Emily LakdawallaMar 09, 2006

The hubbub about Enceladus

I just posted a very brief story about all of the press releases that have been whizzing around today about the possibility of liquid water on Enceladus. But to tell you the truth, that story is just a placeholder until I have time to read the ten, count them, ten scientific papers that were published this evening about Enceladus in Science magazine. I'll take them with me on the plane to Texas tomorrow and be studying them in advance of next Wednesday's Cassini session at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, after which I'll hopefully be able to digest all of the new information into a coherent and much more detailed story.

I am cooking dinner and watching TV and was pleased to see that NBC featured the Enceladus story as the final feature in tonight's national news. I thought that the story was pretty well done, even if anchor Brian Williams chickened out of pronouncing "Enceladus." Actually, now that I've hunted down that link, I'm not surprised it was good; I was reminded that NBC is the home of serious space journalists Alan Boyle and Jim Oberg. (There is a commentary on the significance of Enceladus by Oberg at the site too.)

It's a pretty big deal when such an out-of-the-way place in our solar system becomes a topic of national conversation. It was interesting to see how it was handled in a national news story, because they have the journalistic burden of actually explaining to the public what Cassini is before they can get around to talking about what Cassini has discovered. Actually, most of what they showed was the news from last July about the existence of the geysers, but I'm sure most of the country had never heard that news before. It was also funny to see an obviously staged shot of Imaging Team leader Carolyn Porco commenting on Enceladus images to a handful of what was called the "imaging team" but what looked like students, but Carolyn, was, as always, animated and clear in her interview and so was Torrence Johnson, who also got some face time, standing in front of JPL's half-scale model of the spacecraft. Though I'm not sure what I think of Torrence's joke, that Enceladus' geysers are a lot like those at Yellowstone but are just at freezing temperatures -- so he's calling Enceladus "Cold Faithful." Groan. Anyway, I think the story should play well to an audience who might be a little fatigued with all of the otherwise bad news that's happening in the world.

For those of you readers who are not in workplaces where knowledge of Cassini is commonplace, you've got a chance to invite people to ask questions tomorrow about what you know about what's going on at Saturn -- take advantage of it to do a little casual education! And at the same time, you could mention how NASA's FY 2007 budget includes enormous cuts to exactly this kind of enterprise, the scientific exploration of our solar system.

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