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Cassini and the Known Universe

I had seen Celestia about a year ago, and wasted many hours playing with it. Well, I rediscovered it again this last week. I hadn’t known that it was a SourceForge project! It is basically a real-time universe and space-time browser. Some of my favorite things to do on it are 1) following man-made spacecraft and their missions around the solar system, 2) Getting close-up to some of the many asteroids, planets, comets, and moons of our solar system, 3) Flying to distant stars and 4) my favorite, flying out far enough to see our galaxy and fly to and through the thousands of other galaxies in the Celestia database. All the objects your encounter in the system are loaded with all the known data for each object. This goes all the way down to the actual geometry and structure of the spacecrafts, the 3-dimensional form of some asteroids, the rings of Saturn, etc.

I am fascinated by the limitless expanse of space! As you manually fly to and from the many destinations, you really get an idea of the enormity of distance that separates us from all these celestial bodies. This is especially evident when trying to manually pilot to a star in Celestia. You can see the star as a brilliant point of light in the distance seemingly with no dimensions. As you increase your speed to multiple lightyears per second, the stars around you fly by and the star you are aiming for still does not change in appearance. You have to approach it just right and slow down with just the right pace or it will suddenly fly by. This is because you would only be able to see it’s actual outline when you are within a fraction of a lightyear, and at the speed you are going just to get there that miniscule distance gets jumped over entirely as you speed by.

I am amazed even more as I cruse through the galaxies in Celestia. You really get an idea of the extreme magnitude of number of stars just in one galaxy as you cruse around our tiny corner of the Milky Way. Any or indeed many of those stars could have worlds orbiting them with whole populations of God’s children with their own knowledge of God and his ways. I just read the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price for the first time and was amazed at Abraham’s understanding of these celestial things. And even more amazed at his description of God’s understanding and system of these many planets and stars. I didn’t remotely contemplate what I read (or listened to :-D), but the spirit spoke to me that I was brushing against one of these great mysteries of God.

I wonder if this is what Moses said when he said “man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed”. It certainly is something that causes awe in my mind. I also love that this is open source software. Besides the fact that open-source is just plain cool and a feel-good all around, it just shows one more way that many people from all kinds of backgrounds can share the love for what God has created.

The above image is a screenshot I took of an actual event that will happen in just a matter of weeks. The Cassini spacecraft, launched years ago, will make a close flyby to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. I don’t know how accurate the geometry and distance data is, but in the picture, the spacecraft will pass within 300 kilometers of Titan. You can seen the moon at left, Saturn ahead and a simulated Milky way cross-section on the right. Using simple controls you can play the motion forward in real-time soaking in this amazing view as it will happen just weeks from now. Anyhow, it’s worth a look and a few (or many many) hours of exploration I think.

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