Odds, Ends, and Cassini

Hey, everyone. It’s a pretty quiet Monday around here, the overcast itself is cast-over by clouds of pollen, slowly descending and condensing everywhere. It’s that most wonderful time of year, so the song goes.

I’ve got a couple things I need to check off the ol’ to-do list this week, after what was a very busy April of writing (here and otherwise) for me. I’m really trying to work on a bit of a calendar of posts so I can fit in some things in among other features. It’s funny how “well, sure, okay, I’ll focus on some writing” can turn into something that needs a calendar with deadlines and things. We’ll see how it goes.

On my list, though, is something that might be of some interest to one or two of you. I’ve been kind of inconsistent in how I’ve capitalized the names of our planet, our planet’s natural satellite, and our planet’s nearest star. That’s not just shoddy editing and poor attention to detail. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve spent more time than my wife, kids, and friends would probably like to know thinking about this.

The MLA and Chicago styles, both, I think, recommend not capitalizing those names unless they do not follow the word the. For example, “…Earth and Moon orbit a common barycenter…” is correct, as is “…the earth and the moon…,” but “… the Earth and the Moon..” is not.

I never liked this. It doesn’t allow for a definite, clear way to distinguish our own moon from a general statement about nonspecific one of Saturn’s. Either way, it’s “the moon.” I’ve struggled, vascillated, wavered, and flip-flopped, and given the impression of being sloppier about this than I am. I’m plenty sloppy in plenty of other places, don’t get me wrong, but this…

The good people down at the IAU (International Astronomical Union), though, have settled the issue, and I’m not sure why I didn’t check with them sooner. Sloppy, see? According to their spectacular and spectacularly named Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, this question is settled.

So, from here out, since this is mostly an astronomy website, and I’m a card-carrying wannabe member of the IAU, when I’m talking the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon, they’ll be capitalized, no matter the context. When I talk about moons in general, or, any moon other than our Moon, it’ll be lower-case.  There you have it.

Speaking of Saturn, at the end of last week, NASA’s Cassini probe started the ending phase of its long and incredible mission studying Saturn and its moons and rings. After launching in 1997, just about 20 years ago, with the Huygens probe, which it dropped through Titan’s clouds, Cassini has been there since 2004. It’s sent back amazing photo after amazing discovery from almost the minute it started there.

Titan, Pandora, Dione, Pan, and Saturn’s Rings (from Cassini)

It’s strange to be a little nostalgic about a robot a billion miles away, which most of us have had nothing to do with, but it also seems strange not to be. We’ve watched as the people who’ve worked on the project made it their lives.

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus, as seen by Cassini

To keep Cassini from accidentally crashing into and contaminating one of the planet’s moons, for instance the watery Enceladus, or the cloudy Titan, on September 15, 2017, it’ll be sent to burn up in the clouds high in Saturn’s atmosphere; a human-made meteor. I wonder what else we’ll learn in these next few months. Thanks to everyone who’s worked on this mission.

Saturn, rings, and Dione (from Cassini)

It’s amazing to think of what’s gone on in all that time, and where we’ve all been. Twenty years is a long time. Kids who weren’t born yet when it launched are working or maybe finishing college now. Think of what we’ve all done. I’ve traveled, lived in five cities, and had a family since since its launch. It’s amazing to look up and see not just a bright dot in the sky, but a world, a real place; a place where actual things happen and change. Could Cassini have brought us to the edge of discovering life outside Earth?

If you have a few minutes, and want some more Cassini, have a look at this video, which the Wall Street Journal published in November 2015. Also, fellow blogger, Jim R wrote a great post about Cassini’s grand finale last week.

Thanks for stopping by, have a great week, and clear skies, everyone!


12 thoughts on “Odds, Ends, and Cassini

  1. Wonder why there isn’t another name for the Moon –other than Moon– in English? In Greek it’s Selene…so I’ve heard. Maybe there’s another name in other languages too…?


    1. Yeah, Selene is the Greek name, Luna is the Latin name so it flowed off into all of the Romance languages and dialects (Spanish, French, etc.). Chandra is Sanskrit, I think. There’s loads of other names. I’d bet what happened here in English is Earth’s natural satellite was given the name Moon, and when satellites were discovered at other planets, the word “moon” just became shorthand for “natural satellite;” a colloquialism that stuck. You know, for a very long time the Moon was *THE* Moon, the one and only. I don’t know what word other languages use to refer to the collective group of other natural satellites. I imagine it was the same thing with the origin of Earth’s and the Sun’s names. For a long time there was no other name because no other name was needed. Inconvenient nowadays? You bet.


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