Dwingeloo to the rescue!
Hmmm ... slowly but surely I am figuring out how to work this Blog Thang -- please note the PHOTO OF MOI down below! That's me in the red suit I wear when I ride the Zeta Beam to Vleeptron, the planet I like to hang on in the nearby galaxy of
Notice I am also packing a mean-looking Space Ray Blaster Gun. Here is a True Thing about me: I have one of the world's finest collections of Space Ray Blaster Guns. Whenever I'm allowed to roam unsupervised through the Big Box, sooner or later I end up in the toy department, looking for any new Space Ray Guns, and there's always a hot new model calling to me from the shelf.
They're cheap, they're plastic, they go oooooooWEEEEEEEEooooooooo, and have bright colored lights flashing in weird patterns. By the time I noticed I'd collected about a dozen of them, I started feeling a compulsion to build one of those wooden and glass Great White Hunter Bwana Sahib Gun Cabinets to display them in the living room, but the feeling passed, and then I got married, so my collection sits in a blue plastic Rubbermaid bucket in a corner of my office.
I love all of them except one. When "Star Wars" was re-released a few years ago, they issued an official Imperial Stormtroopers rifle ray blaster, and I snapped that sucker up, 'cause it looked very mean and intimidating and had this nifty faux Space Rust all over it.
When I got it home and stuck the battery in it, I discovered its blast noise was surprisingly and disappointingly quiet and muted -- a polite, civil, thoughtful space blaster gun. At first I thought it was defective, but then I realized the noise circuit was intentionally designed with Parents in mind, so kids can run around the house blasting the crap out of each other, but it doesn't bother Mom and Dad. REAL space ray guns are LOUD and annoying and drive adults crazy.
From now on I am only buying cheap, sleazy, generic-brand space ray guns that are LOUD!
Isn't Dwingeloo 2 a silly name for Vleeptron's galaxy? Well, don't be so quick to chuckle. It really exists, it's really there, not far from our Milky Way, and Dwingeloo 1 is also in the neighborhood.
What kind of screwy name is that? Who would name a galaxy that?
Well, if you build a large radiotelescope in the tiny town of Dwingeloo in the Netherlands, you get to name any galaxies you find, and the University of Leiden (est. 1575) built and operates such a nifty gizmo in Dwingeloo, and when their astronomers found a couple of very interesting new galaxies, they named them Dwingeloo 1 and 2.
That's how Naming Space Things works: You find a new thing in space, you get to name it anything you want. If you find a New Space Thing all by yourself, you get to put your own name on it.
Dwingeloo is your basic one-horse dorp in the north of Holland, and was chosen because it's surrounded by a large national park of forest and wetland, so the radiotelescope wouldn't be bothered by radio interference from nearby cities or industrial centers, because there aren't any near Dwingeloo.
And Dwingeloo just got Very Famous, which is how I first heard about it, and why I have been wandering around muttering "Dwingeloo, Dwingeloo, Dwingeloo" ever since.
In mid-January the robot spacecraft Cassini, cruising around the neighborhood of Saturn, dropped a probe called Huygens on a long parachute descent through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. Astonishingly, almost everything worked, Huygens made a soft landing, and sent back tons of experimental data and actual photographs of the surface of Titan!
The scientists and engineers who designed Cassini, Huygens and the experiments inside them had been continuously working on these projects for about eighteen years.
Would you like to hear the winds of Titan's atmosphere?
There was only one heartbreaking glitch. Due to a human error (Errare humanum est), a channel for receiving Huygens' signal wasn't switched on. At first it seemed that all data from one particularly amazing experiment, which measured Titan's atmospheric winds, would be lost forever -- the experiment worked fine, but its data would be lost in space and never received back on Earth.
Huygens' signal was about as strong as a cell phone's signal. There was no chance for a re-broadcast. It's minus-292 Fahrenheit (minus-180 Celsius) on Titan, and Huygens had a life expectancy of just a couple of hours.
Dwingeloo to the rescue!
Besides its nifty radiotelescope, Dwingeloo is also the headquarters of JIVE, the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Europe.
Okay, so, like, what the heck is that?
One radiotelescope is Good.
But two, separated by a very big distance, but both aimed at the same Space Thing, are Better -- much more powerful, much more sensitive.
JIVE coordinates a network of 18 radiotelescopes all around the Earth. As soon as the European Space Agency realized the atmosphere experiment data might be lost, JIVE jumped in, and aimed every possible Earth radiotelescope at Titan, to try to directly "hear" Huygens' incredibly weak signal.
And they got it! It now seems that the Doppler Wind Experiment will be a complete success!
Next time I go to Europe, I'm going to visit Dwingeloo.
I hope they sell a JIVE t-shirt (adult large). The surrounding parkland seems gorgeous. It would be really nice if somebody would rent me a horse for the day. I want to tie my horse to the radiotelescope and go knock on the door and ask if I can come in and look around.
So. Like, who cares? Who cares about Very Long Baseline Interferometry? Who cares about the atmosphere of Titan? Who cares what things look like on the surface of Titan?
You know what else was going on in mid-January?
Human beings were blowing and blasting the living crap out of each other in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something about Freedom and Democracy and Weapons of Mass Destruction and Regime Change and Terrorists.
I used to be a soldier during a war. Now I watch CNN and I see me and my buddies back in 1970 peeing in our boxer shorts -- it's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra used to say.
I thought Vietnam would have had some value if we learned anything from it -- like, not to do such a fucked-up thing ever again, not to throw away the lives of our children.
Clearly, we learned nothing. We are winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and introducing them to American Values, by blasting the crap out of them, and photographing them naked, on all fours, on a leash.
Today was Election Day in Iraq. So, how did that go? Will we be withdrawing our troops now?
Nope. We're stuck in this one deep and long. No exit strategy.
Please forgive me if my focus seems a little odd or unpatriotic.
But there ARE women and men doing amazing, wonderful things on Planet Earth Right Now! Things that human beings will remember and be awed at for a thousand years!
We're building amazing, clever robots and sending them on Great Voyages to other Planets and Moons. We're learning amazing new truths about other Space Places! We're learning how planets were formed, and pre-biologic large organic molecules evolved. We're learning how We came to be Here!
And Not a Single Human Being, Animal, or Alien was harmed in the Cassini/Huygens Voyage to Titan! No one was shamed or humiliated or intimidated! No one was terrorized or put in fear!
Humans are good at this kind of stuff. We should do a lot more of it.
We're really shitty at Ruling the World. We make a lousy Roman Empire Nouveau. We should do a lot less of this kind of loopy, violent, psycho, foot-shooting crap.
America will be so embarrassed and ashamed about these wars, which have accomplished nothing, and made half the world hate and dread us. (Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker reports that the Bush administration is preparing for our next war -- against Iran. We'll show them!)