One of my favourite space missions is the Cassini mission to Saturn named after Giovanni Domenico Cassini, an Italian astronomer who discovered 4 of Saturn’s moons and noted the division in rings of Saturn now called the Cassini Division. Launched on October 15th, 1997, the probe arrived at Saturn on June 30th, 2004. Since that time, the probe has studied features of the gas giant such as Saturn’s hexagon shaped cloud formations at its Northern Pole, the cryovolcanoes of Saturn’s Moon, Enceladus where liquid oceans may harbour life, landed the Huygens probe on Saturn’s moon, Titan where we saw images beneath Titan’s mysterious atmosphere for the first time, and sent back the some of the most incredible images of space that we’ve ever seen. Some of these images include Earth (below) as we photobombed Saturn’s rings.
Wow! That’s us, that Pale Blue Dot. This is one of my favourite pictures of all time, made possible by the Cassini probe. It shows us…well…us. For all our differences on our world, when we see the planet like this, all our differences become (literally) astronomically tiny and our similarities astronomically large. We all live on this little world floating through the cosmos.
Here are some other stellar images from Cassini through the years:
Cassini was placed on an extension mission in 2010 where it made detailed observations of Saturn’s moons and seasonal changes on Titan. Titan is the only other place in the solar system that has climate patterns affected by liquid like Earth does (except liquid methane rather than water). This past April, Cassini entered into a phase of its mission called “The Grand Finale.” As the probe neared the end of its life, the Grand Finale placed Cassini on 22 “daring dives” that passed between Saturn and Saturn’s rings typically too dangerous to have attempted earlier in the probe’s life and which allowed for closer observations of the rings than ever before.
In just a few hours at the time of writing this, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, consumed by the very planet it has orbited for 13 years. This fiery finale will prevent the probe from contaminating any of Saturn’s moons; crucial in the future search for life. The predicted loss of signal from Cassini is currently predicted for 7:55am EDT, September 15th but that may change due to contact and friction with Saturn’s atmosphere. (Cassini will have vaporized about 83 minutes before that time; the time it takes for the final radio signals to reach Earth)
So, all that to say: A probe we launched a billion kilometers into space twenty years ago to peer through the atmosphere of an alien moon, take photos of ice volcanoes, and fly through the rings of a gas giant is going to be consumed by the atmosphere of Saturn as a fireball. My mind is exploding.
Early in our Chasing Atlantis journey, we had the privilege of interviewing one of the engineer’s on the Cassini mission, Kevin Grazier. Kevin worked on the imaging subsystems such as Cassini’s visible light camera which brought us these incredible photos of Saturn and its moons. Kevin is also often tapped by screenwriters as a science advisor where Kevin has worked on shows like Battlestar Galactica and Defiance and movies like Gravity and he’s the author of Hollyweird Science: From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse. Below is a clip from our interview with Kevin.
Farewell Cassini! Fore more on the Grand Finale check out:
Back in 2013, I recall being awed by Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Solar System. In the first episode of the documentary series, Brian travels to Varanasi, India to witness a total solar eclipse. The footage is astounding. I had never seen anything like that in video…and certainly not in person. Howard Trottier, one of our interviewees and professor of physics at Simon Fraser University, once described to me the total eclipse he saw as “transcendent.” We tend to think of the universe as static. Earth and humanity are in motion while the sky remains somewhat the same. But here…here the universe shows that it is alive, dynamic, changing, evolving. Here we see the chapter headings in the story that is the cosmos; a story that we are a part of. I have to see it!
At the time, I wasn’t certain where we would be with the documentary. I certainly didn’t think it would become the grand adventure that we’ve been on since the launch of Shuttle Atlantis. However, I did think that if we were still working on the film by the date of the Great American Solar Eclipse, then I really wanted to be there.
This coming Monday, August 21st, is predicted to witness the largest migration of people to see spectacle of nature in human history. The path of totality, the region where the sun will appear completely eclipsed by the Moon, crosses the United States from Oregon to South Carolina and we’ll be in the path!
We have secured press credentials for Oregon Solar Fest. Madras, Oregon is one of the hot spots along the path of totality given it’s record of clear skies for this time of the year. Protected by the mountain ranges from the more rainy coastal weather, we are aiming for clear skies while we bring our camera gear; one wide angle shot of the sun with the crowds with another camera set up to my telescope for a close up as the Moon crosses the sun. If you’re going to be in Madras, be sure to connect with us on social media.
Inspired by Brian Cox’s video, I think we’re in for a life changing experience. Paul was able to contact Christopher Titus-King, the Director of Photography on the shoot with Brian in India who gave us some pointers on gear and setup for the Eclipse in Madras. Christopher’s memory was drawn to the silence; a silence that swept over the crowd of thousands as the Sun vanished.
We will keep everybody in the loop on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as we head down to Madras on the 19th. Be sure to watch this incredible spectacle of nature! (With safety glasses of course!)
Last year we had the privilege of speaking at our home town of Thunder Bay for the first annual ThunderCon and we’re back again this year!
Having grown up in Thunder Bay where my geekdom came alive to late nights watching Star Trek and stargazing with my grandfather at lake Shebandowan, I am so excited about this convention. Back in the day (old man voice), the geek community existed in Thunder Bay, but there wasn’t a rally point for all of us. We knew we were out there, and would detect one another in the rows of science fiction books at book stores, collect in basements playing Dungeons and Dragons, or hide in the art room in high school (far from the gym) playing first edition Magic the Gathering. But to gather openly! Not really a thing. So to see this happen is so awesome and to be invited as guests is a huge huge honour.
Then last year, some visionary geeks in Thunder Bay organized ThunderCon. The con was a huge success with attendance much higher than anticipated. This year the convention has doubled to two days running this weekend at the Valhalla hotel next to the Thunder Bay airport.
This year we’re doing a few panels including one on the film and one called “Chasing Your Dreams Sucks.” The intent of the panel is to normalize the challenges one faces when taking on a creative endeavour and talk openly about the hurdles that you can face in doing so. This isn’t to discourage people from chasing their dreams, but rather to understand that when you face opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the wrong path; sometimes it means you’re right where you need to be.
We’ll also be showing off some new footage and a brand new 8 min demo reel which, for the first time, will show what the final film will look/feel like!
If you’re at the convention, be sure to hit us up!
Congratulations to the ThunderCon organizers! Looking forward to this year’s event!
Right now, Hurricane Matthew is making landfall on Florida. It is predicted to be the only full strength hurricane to hit the US since 2005 and possibly the worst to hit the Space Coast ever. A state of emergency for Florida and South Carolina has already been declared.
Since starting Chasing Atlantis, we’ve made nearly a dozen trips down to the Space Coast and have gotten to know wonderful people who live and work in the area. They are battened down tonight waiting for the full wrath of the storm. We want them all to know that our thoughts are with them as Matthew makes landfall.
Fore more info, there is a great Q and A on Hurricane Matthew with veteran reporter, John Schwartz who covered Katrina.
Yesterday marked Star Trek’s 50th birthday! September 8th 1966 saw the first episode of Trek as we know it now with Kirk, Spock…and Bones…though he took that day off.
Star Trek has been an enormous inspiration in my life. Trek was what first brought my heart and mind to the stars. Some of my earliest memories are of watching the Original Series movies. The first movie I remember seeing in a theatre was Star Trek IV. I flew a die cast Klingon Bird of Prey around a paper cut out sun suspended from our apartment ceiling to make it go back in time and save the whales. The show was not only my gateway to the wider universe I perceived out there, but the stories of camaraderie and IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) became virtues that are foundational to my life. I was raised by Trek. Even when I didn’t go into sciences, my undergrad in international studies was founded upon Trek inspiration. In my mind, the crew of the Enterprise was travelling through the Universe and doing good, so too then would I in the world if I couldn’t in the stars.
To celebrate Trek’s 50th, we’ve put together a tribute video made from interviews with Trek cast, crew, and fans over the years. We’re so humbled by their willingness to be a part of our story especially since I have felt like a part of theirs.
Live Long and Prosper!
In a stellar surprise today, my friend Jenn called into my office saying “Did you know Chasing Atlantis is on the StarTrek.com website today!?”
It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing. And there we are an article about Chasing and the awesome Trek family members that have been a part of our film including Rod Roddenberry, Wil Wheaton, and Michael Okuda! We have also spoken to Robert Picardo about his work at the Planetary Society.
The article splash image features our visit to interview Bill Nye at the Planetary Society.
What’s super awesome about the timing is that today marks my Grandfather’s 90th birthday and it was he who got me into space to begin with. He’s also mentioned by name in the article on Trek.com. Happy 90th, Dziadziu!
Typically we’ll post production updates here, but every so often a piece of space news occurs that is so awesome I want to ensure we share it.
Facebook reminded us that it was 3 years ago today we were surprised by a phone call from Bill Nye The Science Guy which led to this amazing photo and an awesome interview for Chasing Atlantis.
I had finished a call with Bill’s agent thinking that there was no way this was going to actually happen. With the size of our team, budget, and Bill’s schedule I didn’t think we would be a serious consideration. I walked back inside, got lunch, sat down to eat, and the phone rang again. It was Bill’s agent’s number, but when I answered I heard ‘Matt. This is Bill.’ Here I am juggling salad at the Simon Fraser University dining hall getting a call from Bill Nye. He asked me about the film and, in that moment, I knew I had to give a legitimate “elevator pitch.” I recall saying something to the effect of ‘imagine that the science kids that you raised have now grown up and want to interview their science dad about the wonder of space and the retirement of the space shuttle.’ Silence for a moment. Then…’Sounds great. Let’s do it. Come down to California.’ Bill and I got to talking for a bit. We spoke about the Science Guy Show. I recalled parts of an episode about the circulatory system and he knew the exact episode number. I finished the call saying ‘Bill, talking to you is like a metaphysical experience’ to which he replied ‘No it’s not…it’s a physical experience.'” Of course he was right.
Our interview with Bill at The Planetary Society was amazing. After giving him a Chasing Atlantis themed bow tie (which he’s wearing in this photo) that we had custom printed he asked if we were hungry and if we wanted “Mars Cookies.” Bill explained that they were cookies that “replicated the surface colour and texture of Mars…but not the taste.” They were indeed the best planet cookies we ever had.
2015 was one of the most incredible years for our project. (I have been remiss in updating all of you. I will speak more about my absence at the end.) Each year that we have worked on the film, I look back and think “well…it can’t get any more amazing!” This past year, the film’s themes became clearer, we shot more incredible interviews in awesome settings (like the Enterprise), and I felt the most emotionally connected to the project than I ever have. We found our focus in 2015. When we first began Chasing Atlantis, the film was a story about going to see a space shuttle launch and understanding the shuttle’s technological legacy. Now, four years and change later, I see that the film is really a story about WHY I wanted to see a space shuttle launch. Outside the facility where Atlantis now resides is a quote by Carl Sagan “The Sky Calls to Us.” But how? Why do those shimmering lights in the night captivate us? This is what Chasing Atlantis has become for me; a journey to understand that call and to connect with those that hear it as well.