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Exploring Jupiter

Jupiter, taken by the Cassini satellite

With all the excitement the last few weeks of watching the new Mars Curiosity rover get packed up and on the first leg (JPL in California to Florida) of its long journey to Mars, it’s easy for me to forget that there is a lot of other space exploration stuff going on this summer. Juno, which I wrote a bit about last month, is another JPL-based NASA mission, heading out in August for the planet Jupiter. I realized in reading about Juno that I know very little about Jupiter so it’s time to remedy that deficit of knowledge. I knew Jupiter was the biggest planet in our solar system, and that it had some moons, but that’s really about it. So time to learn more about Jupiter.

First, why study Jupiter at all?  Because learning more about this huge planet can help us understand how our Sun and solar system formed over 4.5 billion years ago. From active volcanoes to icy moons, Jupiter and its moons are almost a solar system in themselves. Studying how these bodies interact, and the atmosphere and magnetic fields of Jupiter itself, will hopefully give us more information to understand our planet and our little corner of the universe.

Great Red Spot as seen by Voyager

Juno won’t be the first satellite to study Jupiter in detail. Voyager 1 and 2, Ulysses, Galileo and Cassini have all provided data information about this gas giant of a planet. In 1979, the separate visits of the Voyagers sent back detailed photos of the weather activity on Jupiter, discovering the Great Red Spot, as well as our first close-up views of its moons, including the first active volcano found outside of Earth on the moon Io.

In 1992, the Ulysses spacecraft, designed to explore our Sun, used Jupiter’s gravity to position itself to explore the Sun’s poles. During its fly-by, Ulysses identified changes in Jupiter’s gravity and recorded fewer active volcanos on Io than observed by the Voyagers 13 years earlier.

Galileo, the first spacecraft devoted to long-term exploration of Jupiter, was launched from the space shuttle Atlantis in October 1989 and reached Jupiter in December 1995, becoming the first satellite to orbit a planet in the outer solar system. Credited with a long list of discoveries, one of the most startling finds was evidence of subsurface salt water on three moons: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Galileo’s mission ended in 2003 when it crashed into Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Cassini (artist's rendition, courtesy NASA)

Cassini did a fly-by in 2001 on its way to Saturn, sending back over 1,200 detailed photographs taken over 70 days that — strung together by JPL scientists into a time-lapse movie –showed how storms on Jupiter behave. The Cassini movie showed persistent storms moving across the planet’s surface by bands of latitude, with the storms lasting the entire 70 days covered by the photographs. In all, Cassini took over 26,000 photographs as it flew by Jupiter, and those photographs are being used to develop insights into the faint rings and the moons of Jupiter. Cassini’s single fly-by sent more than enough information to keep scientists busy for years.

Imagine, then, what Juno will do. Thirty-seven years after the Voyager spacecraft first sent back detailed images, Juno will observe Jupiter with cameras and instruments designed to capture information about the planet’s gravity, magnetic fields, and atmosphere. It is in studying these elements that scientists will work on determining the properties of Jupiter and how it evolved over billions of years.

I’ve saved the best for last. Go here to see a breathtaking video opening, then learn more about the Juno mission from a dedicated website:  The history of our planet lives on this planet. 


Happy New Year!

My last day in Vancouver and my first run of 2011. Just after sunrise, cold (slightly below freezing), and sunny, I stopped along the way to take some photos since the light was so beautiful. This one, a sculpture on the waterfront along the seawall, framing the sunrise through the skyscrapers of Yaletown, captured the mood best.

And with a run, I’ve gotten 2011 off to a good start!

Home after the holidays

Long drive home from Hemet today, but with *much* better weather than the trip down last Wednesday. Lots of blue skies, puffy white cottonball clouds, and green hills.

NaNoWriMo Day 28: Done

It’s over, she exclaimed, with both a sigh of relief and a double fist pump of triumph. It may be the worst first draft ever created in the history of the planet, but it’s finished and I’m going to bury it for at least a month before I touch it.

He shot her a quizzical look.

If I look at it now, she said by way of explanation, I’ll just drag the whole mess to the trash and delete it. I think there is actually a pretty decent story in there but it’s going to take a lot of work to polish it up into anything even remotely presentable to the outside world.

And with that, she closed down Scrivener and headed out for a long-overdue run.

NaNoWriMo Day 26: 43,534 words

It’s coming down to the wire now, close but not yet close enough to think my plot lines will converge and provide a decent first draft and 50,000 words. I’ve got things hanging out all over and am still being surprised by the twists and turns of my ever-growing cast. My loose ends are bedeviling me, but consistency isn’t the point of a first draft. Getting the story written down and hoping it has “good bones” at the end of the month is the goal.

Today’s excerpt:

The escape didn’t work quite the way Susie and her support team had planned it. The ideal outcome had been to spirit mother and child out through a series of handoffs, from laundry basket to stairwells to little-used hallways, with badged employees providing access at each point, then out into the parking lot to a waiting van, and from there to freedom. Susie had trusted the few coworkers involved in the scheme, all of them sympathetic to the child whose life would never be even close to normal if she remained a captive at The Institute. But one of those co-workers must have turned against the rest, Susie thought, as loud alarms sounded and the emergency lighting activated, signaling a code red in terms that no one could miss. Mayree and Hazel ran for their lives, following their latest guide across the parking lot.


NaNoWriMo Day 25: 41,875 words

It was a day of constant writing, off and on between skype with the family in SoCal, dog-sitting across town, and a session with a Dungeness crab for dinner. I was feeling so worried about being way behind on my word count so I sat down this morning and actually plotted out where my characters were and how they were related to each other. Yes, I was surprised by a few things that seemed quite obvious as I did that, the clarity helping me see where the threads should go from here. Then I set to work writing, writing, writing. Set an all-time World Record for me in NaNoWriMo: 7400 words in one day! Now I’m all caught up (at least till midnight, when another day starts) and can enjoy a momentary victory as I slowly uncurl my fingers from their locked-at-the-keyboard position.

Today’s excerpt:

Ray saw the lab technician look at him and he tried not to panic but he could feel it rising up from his gut into his throat, threatening to choke him. He looked around to see if he could find a way out but the guards were clearly blocking the two doors in and out of the room. The only move left was a desperate one but he’d take it, he thought, because he just might survive to live another day. He screwed up his courage, tensed his muscles, and mentally counted down from 10. When he hit zero, he pushed off from the chair and flew across the room before anyone, least of all the guards, could react. He was through the plate glass window seconds later, the glass crashing outward in the explosion.

Had Ray been a smarter man, he would have led the collision with his shoulder, but instead, he went head-first through the window, giving him a head injury that killed him before he hit the ground. Using the shoulder, he might have survived the fall but he hadn’t thought it through, panic had been the driving factor in his rash, and ultimately, fatal decision.

NaNoWriMo Day 23: 33475 words

A big writing day after 8PM, which is when I finally get to escape the details of work and try to escape into some kind of plot. I’ve been big on dialog today. Lots of word count in dialog 🙂  Here’s a rough (read: unedited) bit from today’s writing:

As the days stretched into weeks, the aides took to the Irishman, feeding him meals on the side when he came in from a late night at work looking hungry. He appreciated that, but even more, he knew they were paying more attention to Rose, combing her hair, moving her limbs back and forth in the relentless daily physical therapy, and, as he liked to put it, treating Rose like a real person.

So are you her brother or her lover, one of the sassier aides asked him after the first week.

Neither, he said, but for the love of God, don’t tell the case workers that. They wouldn’t talk to me for a second if if they knew the truth.

Honey, those case workers don’t like talking to anybody but the doctors and the insurance companies, and I think they don’t even like that much human contact. The aide laughed at her own joke as she gently rolled Rose onto one side then the other, changing the sheets beneath her.

I hear you, Daniel replied. They don’t seem like they like their job very much at all.

They worked in companionable silence after the bed-making was finished, Daniel on Rose’s left and the aide on her right, following the PT’s instructions on stretching out Rose’s tendons to make sure things still worked when she woke up.

Everyone else says “if” she wakes up, Daniel said, half-aloud. I think I’m the only one that says “when she wakes up.”