Archive for Saturn

11. Titan

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by keithmansfield

“He landed on a rocky outcrop which looked out across a vast … plane.” p. 292

Credit: NASA/JPL/Michael Carroll

Only two days of Johnny Mackintosh to go. I’ve jumped to much further on in the book, taking us to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the most planet-like of all the solar system’s satellites. Apart from Earth, it’s the only other body we’ve found that has permanent liquid features on its surface – oceans, lakes and rivers. Only, on Titan, the surface liquid is thought to be complex hydrocarbons.

We know a reasonable amount about it because it’s the body furthest from Earth on which a spaceship has landed. On 14 January 2005, the Huygens probe (carried by its mother ship Cassini) descended through the moon’s thick orange atmosphere and touched down safely on Titan’s surface. The joint ESA/NASA/ASI mission (ASI is the Italian space agency) was an amazing feet, and there’s a rather odd video of the descent at the NASA site. It’s like watching the landing through a fish-eye lens and only really comes into its own towards the end of the movie, but worth sticking with it. It’s a shame that the probe wasn’t able to carry a more regular camera so everyone could have been captivated by extraordinary pictures from the surface of another world.

Titan’s unique as the only moon in the solar system with a notable atmosphere. It’s so thick that, with the lower gravity, humans could strap on wings and fly through the air, soaring over the plains like the one above. I started the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh by saying the first place I’d visit, if I had my own spaceship, would be Saturn, but I’m sure I could take some time out from the majestic rings to have a bit of a play on the solar system’s second-largest moon.

It’s the final day of Johnny Mackintosh tomorrow and we’re going out with a bit of a bang.

1. Saturn

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Space, star blaze with tags , , , on December 26, 2009 by keithmansfield

“he was staring at the huge planet Saturn … for Johnny was not standing in any room on Earth. He was on the bridge of his very own spaceship”, pp. 1–2

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Happy Christmas to fans of Johnny Mackintosh everywhere! I hope you had a great time.

For the next twelve days, leading up to publication, I’m going to be posting images that give what I hope is a tantalizing taste of Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, showing places Johnny visits, but not giving the story away. Today’s first image shows the planet Saturn.

If I had a spaceship, the first place I would visit would be Saturn. End of. Ever since I was young it’s the sight I’ve most dreamed of seeing close at hand with the naked eye. Perhaps, in a couple of hundred years’ time, there’ll be a thriving tourist industry and plenty of space hotels in orbit.

All four of the gas giant planets in the solar system turn out to have ring systems but the others pale when compared with the mighty Saturn, whose rings can sometimes be seen through small telescopes from Earth. We don’t know for certain how and why they formed and how long they’ll last. A few years ago opinion among astronomers was that they were a temporary phenomenon. Nowadays, it’s thought more likely the rings are stable and could even last as long as Saturn or the rest of the solar system.

As Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze begins, the Spirit of London is close to Saturn. This picture was taken by the Cassini spacecraft, and this particular shot is of an equinox, where the planet is exactly half in light and half in shadow. We’re used to the myriad satellites orbiting Earth, for instance giving us TV, mobile phones and weather forecasting, but it’s amazing to think that nowadays we have satellites in orbit around other bodies. There are three around Mars and it’s a tremendous achievement for Cassini to have been positioned around Saturn as it has.

I’m very excited about tomorrow’s picture as it’s one I took myself…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.