Io and All That
Time was when the Galileo spacecraft was the hottest ticket on the block; now, its successor mission, Cassini-Huygens, after having successfully sent back wiga-ziga bytes of information and some of the most spectacular photographs ever taken in space, is winding down. Jupiter and Saturn, the two planets most likely to hold thrilling secrets, have been investigated with something very like a microscope.
Not that there’s nothing new to be learned from these planetary systems, particularly if Jupiter’s moon Europa can be imaged with ice-piercing radar (in the hopes of finding living creatures in its sub-surface ocean). But RT is a bit worried that people’s enthusiasm for space exploration is lagging. The practical benefits of space cannot be ignored, and RT is all for putting bases and then colonies on the Moon and Mars, but he still remembers the real thrill of space when it erupted into the public’s consciousness in the 1960s–the hope that we will be transformed for the better by what we learn and experience, that in the great endeavor of moving out into the solar system and stars we will be challenged, humbled, and vindicated in our hopes for ourselves and the world.
OK, RT is getting off his soap box. But to help remind people of why space-travel is necessary, he offers the above photo, taken some time ago by the Galileo spacecraft, and still one of the most gorgeous images sent back by our robotic explorers. RT
Photograph: Io and Sodium Cloud (9 November 1996); Galileo Spacecraft; NASA. Public Domain.