Forsgren: Love letter to Saturn’s dying artist

The Art of Nerding Out

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‘Cassini: The Grand Finale.’ Video and art courtesy of NASA via Cassini-Huygens mission

I didn’t fall in love with her because she was beautiful. I fell in love with her because she created beautiful art.

Launched in October 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft has been sending us spectacularly gorgeous photos of Saturn and its satellites for over a decade. This unmanned probe has given us volumes of data and expanded our knowledge of our solar system. She’s studied the planet’s magnetic fields and chemical composition.

Cassini has also given us details about Saturn’s weather patterns and how they’ve changed over time. She even detected jets of water shooting from the moon Enceladus, an indication of an ocean beneath the icy surface. And where there is liquid water, there could be life!


Furthermore, Cassini dispatched the Huygens probe to study the moon of Titan. It uncovered active weather systems and dunes composed of ice crystals. Titan even boasts rivers, streams and oceans made up of hydrocarbons.


And Saturn’s rings! Cassini gave us a close up look at the rings. It turns out those rings are extremely active, with waves arising within them, generated by the gravitation of nearby moons. The rings even morph into spoke-like formations created by static charges within the rings themselves.

But the photos. That’s what got me.

Behold the beauty of Saturn.

I’m not religious anymore, but when I see the stunning images captured by Cassini, I feel the same kind of awed, humbled feeling that I would often feel in church on Sundays. It’s hard not to believe that Supreme Being whipped out a cosmic paint brush and rendered a masterpiece with Saturn.

The images from Cassini have helped me to develop a better perspective about the universe and my place in it. I stand jaw agape at the immensity of the cosmos and how small and insignificant I am, relatively speaking. And yet, Earth is the only place we know for certain harbors life, which means that, for now, you, I and the rest of humanity are the only intelligent life forms known to populate the universe. And that means I’m pretty special. So are you!

Cassini’s glorious photos have fired my imagination. I ponder what might live under the ice of Enceladus. I daydream of city floating high above Titan, harvesting nitrogen from the atmosphere. I imagine great, ancient beings living under the clouds of Saturn. I wish to travel there, to explore a world I will never see with my own eyes.

Cassini’s mission will come to an end in September, when the spacecraft pulls a death dive directly into Saturn’s atmosphere. And she will send us important important information right up until the bitter end. It’s kind of sad to think of her ending up crushed by Saturn’s immense gravity. But what she leaves behind is priceless.

So, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my love and appreciation for Cassini. You have left the human race more enriched and enlightened. The striking artwork you’ve captured has expanded my mind and left its mark on my dreams. I’m so grateful for you, and the scientists, technicians and engineers that created you and guide your mission to this day. To borrow a quote Han Solo first articulated about his beloved ride, the Millennium Falcon: You may not look like much but you’ve got it where it counts!

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