Just So We’re Clear ….

Science and WarSo … you know, not to belabor the point. But I just want to be clear, here: I said it’s important. Here, look at the weird colored stripes. Click on them to find out what they mean. Or maybe a hint:

Neil deGrass Tyson recently noted that the 2008 bank bailout was larger than the total 50 history of NASA’s budget. Inspired by that comparison, I decided to look at general science spending relative to the defense budget. How do we prioritize our tax dollars?

And remember, NASA is one of the few government agencies that routinely does its job correctly. Strangely, another is the National Institutes of Health. Actually, one might reasonably complain that their budget is low, but it does creep upward. And there is always discussion to be had about how far is too far, but come on. NASA knows very nearly exactly where to look for life in this Universe. They have a couple places in mind and know within about a thousand miles where to look. And given what might actually be there, they won’t need the thousand. They might need only ten. And the difference between getting there and landing, or just flying around in circles, taking ever-finer photos? Is it worth it?

Is it worth it to know?

Enceladus Unveiled

Enceladus and friendsInertia.

Never mind.

Let us start, then, with something a little more recent, since there is much to see.

Enceladus, perhaps our favorite celestial body in the solar system.

And, ah, Cassini!

The intensity of the jets of water ice and organic particles that shoot out from Saturn’s moon Enceladus depends on the moon’s proximity to the ringed planet, according to data obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

The finding adds to evidence that a liquid water reservoir or ocean lurks under the icy surface of the moon. This is the first clear observation the bright plume emanating from Enceladus’ south pole varies predictably. The findings are detailed in a scientific paper in this week’s edition of Nature.

“The jets of Enceladus apparently work like adjustable garden hose nozzles,” said Matt Hedman, the paper’s lead author and a Cassini team scientist based at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “The nozzles are almost closed when Enceladus is closer to Saturn and are most open when the moon is farthest away. We think this has to do with how Saturn squeezes and releases the moon with its gravity.”

Cassini, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, discovered the jets that form the plume in 2005. The water ice and organic particles spray out from several narrow fissures nicknamed “tiger stripes.”

“The way the jets react so responsively to changing stresses on Enceladus suggests they have their origins in a large body of liquid water,” said Christophe Sotin, a co-author and Cassini team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Liquid water was key to the development of life on Earth, so these discoveries whet the appetite to know whether life exists everywhere water is present.”

Just a reminder: NASA is an example of a government agency doing its job; that’s why congresses and presidents alike prefer to cut its budget.

No, really, click that link; it’s important.