An amazing person!



Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco

Carolyn Porco is the leader of the imaging science team on the Cassinimission presently in orbit around Saturn, a veteran imaging scientist of theVoyager mission to the outer solar system in the 1980s, and an imaging scientist on the New Horizons mission on its way to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Carolyn has co-authored over 115 scientific papers on a variety of subjects in astronomy and planetary science and has become a regular public commentator on science, astronomy, planetary exploration, and the intersection of science and religion. Her popular science writings have appeared in such distinguished publications as the London Sunday Times, The New York Times, the Guardian, Astronomy magazine, the PBS and BBC websites, the Arizona Daily Star, Sky and Telescope, Scientific American, and American Scientist.

Carolyn’s research over the past 40 years has ranged across the outer solar system to the interstellar medium. The majority of her time has been spent studying the planetary rings encircling the giant planets and the interactions between rings and orbiting moons. In particular, she has been responsible for the discovery of one of the Neptune ring arcs; for elucidating the behavior of the non-axisymmetric rings and ring edges in the rings of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; and for predicting in 1993 (along with then University of Arizona graduate student Mark Marley) that acoustic oscillations within the body of Saturn could produce specific wave features in Saturn’s rings. This prediction was verified 20 years later using Cassini observations, resulting in the first demonstration that planetary rings could serve as a seismograph and ultimately provide the means to improve knowledge of a planet’s internal structure.

Carolyn has also been responsible for leading the Cassini imaging team in a host of seminal discoveries on Jupiter and its ring during Cassini’s flyby of that planet in 2000/2001, and on Saturn and its rings and moons since the spacecraft’s arrival there in 2004.

In recent years, Carolyn has increasingly turned her attention to the study of Enceladus, the small Saturnian moon whose south polar region was found, in images taken by her Cassini team, to be the site of over 100 tall geysers of icy particles erupting from four distinct, deep fractures crossing the region. This and other Cassini findings point to a sub-surface, salty, organics-rich sea beneath the south polar terrain as the geysers’ source, making Enceladus home to the most accessible extraterrestrial habitable zone in the solar system.

Carolyn Porco speaking

Carolyn continues to be active in the presentation of science to the public as the leader of the Cassini Imaging Team. She is the creator/editor of the team’sCICLOPS website where Cassini images are posted, and she writes the site’s homepage “Captain’s Log” greetings to the public. Carolyn is a popular public lecturer and speaks frequently on the Cassini mission and planetary exploration in general. She has appeared at such renowned cross-disciplinary conferences as TED (2009, 2007) and PopTech (2006, 2005). She is the CEO and President of Diamond Sky Productions, LLC.

For the 1997 film Contact, based on the novel by fellow astronomer Carl Sagan, Carolyn served as the consultant on the main character, Ellie Arroway. In 2008, she was invited by J.J. Abrams, the director/producer of the 2009 release, Star Trek, to join the film’s production crew as a consultant on planetary imagery.

Carolyn was responsible for the proposal to honor the late renowned planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker by sending a portion of his cremains to the moon aboard the Lunar Prospector spacecraft. She also conceived of the epitaph, engraved on a thin brass foil, which accompanied the ashes to the moon.

Carolyn played instrumental roles in the taking of three iconic photographs of planet Earth from the outer solar system. She participated, along with Carl Sagan, in planning the 1990 “Portrait of the Planets” taken with the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which included the famous Pale Blue Dot image of Earth. Later with Cassini, she and her team took one of Cassini’s most beloved images of Saturn and its rings during the planet’s solar eclipse, with Earth visible in the distance. And she is the creator of The Day The Earth Smiled, an event that took place on July 19, 2013, when Cassini once again pointed sunward to image Saturn, its rings and the Earth. This time, however, a long-distance photo of Earthwas taken with the full advance knowledge of members of the public, who were invited to take part in a day of reflection and celebration of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

Carolyn has been the recipient of a number of awards and honors for her contributions to science and the public sphere. She is the namesake of Asteroid (7231) Porco, which was named to honor her work in planetary science. In 1999, she was selected by the London Sunday Times as one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century, and by Industrial Week as one of “50 Stars to Watch”. In 2009, New Statesman named her as one of the “50 People Who Matter Today.” In 2010 she was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal, presented by the American Astronomical Society for Excellence in the Communication of Science to the Public. And in 2012, she was named one the 25 most influential people in space byTIME magazine.

-Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist just interviewed her and she is the most incredible person! Voyager, Cassini, Humanist of the Year, technical adviser on TWO of my favorite movies? This person has lived life to the fullest and is good without gods! What a refreshing interview.

Yes it should scare them!


Astrophysics Should Threaten Fundies More Than Biology

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, March 13, 2014 15:57 EDT


You can click the link to see the original clip. If this was intentional and not a mistake, so many questions arise, starting with, “Well, how will they deal with the next episode?” You know, the one he was talking about that’s coming up next, where the history of human evolution promises to be dealt with at length? Or why was this particular 15 seconds more offensive to fundamentalist sensibilities than the entire segment leading up to it, which is about the age of the universe, which is just as lethal a scientific theory to the biblical understanding of humanity as the theory of evolution is.


Not that this contradiction suggests anything, really, about whether this was an accident or deliberate. One of the things I find most peculiar about the creationist movement is they focus so much on attacking biologists when, if you really think about it, astrophysics has come up with ideas that are far more destabilizing to religious ideas about where we come from and what the relationship between humanity and God is like. In fact, one of the biggest segments of the show, the story of Giordano Bruno, was about precisely that: The Spanish Inquisition was deeply threatened by his idea that the stars are other suns with other planets and that the universe is vast and perhaps infinite, as well they should have been. They correctly surmised that it is pretty hard to believe in a special purpose for human beings in a universe that big, when we’re so small in it. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would God created billions of stars and give each of them their own solar system of planets, all for the purpose of making a bunch of hairless primates with large brains on one single solitary planet worship him?

When you think about it that way, evolution is much easier to reconcile to religion. It makes somewhat more sense that God would have humans evolve out of other creatures on this single planet than he would make billions of stars and planets—and perhaps even other universes—for no reason at all. At least evolution could be reframed as purposeful in some sense. Our relative smallness compared to the universe, however, is impossible to reconcile.

And yet creationists have latched onto evolution. There are some attempts to challenge astrophysics and geology, which also uphold the theory of a very old Earth and very old universe, but most of the efforts are focused on evolution. Charles Darwin is a villain in fundamentalist circles, but the scientists who helped develop these other theories are mostly ignored. (Hey, I don’t know their names, either!) Even the Discovery Institute’s newsletter is called Evolution News and Views.

Interestingly, they lambasted Cosmos for the Bruno segment, and it showed the disjointed, illogical thinking that characterizes the fundamentalist approach to science. They don’t want to be seen as anti-science, but they still found the segment offensive, understanding, correctly, that it was there to highlight the dangers attendant when religion tries to stifle scientific ideas that may threaten its dogma. The correct reaction to this provocation, of course, would have been to pretend that it has nothing to do with them. After all, their “official” stance is that they question the science of evolution, and therefore they should be equally outraged as any other viewer that this man was persecuted and martyred for floating a theory—that the universe is huge—that they themselves do not dispute.  Instead, they threw a fit and tossed out a pointless red herring, whining that it was unfair to use Bruno’s story because he was burned for religious heresy and not because he was a scientist. But that’s something deGrasse Tyson points out in the show. The official designation of Bruno isn’t the issue—the fact that he was punished for asking hard questions the church found threatening is. If they were smart, the Discovery Institute would applaud Cosmos for telling this story, reiterate how much they value the importance of asking hard questions (even if those questions trouble religion), and reiterate their obviously false claim that their criticisms of evolutionary theory are scientific in nature and not the result of dogmatists refusing to accept science. That they couldn’t do that and instead chose to quibble is very telling.

But that really shows how small-minded, even on their own terms, creationists are. They can’t conceive of doing anything more than creating a little sideshow or floating a few, narrow criticisms and hoping you don’t notice that they can’t even handle the overwhelming amount of scientific information pouring in from all sorts of fields that shows their religious beliefs simply can’t be true.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.