[Forget the elections! Forget the war! Forget worldwide misery and fascism! Here's the latest news from the planet Saturn! Ed.]
This image is one of the closest ever taken of Saturn's hazy moon Titan.
NASA did not explain the small saucer-shaped object center-right, but
the truth is out there! (NASA-ESA-ASI)
Cassini-Huygens Mission Status Report
JPL Press Release
October 26, 2004 - The Cassini spacecraft beamed back information and pictures tonight after successfully skimming the hazy atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. NASA's Deep Space Network tracking station in Madrid, Spain, acquired a signal at about 6:25 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (9:25 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time). As anticipated, the spacecraft came within 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) of Titan's surface.
At the time, Cassini was about 1.3 billion kilometers (826 million miles) from Earth. Numerous images, perhaps as many as 500, were taken by the visible light camera and were being transmitted back to Earth. It takes 1 hour and 14 minutes for the images to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. The downlink of data will continue through the night into the early morning hours. Cassini project engineers will continue to keep a close watch on a rainstorm in Spain, which may interrupt the flow of data from the spacecraft.
The flyby was by far the closest any spacecraft has ever come to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, perpetually drenched in a thick blanket of smog. Titan is a prime target of the Cassini-Huygens mission because it is the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere. It is a cosmic time capsule that offers a look back in time to see what Earth might have been like before the appearance of life.
The Huygens probe, built and operated by the European Space Agency, is attached to Cassini; its release is planned on Christmas Eve. It will descend through Titan's opaque atmosphere on Jan. 14, 2005, to collect data and touch down on the surface.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and the Cassini imaging team home page, http://ciclops.org
|This Titan image, revealing the bright 'continent-sized' terrain known as Xanadu, was acquired with the narrow angle camera through a spectral filter centered at 938 nm, a wavelength region at which Titan's surface can be most easily detected. We see the surface at higher contrast then in previously-released ISS images due to a lower phase angle (sun-Titan-Cassini angle), a viewing geometry which minimizes scattering by the haze. The image shows details about 10 times smaller than can be seen from the Earth. Surface materials with different brightnesses (or albedos) rather than topographic shading are being seen. The image has been calibrated and slightly contrast-enhanced. Further processing to reduce atmospheric blurring and optimize the mapping of surface features will be released soon. The origin and geography of Xanada (erosion of highlands, volcanism, impact cratering, etc.) remain mysteries at this range. Bright features near the south pole (bottom) are clouds. Tomorrow, Cassini will acquire images from about 100 times closer range and higher resolution, showing features in the left-central portion of this image. (NASA-ESA-ASI) |
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|A global detached haze layer and discrete cloud-like features high above Titan's northern terminator (day-night transition) are visible in these images acquired on October 24, 2004, as the Cassini spacecraft neared its first close encounter with Titan. The full disk view of Titan is a colorized version of the ultraviolet image released on October 25, 2004 (PIA 06120). The globe of Titan and the haze have been given colors that are close to what the natural colors are believed to be. |
The images were acquired at a distance of about 1 million kilometers (621,371 miles) in a near ultraviolet filter that is sensitive to scattering by small particles. The Sun preferentially illuminates the southern hemisphere at this time; the north polar region is in darkness. The well-known global detached haze layer, hundreds of kilometers above Titan's surface, is produced by photochemical reactions and visible as a thin ring of bright material around the entire planet.
At the northern high-latitude edge of the image, additional striations are visible, caused by particulates that are high enough to be illuminated by the Sun even though the surface directly below is in darkness. These striations may simply be caused by a wave propagating through the detached haze, or they may be evidence of additional regional haze or cloud layers not present at other latitudes. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
Full res version available at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA06122
|These three pictures were created from a sequence of images acquired by Cassini's imaging science subsystem on Oct. 25, 2004, 38 hours before its closest approach to Titan. They illustrate how the details of Titan's surface can be revealed through image processing techniques. |
The picture on the left is a single image that has undergone only basic cleaning of corrupted pixels and imperfections in the camera's charge coupled device, a light-sensitive detector similar to those found in digital cameras. In the middle frame, multiple images were used to enhance the contrast detected from Titan's surface and to reduce the blurring effect of atmospheric haze. The picture on the right has been further processed to sharpen the edges of features.
The processed images reveal sharp boundaries between dark and light regions on the surface; there are no shadows produced by topography in these images. The bright area on the center right is Xanadu, a region that has been observed previously from Earth and by Cassini. To the west of Xanadu lies an area of dark material that completely surrounds brighter features in some places. Narrow linear features, both dark and bright, can also be seen. It is not clear what geologic processes created these features, although it seems clear that the surface is being shaped by more than impact craters alone. The very bright features near Titan's south pole are clouds similar to those observed during the distant Cassini flyby on July 2, 2004.
The region on the left side of these images was targeted by higher-resolution observations as Cassini passed close to Titan on Oct. 26, 2004.
All of these images were acquired by Cassini on Oct. 25, 2004, at an altitude of 702,000 kilometers (436,000 miles) and a pixel scale of 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles). The Sun was illuminating Titan from nearly behind the spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
Huygens probe descending through Titan's atmosphere. (ESA)
European Space Agency News Release
October 21, 2004 - The sound of alien thunder, the patter of methane rain and the crunch (or splash) of a landing, all might be heard as Huygens descends to the surface of Titan on 14 January 2005.
What's more, they will be recorded by a microphone on the probe and relayed back so that everyone on Earth can hear the sounds of Titan. Although the Russians took a microphone to Venus in the 1970s, few scientific results came out if that endeavor.
A similar microphone for Mars was destroyed when NASA's Mars Polar Lander crashed a few years ago.
The new microphone is part of the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI), one of six multi-functional experiments carried on the Huygens probe. It is designed to help track down lightning by listening for the clap of thunder usually associated with such an event.
Although there is only a small chance that the spacecraft will pass near a thunderstorm, it is an extremely important investigation to carry out. It may help us to understand if thunderstorms are an important energy source for organic chemistry on Titan.
This may hold clues about how life began on Earth. Titan's atmosphere is laced with chemicals and many scientists think these are the same as those that formed the building blocks of life on Earth, 4000 million years ago. But how did they join together on Earth to ultimately become DNA?
One possibility is that sudden discharges of energy, as occur in lightning, could have forced the simple chemicals together, making more complicated ones. So Huygens will listen for thunder and "sniff" for chemicals that might have been produced in lightning strikes.
Huygens landing on Titan (NASA)
In fact, a second microphone experiment can also be found on Huygens. It is part of the Surface Science Package (SSP) and contributes to an experiment to measure the speed of sound in Titan's atmosphere.
These results present an exciting possibility because if the HASI microphone does hear thunder, electrodes on the same instrument will register the lightning's electrical discharge and scientists will be able to calculate how close Huygens passed to the storm.
If Huygens actually passes through a storm, the microphone will detect the splash of the rain onto the spacecraft casing. Unlike on Earth, this rain will not be water but probably liquid methane.
Marcello Fulchignoni, of the Universitè Denis Diderot, Paris, is the principal investigator of HASI. He says, "Combined with the camera images, temperature and pressure profiles, and altitude data, the 'soundtrack' will provide a fascinating look at the details of the mission's descent. We will be working hard to bring the voice of Huygens to the public as soon as we can after the descent."
European Space Agency - http://www.esa.int
University of Chicago News Release
October 26, 2004 - The big bang could be a normal event in the natural evolution of the universe that will happen repeatedly over incredibly vast time scales as the universe expands, empties out and cools off, according to two University of Chicago physicists.
"We like to say that the big bang is nothing special in the history of our universe," said Sean Carroll, an Assistant Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago. Carroll and University of Chicago graduate student Jennifer Chen are scheduled to post a paper describing their ideas at http://arxiv.org Thursday evening.
Carroll and Chen's research addresses two ambitious questions: why does time flow in only one direction, and could the big bang have arisen from an energy fluctuation in empty space that conforms to the known laws of physics?
The question about the arrow of time has vexed physicists for a century because "for the most part the fundamental laws of physics don't distinguish between past and future. They're time-symmetric," Carroll said.
And closely bound to the issue of time is the concept of entropy, a measure of disorder in the universe. As physicist Ludwig Boltzmann showed a century ago, entropy naturally increases with time. "You can turn an egg into an omelet, but not an omelet into an egg," Carroll said.
But the mystery remains as to why entropy was low in the universe to begin with. The difficulty of that question has long bothered scientists, who most often simply leave it as a puzzle to answer in the future. Carroll and Chen have made an attempt to answer it now.
Previous researchers have approached questions about the big bang with the assumption that entropy in the universe is finite. Carroll and Chen take the opposite approach. "We're postulating that the entropy of the universe is infinite. It could always increase," Chen said.
To successfully explain why the universe looks as it does today, both approaches must accommodate a process called inflation, which is an extension of the big bang theory. Astrophysicists invented inflation theory so that they could explain the universe as it appears today. According to inflation, the universe underwent a period of massive expansion in a fraction of a second after the big bang.
But there's a problem with that scenario: a "skeleton in the closet," Carroll said. To begin inflation, the universe would have encompassed a microscopically tiny patch in an extremely unlikely configuration, not what scientists would expect from a randomly chosen initial condition. Carroll and Chen argue that a generic initial condition is actually likely to resemble cold, empty space-not an obviously favorable starting point for the onset of inflation.
In a universe of finite entropy, some scientists have proposed that a random fluctuation could trigger inflation. This, however, would require the molecules of the universe to fluctuate from a high-entropy state into one of low entropy-a statistical long shot.
"The conditions necessary for inflation are not that easy to start," Carroll said. "There's an argument that it's easier just to have our universe appear from a random fluctuation than to have inflation begin from a random fluctuation."
Carroll and Chen's scenario of infinite entropy is inspired by the finding in 1998 that the universe will expand forever because of a mysterious force called "dark energy." Under these conditions, the natural configuration of the universe is one that is almost empty. "In our current universe, the entropy is growing and the universe is expanding and becoming emptier," Carroll said.
But even empty space has faint traces of energy that fluctuate on the subatomic scale. As suggested previously by Jaume Garriga of Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University, these fluctuations can generate their own big bangs in tiny areas of the universe, widely separated in time and space. Carroll and Chen extend this idea in dramatic fashion, suggesting that inflation could start "in reverse" in the distant past of our universe, so that time could appear to run backwards (from our perspective) to observers far in our past.
Regardless of the direction they run in, the new universes created in these big bangs will continue the process of increasing entropy. In this never-ending cycle, the universe never achieves equilibrium. If it did achieve equilibrium, nothing would ever happen. There would be no arrow of time.
"There's no state you can go to that is maximal entropy. You can always increase the entropy more by creating a new universe and allowing it to expand and cool off," Carroll explained.
University of Chicago - http://www-news.uchicago.edu
When the sun is most active, a burst of solar radiation could kill an unprotected
astronaut very quickly or cripple a spacecraft. (ESA/NASA)
Florida Institute of Technology News Release
October 26, 2004 - As American space exploration fulfills promises for a new era of long-term moon colonization and a mission to Mars, the research of Florida Institute of Technology space physicist Ming Zhang will become more important to the lives of each and every astronaut. While his research on cosmic radiation has its roots in pure science, the practical applications of what he has learned about space weather are matters of life and death.
With more than $1 million in NASA funding, Zhang is researching cosmic and energetic solar radiation, seeking how the two space weather components affect human beings, both as space travelers and as the end-user of satellite technology.
"America wants to send humans to Mars and to colonize the moon," said Zhang. "But the natural radiation that exists in space is a big concern since it will prove toxic over time and can reach lethal amounts a few times a decade."
In the vacuum of space, energetic particle radiation from the galaxy and from our sun varies in intensity and energy. This variation is in concert with the 11-year solar cycle. Zhang's research is determining how and why the solar cycle changes the energetic particle fluxes in our geospace environment and throughout the solar system. For Zhang and his fellow space physicists, this research provides clues into the structure of our galaxy, the origin of all galaxies, as well as the structure and dynamics of our sun. For our astronauts, this knowledge may one day prove life saving.
"We know that the sun has an 11-year cycle from active to dormant; these are the solar seasons" Zhang said. "When the sun is most active, a burst of solar radiation could kill an unprotected astronaut very quickly or cripple a spacecraft. In a radiation burst, the effect on the body would be much like the radiation from a nearby nuclear explosion."
NASA's interplanetary travel itineraries, however, cannot be limited to the only periods when the sun is dormant. "Cosmic rays coming from outside the solar system are high-energy charged particles, many times more damaging than an X-ray. These particles are most likely produced by supernovae in the galaxy," Zhang said. "These rays can penetrate the human body easily and mutate or kill DNA in the cells along their paths. The mutated DNA can lead to cancer and other alteration of the cellular structures."
The catch-22 is that an active sun produces a more chaotic solar wind, reducing the intensity of cosmic rays and thus protecting astronauts. When the sun is dormant, cosmic radiation is much higher. "For the astronaut, it really is a case of picking your poison," Zhang said. "There is either a period of higher intensity cosmic rays around solar minimum or a high probability of large radiation burst during solar maximum.
NASA was aware of the radiation dangers when it first planned the original missions to the moon. At the time, however, they were less concerned about cosmic radiation because the missions were short. Scientists are just now learning how dangerous cosmic rays are to people and satellites.
Zhang's research is also helping scientists understand how to predict space weather, particularly when and where to expect large solar bursts.
"By forecasting space weather, we can protect newer satellites, which have smaller electronics that are more susceptible to high-energy radiation. We cam also protect people on Earth by advising airlines to divert flights away from the polar caps," Zhang said. While Earth's magnetic field protects us from both cosmic and solar radiation, penetration is easiest at the polar caps.
As Zhang continues his space weather research, he and his fellow space physicists at Florida Tech's Geospace Physics Laboratory (GPL), Drs. Hamid Rassoul, Joseph Dwyer, Brian Ball, and Gang Qin, are unlocking secrets to the universe that were beyond the scope of speculation a few decades ago.
"We know that solar activity modulates cosmic rays, even to the far boundary of the solar system," Rassoul said. "Indeed, using recent observations from NASA's old work horses, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, Zhang and Ball found that the intensity of cosmic rays at ~90 AU is still strongly modulated by solar activity. What we are trying to understand is how these changes occur, and what they mean for us and our space investments."
Florida Institute of Technology - http://www.fit.edu
WB Sweeps Genre Notes - Some Spoilers
Charisma Carpenter returns to Charmed November 18th (WB)
excerpted from WB Network Press Release
October 27, 2004 - The WB Network will kick-off a November sweep of epic proportions when it presents the world broadcast television premiere of the critically acclaimed box office smash, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, over two nights on Sunday, November 7 and Monday, November 8...
Wednesday nights feature the new lineup of two critical favorites, SMALLVILLE and JACK & BOBBY. On November 10, SMALLVILLE falls under an ancient spell when Lana (Kristin Kreuk), Lois (Erica Durance) and Chloe (Allison Mack) are possessed by 17th century witches whose powers are even greater than Clark's (Tom Welling). Jane Seymour ("Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman") guest-stars as the mother of Lana's boyfriend Jason (Jensen Ackles) on November 17.
Jack, Mom, and Bobby (WB)
On JACK & BOBBY, after the suicide of a friend, Jack (Matt Long) is haunted by the thought that he should have done more to help, and Grace's troubled younger brother makes an unexpected visit on November 17...
On CHARMED, when the bewitching Halliwell sisters investigate a murder at Magic School, Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) and Agent Brody (guest star Kerr Smith, "Dawson's Creek") are trapped in the film noir world of a 1930s gangster film on November 14. Charisma Carpenter ("Angel") guest-stars as The Seer on November 28.
On THE MOUNTAIN, David (Oliver Hudson) investigates a death when the body of a former employee turns up on a chair lift on November 14, and James Marsters ("Angel") guest-stars on November 21 as Sam's (Penn Badgely) reckless father.
Smallville Official - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Show/0,7353,||126,00.html
Charmed Official - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Show/0,7353,||156,00.html
Walter Cronkite on Iraq War
Newsman Walter Cronkite
SANTA BARBARA October 26, 2004 (AP) - Veteran newsman Walter Cronkite said Americans aren't any safer because of the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
"The problem, quite clearly, is we have excited the Arab world, the Muslim world, to take up arms against us," Cronkite said Saturday, adding that this excitement far exceeds the anger that existed among terrorist groups prior to the war.
Cronkite made the comments after receiving an award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation during the group's gala at Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort.
He said the Nov. 2 presidential election will be one of the most important since perhaps the Civil War because it comes on the heels of a drastic change in U.S. foreign policy and a ballooning national debt.
The war on Iraq marked the first time the United States has conducted a pre-emptive invasion and occupation of another country, he noted.
Asked what it will take to achieve peace, Cronkite said, "It certainly has to include, as a major factor, diplomacy."
The 87-year-old retired news anchor, dubbed "the most trusted man in America," was given the foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award for "courageous leadership in the cause of peace." Past recipients include the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jacques Cousteau and Jordan's King Hussein.
No X-Men for Joss
Joss Whedon and Amy Acker
Hollywood October 25, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon told fans at a John Kerry fund-raising event in Los Angeles Oct. 24 that he won't be writing or directing the third X-Men movie, despite persistent rumors to the contrary.
"I did promise I would say whether or not I'm going to be directing the third X-Men movie, and the answer is, I'm sorry to say, no," Whedon told fans gather for a "High Stakes 2004" event in Hollywood. "Quite frankly, I thought about it for a long time, I looked into my heart, and I realized that Fox didn't ask me to," he added, with tongue in cheek.
Whedon was one of several Buffy-related guests who appeared at the fan event, organized to raise money for the Kerry presidential campaign, which drew more than 250 fans who paid a minimum of $50 each to attend.
Whedon was joined by Buffy and Angel cast members Alyson Hannigan; her real-life husband, Alexis Denisof; Nicholas Brendon; Danny Strong; Adam Busch; Amber Benson; Amy Acker and J. August Richards and Firefly star Nathan Fillion, who also stars in Whedon's upcoming Firefly movie, Serenity. Whedon also spoke via conference call to 41 other similarly themed fan parties across the country, from Alaska to Washington state to New York.
With regard to the X-Men projects, Whedon added, "Ultimately, the fact that I'm writing the X-Men every month in the Astonishing X-Men [Marvel comic] and that I have the best artists in comic books working with me is getting my 'X' fix on just fine.
"I'm writing a screenplay of my own right now, and it'll be nice to work on something that wasn't created by me or anybody else many years ago."
Stern Does Powell
Stern is moving to satellite radio in 2006
SAN FRANCISCO October 27, 2004 (AP) - Shock jock Howard Stern made a surprise call to a radio station during an interview of the Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites) head, claiming the chairman only got his job because his father is Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Stern called in to KGO-AM radio in San Francisco during a live interview Tuesday with FCC Chairman Michael Powell. After claiming Powell consistently avoids him, Stern began to question his credentials.
"How did you get your job? It is apparent to most of us in broadcasting that your father got you your job, and you kind of sit there and you're the judge, you're the arbiter, you're the one who tells us what we can and can't say on the air," Stern said. "And yet I really don't even think you're qualified to be the head of the commission."
Powell, a Republican, was appointed to the commission by President Clinton in 1997 and became chairman when President Bush took office in 2001. Powell denied Stern's charge and listed his qualifications, saying he is an attorney and was chief of staff of the Justice Department (news - web sites)'s Antitrust Division.
"I think it's a cheap shot to say just because my father is famous, I don't belong in my position," Powell said.
Stern, who battled for years with the FCC and conservative critics over his salacious show's content, is moving his show to Sirius satellite radio when his contract with Infinity Broadcasting Corp. expires in 2006.
Stern's show was dropped by media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications in April after the FCC proposed a $495,000 fine against it for comments made by Stern. Clear Channel reached a record $1.75 million settlement with the FCC in June to settle complaints against Stern and other radio personalities.
"I don't think that, you know, we have made any particular crusade of the 'Howard Stern Show' or you," Powell said during the 20-minute interview.
"Yeah, OK, Michael," Stern replied. "That's why I've received the largest fines in history."
After Stern was off the air, Powell said Stern's argument was that there should be no limits on what he is able to do on the radio. "If there are going to be limits, someone's going to have to define them and someone is going to have to enforce them."
KGOA - http://www.kgoam810.com
Ving is Kojak
By Denise Martin
Ving left and former Kojak Telly Savalas
Hollywood October 26, 2004 (Variety) - USA has given a 10-episode series order to the Ving Rhames starrer "Kojak," a project initially set to air as an original movie.
Cabler decided to move forward with a potential wheel of "Kojak" movies this summer.
Now, however, the film will serve as the skein's two-hour premiere debuting in March.
Production on the first two hours wrapped in August. The remaining nine episodes will be shot in Toronto starting in January.
Rhames and Tom Thayer (A&E's "The Great Gatsby") exec produce. Michael Watkins ("5ive Days to Midnight") directed and Tony Piccirillo ("The 25th Day") wrote the pilot, which co-stars Chazz Palminteri and Roselyn Sanchez.
USA/Sci Fi topper Bonnie Hammer described Rhames' update of the '70s-era street-wise detective "definitely not your father's Kojak."
"Until Ving, doing a remake didn't feel right," Hammer said, likening the style and tone of USA's "Kojak" to FX's acclaimed gritty cop drama "The Shield."
"Ving's a world-class actor who has reinvented Kojak as a prince of his city -- a man who will do whatever it takes to make his world a better place," USA exec VP Jeff Wachtel said.
Further casting on the series will be announced shortly.
Stephen King Pet Peeves: Britney, Trump
NEW YORK October 27, 2004 (AP) - Stephen King has compiled his list of Pet Peeves of 2004, with "annoyance levels" that range from minor headache to head-splitting migraine.
King writes in his Entertainment Weekly column that although pop culture is full of pleasures, it also has its share of annoyances. "For every pretty, talented Elisha Cuthbert there is a Paris Hilton (and her little dog, too)."
By exposing his own annoyances — "in all their triviality" — he hopes to encourage readers to speak of their own pet peeves, King writes in the magazine's Oct. 29 issue.
The list includes pop star Britney Spears, who rates a minor headache; real estate mogul and "The Apprentice" star Donald Trump, a moderate to severe headache (due to unavoidable comb-over); and ads before theatrical movies, a head-splitting migraine.
Of Trump, King writes: "One can avoid the TV show, but lately the Donald's face is everywhere, and the hideous comb-over always floats above it."
[Surprised that he didn't include executives at ABC, who canceled his Kingdom Hospital series last year. Ed.]