While I might have uncertain feelings on Google as a mega-corporation and the unreal amount of influence they have over people's lives, one thing they really have working in their favor is their public applications of quirk. I particularly appreciate the special Google Doodles. Today's doodle (Wednesday, 4/26) is particularly amazing. It is a celebration of the Cassini spacecraft that, if you're anything like me, hits you directly in the "feels."
I wasn't really a space nerd growing up. In fact, in my late teens, I got the idea that all the money spent jumping into space could probably be better spent feeding or educating people. But as I grew up, I got a bit wiser. I became more aware of the space program working as a catalyst for intellectual discovery in general. I learned about any number of real-world benefits from NASA's work. Most importantly, I became aware of the sense of grandeur of the pursuit.
It was when I became aware of the Cassini, though, and its mission to Saturn where I finally turned a corner. Saturn is close enough to be real to me in a way that distant space objects (such as The Pillars of Creation) can never be. Yet it is also is more outlandish and weird than anything I've seen in films. It has a total of sixty two discovered moons. One of those, Titan, has ethane and methane clouds and liquid hydrocarbon lakes (a Cassini discovery). Another, Enceladus, has subsurface oceans of liquid water (also discovered by Cassini) and has volcanoes which shoot ice into space. Then there's Mimas, a moon which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Death Star.
Today, Cassini starts a series of swoops between the planet and its rings. It will undoubtedly discover more mysteries to keep the scientists awash in new discoveries. It will take more stunning photos. Then, by the end of the year, it will crash into the planet.I will miss the sense of wonder I feel whenever it sends a new photo. I will miss the marvel of every new discovery. Most of all, though, I will be thankful to the tiny machine orbiting a distant planet. Without it, I might not have fell in love with space.
Bon voyage, Cassini.