The Death of Cassini


The 13-year-old spacecraft sends us its final

photographs of the rings and Titan moon,

as it is steered toward Saturn’s surface.

At 76,000 mph, the atmosphere will tear

it apart and vaporize this celestial explorer.


Cassini–Huygens, or more commonly, Cassini, was a Flagship-class unmanned robotic spacecraft which was planned, built, launched, and operated in collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, and was sent to the planet Saturn. Cassini was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter its orbit. It studied the planet and its many natural satellites from when it entered orbit in 2004[5] to when it began its final, suicide descent in September 2017.

The spacecraft was steered to its death when its fuel had been expended so that it would not crash into one of Saturn’s moons and possibly contaminate it with materials from Earth.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini (8 June 1625 – 14 September 1712) was an Italian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and engineer who discovered four satellites of the planet Saturn and noted the division of the rings of Saturn.


The Inquisition

1633: Galileo Galilei was put on trial

for saying that the Earth revolves around

the Sun. We are not the center.

They knew better than God who seems

to have been the one who planned it.


[ Back in April 1633, Galileo agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced to an unlimited period of house arrest in his home in Florence for this offense. He gradually went blind and stopped looking to the heavens. It took until 1992 for the Catholic Church to formally admit that Galileo’s views on the solar system are correct. ]

Beyond What Is Seen

The mathematics told him that the star

was beyond the Milky Way, whole galaxies

beyond ours, but a young girl tending sheep

long before him looked into the night sky

and knew there was something unseen beyond.

Young Shepherdess Standing

William-Adolphe Bouguereau – Young Shepherdess Standing (1887)

Astronomer Edwin Hubble announced the discovery of other galaxies beyond the Milky Way in 1924. Before he made his discovery, everyone thought that our Milky Way galaxy was the only galaxy in the universe, and that there wasn’t much outside it besides the Magellanic Clouds, which were thought to be clouds of gas or dust. We know now that the Magellanic Clouds are really dwarf galaxies. He renamed the Andromeda Nebula the “Andromeda galaxy,” and he went on to discover 23 more separate galaxies. Within a few years of Hubble’s discovery, most astronomers came to agree that our galaxy is just one of millions.

Two Lifetimes

Today the farthest is closest to us.
Unseen by naked eyes, undiscoverable by observation.
Known by calculation, prediction and some faith.
Frozen home for a banished sea god.
Neptune, both our years, now, two lifetimes.


Though I was using Neptune’s closest passing of the year today as the starting place for this poem, I was thinking about someone who died recently. I felt a connection between Neptune’s orbit of about 165 years being like two lifetimes, and my lifetime being combined with the one lost.  Both of them unseen, but a presence felt, if not by calculation, then by a faith in some prediction that there is something out there beyond this world.