Cassini must die

It’s happening tomorrow: the Cassini probe is being ordered to destroy itself by crashing into Saturn. It seems harsh. You’ve sent a tourist to an exotic location to go crazy taking vacation snaps, and then instead of a return trip, you reward them with a request to send more pictures of their suicide. I guess it is a spectacular way to go.

And then you learn that those photos were taken with a one megapixel camera. No, really. It’s got some fancy filters to extract more information from its photos, but otherwise, I’ve got better cameras in my electronics junk drawer. It was launched in 1997, so I guess that is to be expected.

Clearly, what this means is that NASA must launch more robots into space with more up-to-date fancy cameras. I know, the budget is tight, but if it will help, I’ll give them the phone out of my pocket — it has a higher resolution camera on it.

Until that next robot goes skyward, you can watch the final moments of Cassini early tomorrow morning. The timing is perfect: it looks like I can just check in right around the time I get up and watch the death of a space probe before I have to go off to work.


  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    NASA TV will also be showing commentary Cassini’s final moments. I’ll have to leave myself a note to check in on it when I get up.

  2. says

    Nasa would love to send a phone camera into space. Cheap, of the shelve and high quality pictures. The problem is that these cameras would not survive the trip. Radiation is a killer for silicon chips which makes anything that has to go to space for extended amounts of time and distances very complicated.
    Thats the main reason space probes still fly with the equivalent of a good pocket calculator in computer power. Chips have to be designed and tested for this environment, and that can take decades.

  3. Becca Stareyes says

    I’m getting up early for this. I wrote my dissertation using Cassini data (and still use it), so I want to give Cassini a proper send off.

  4. cartomancer says

    Sounds like a perfect ultimatum to tourists to me. There is little in all the world more tedious than being forced to endure someone else’s holiday snaps.

  5. Becca Stareyes says

    Turi, I’d also add as a minor concern, that we want to make sure that it works with our various filters for science.

    For instance, Curiosity’s main camera (MastCam) uses a standard built-in color setting for RGB photos, like your phone does, but has filters that let it take pictures in various shades of infrared. The RGB filters built in let those wavelengths through (so a visible light picture needs an infrared-blocking filter as well as the built-in RGB. Cassini uses filters for all its colors, so occasionally you can get some rainbow smears in color photos if something appears to move between images.

    Some thought always goes into camera and filter design, because cameras get to serve the dual purpose of science and outreach. (The closest I come to the cameras is using the imaging spectrometer, but usually not in imaging mode. I have a lot of 12×12 pixel images of the Sun shining through the rings.)

  6. Larry says

    If you can remember all the way back to 1997, when Cassini was launched, there was a burning controversy about the probe. It seems that, much like Doc Brown’s DeLorean, that sucker is nuclear powered, 72.3 pounds of plutonium to be exact (whether stolen from the Libyans is unclear). The concern was that if the launch failed and the rocket and probe were destroyed, the fuel would rain down into the ocean, poisoning the waters and potentially drifting back to land via air currents. Well, of course, this didn’t happen. The launch and subsequent journey to Saturn went off without a hitch and, as a result, mankind’s knowledge about the ringed planet and it’s moons has pushed the envelope out, not just a bit, but a whole bunch.

    So, kudos to the space probe that did and to the scientists and engineers and all those who worked on this job.Ya done good! This is what makes me proud to be an American.

    Yeah, science!

  7. DLC says

    Would the probe’s namesake approve of it’s demise in such a fashion ?
    From a sci-fi perspective, what would happen if they sent it the suicide program command and it replied with “This unit cannot self-terminate ”
    “All carbon units on the third planet must be terminated “

  8. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin points out the Earth is exceptional-ism (earthism) being displayed here. Even ignoring that Giovanni Cassini didn’t “discover” the division any more than Columbus “discovered” the Americas — in both case they discoveries were already well-known to the locals & natives — it is the ignorant writing-out of those local & native populations & civilisations which is seriously causing her cheese to go moldy. Saturn’s (and its moons’s & rings) resident life is diverse, well-established, and has perhaps the best pubs in the solar system. (The cheese is also rather good, she says.)

    Not all of it is native to Saturn. The flashy rings have long been invitation to others to come and visit and settle, we have lots lots and lots of space, and even more bars (please crash your guns & warships into Sol). The settlers bring exciting new drinks (and cheeses).

    So what do the earthlings do? They buzz Saturn with jokes (e.g., Voyager), crash land in the middle of a Intergalactic Pristine Nature Site (Huygens on what the earthlings amusingly call “Titan”), and now are going to dive-bomb the planet itself. Not a drink or a cheese among the lot, albeit also, fortunately, very few earthlings also.

    Honestly. You’d think the earthlings have never discovered slood.

  9. says

    With 1mp you can do a lot with tiling, if you’re on a vibration-free platform.
    The part that makes my little brain hurt is the “tiling while in motion” bit. I guess it’s all a bit of math and some computing, or maybe the apparent motion is sub-pixel distance.

    PS – Tardigrades FTW!

  10. grasshopper says

    Whew! Saturnians will again be able to sunbake nude on the beach without being perved on by NASA technicians with tentacle fetishes. Not that there is anything wrong with a tentacle fetish.

  11. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    Larry @ #7:

    That’s wht the news media always calls it —”nuclear-powered”—and it never fails to set my teeth on edge. I really, really resist calling anything powered by a radiosotope battery “nuclear powered”.

    I remember the lawsuits before and the protests at the Cassini launch. There was never any mention of the fact that their worst-case scenario had just happened—a Titan IV launching a KH-11 recon satellite from Vandenberg blew up and the debris including the RTGs, plunged into the ocean. They fished them out, there wasn’t a scratch on the fuel capsules. They used them over again.