Entry 789: The Latest Space News

So a funny thing happened on Cassini’s way to crashing into Saturn.

Two quick things about that opening sentence: first, I don’t know why NASA named an unmanned spacecraft after a 1960’s fashion designer. Second, I’m pretty sure Cassini was meant to crash into Saturn, and it wasn’t a case of Saturn just getting in the way of Cassini’s journey to the fart clouds of Uranus (see my recent post) in much the same way that my sister-in-law’s mailbox got in the way of my wife’s SUV as she was backing out of the driveway.

Okay, so here’s what happened: while on its approach to the planet, Cassini picked up a series of unexplained plasma rays emanating from Saturn and heading toward its rings and into Enceladus, one of its moons. That’s “Enceladus” not “enchiladas,” and why would you think Saturn’s moon would be named after Mexican food?

NASA took those plasma waves and converted them into an audio file in the same way a radio translates electromagnetic waves into music, except without the commercials. You can hear Saturn “singing” by clicking here. You will note that Saturn could use the help of an autotune program, and perhaps a rhythm section.

I’m wondering, though, how many people on our planet would have any idea how accurate NASA’s “translation” of Saturn’s plasma waves is. While I have seen machines that convert VHS tapes to DVDs and cassette tapes to digital audio files, I have yet to come across one that converts plasma waves into . . . well, anything. I mean, for all we know, Saturn may be broadcasting the latest Drake album and NASA converted it to Enyalike new age-y stuff so as not to offend any of the old white gentlemen who vote on its funding.

According to a news release:

“Enceladus is this little generator going around Saturn, and we know it is a continuous source of energy. Now we find that Saturn responds by launching signals in the form of plasma waves, through the circuit of magnetic field lines connecting it to Enceladus hundreds of thousands of miles away.”

Ignoring the image I now have of my Volkswagen-sized generator in orbit, does that statement mean that Saturn and Enceladus are communicating? Doesn’t that imply that there are life forms involved? What are they saying to each other? I’ll bet it’s something like “Danger approaching. UFO on collision course with surface. Launch retaliatory missiles toward Earth immediately.”

(In Other Space News . . .)

Israel hopes to be the fourth nation to land on the moon next February when its $88 million spacecraft alights on the lunar surface. From there it will send home photos and videos, which its developers on Earth will complain about. “The photos are okay,” they’ll say, “but maybe you could come visit once in awhile? Perhaps bring a nice babka?”

Here is an actual photo of the Israeli ship, which looks more like some weird insect popping out of a cake at a bar mitzvah. It is very tiny as spaceships go, a mere five feet high and weighing less than your Jewish grandfather’s 2012 Toyota Avalon,* assuming you have a Jewish grandfather who can still drive. The Israeli spacecraft cannot achieve escape velocity on its own, just as your hypothetical Jewish grandfather in his Avalon cannot achieve the speed limit, even when on the highway in the left lane. So the spaceship is hitching a ride on one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets and will launch from Florida. Of course.

It’s unclear what Israel plans to find that hasn’t already been uncovered by previous moon missions, or if it has any ambitions for the launch other than simply kvelling at the achievement:

“The launch of the first Israeli spacecraft will fill Israel, in its 70th year, with pride,” said a spokesperson with the very unscientific but very Jewish name of Morris Klein. “It is a national accomplishment that will put us on the world’s space map.”

This seems like an odd aspiration for a country that is in a constant battle to stay on the world’s Earth map, but there you go.

And finally . . .

A consortium of Vodafone Germany, Nokia and Audi are planning to give the moon its first mobile phone network in 2019. Of course, I can’t help but wonder why a mobile phone network on the moon is necessary, especially since I only get two bars in my house. But, at the very least, this will allow the Israeli spaceship to post its pictures and videos on Facebook.

Provided it has an unlimited data plan.

See you soon.

P.S. Facebook’s new employee, Al Gorithm, now prevents bloggers from widely sharing their posts. So please help me out by sharing on your timelines. Thanks.

*The only car model that has never been sold to a person under 70.
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