but there are many other homes out there.

Titan

Imagine yourself just floating around in your spaceship.  You’ve got nothing better to do than look at objects like this for hours at a time.   That sounds so good to me right now.

Titan is a beautiful object.  Although only a moon of Saturn, it has more features than most “planets”.  Although I’m not too excited about visiting Mars, I would like to have rovers land on places like Europa, Io, and Titan.  There’s probably no chance of life on any of them, but we knew that about the Moon, Mars, Venus, and everywhere else we’ve gone.  Let’s just do it for the kicks of seeing what the rest of the universe has to look at.  We might figure some important things out along the way.  That, and better pictures of Titan are more than worth the cost.