Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Saturn and Iapetus

"Soon after that they were down among the stupendous thunderhead armadas tearing east in this particular zone, around the 75th latitude. Royal blue, turquoise, indigo, robin’s egg—and infinity of blue clouds, it seemed. In the latitudinal band farther south the wind blew hard in the opposite direction; two-thousand-kilometer-per-hour jet streams were therefore running against each other, making the shear zone a wild space of whirpooling tornados. … Now their little diver flew among thunderheads a hundred kilometers tall, and though it was a commonplace to say that perspective was lost in situations like this, such that all sizes looked much the same, it wasn’t really true: these thunderheads were clearly as big as entire asteroids, rising out of a deeper array of flatter cloud formations so that they saw below them masses of nimbus and cirrus, cumulus, festoons, barges—really the whole Howard catalog, all snarling through and over and under each other and constituting what passed for the surface of the gas giant.”
- Kim Stanley Robinson, pages 264-6, 2312
I’ve been enjoying 2312 so much that I’m trying to read the book slowly, to give myself to take in its details and absorb what I can. The passage above is taken from a fascinating chapter where our heros dive down to the "surface” of Saturn to investigate a renegade spaceship hiding amongst the blue clouds there. The entire chapter has elements of Clarke’s incredible story of journey into Jupiter, "A Meeting with Medusa", in that it quite vividly paints a picture of what it must be like to travel down into the outer banks of a gas giant.

Shared via a Creative Commons license
This section of the book also includes a lot of details about the civilization on Iapetus. Turns out there are a lot of “stranger than fiction” elements about this large retrograde moon of Saturn that lend itself quite handidly to our story:
  1. The moon has a light and a dark side; not the side that is lit up by the sun and Saturn, rather a black side that is covered with a shallow layer of dark residue from ice sublimation and a light side that isn't covered with this substance. The light and dark sides are uneven, roughly equivilant to the lines on a tennis ball.
  2. A large ridge (roughly 1,300 km long, 20 km wide, and 13 km high) runs along the equator of only the light side of the moon.

Check out Iapetus' wikipedia entry for more. Space is fascinatingly bizarre.

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