Thursday, September 03, 2009

All Of These Worlds Are Yours . . .

. . . is the title of an essay I wrote about new discoveries in the Saturn System, just published in Clarkesworld magazine. It starts like this:
On July 1 2004, seven years after its launch, the Cassini spacecraft crossed the plane of Saturn's ring system. Its chunky body, wrapped in gold-colored Kapton insulation and crowned by the dish of its high-gain antennae, bristled with instrumentation; an independent instrument package, the Huygens probe, clung to it like a limpet. After falling through the gap between the F and G rings, it fired up its engines for ninety-six minutes, skimming just 100,000 kilometers above Saturn's cloud tops as it ended its interplanetary trajectory and inserted itself into an elliptical orbit.

I had some small personal interest in Cassini's success. In the year it was launched, 1997, I published a short story, "Second Skin", set on Proteus, a tiny moon of Neptune: it described an attempt to assassinate an enigmatic but fearsomely accomplished gene wizard, and was the overture to a long love affair with the outer regions of the Solar System. I wrote eight more stories that shared the same future history, and began to plan a pair of novels, The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun, about life in the outer regions of the solar system . . .

READ ON . . .

Also, there are books to be won. And wait! There's more! Although the official publication date is a little under three weeks away, you can now buy the Pyr edition of The Quiet War via Amazon.com.

2 Comments:

Blogger PeteY said...

From the article:

because of its thick atmosphere (which is explosive when mixed with breathable air), descent from orbit requires the use of heat shields.

Why is that a problem? I'd have thought it was an advantage, as you don't need to carry fuel. Space probes to Mars and, I think, Venus, have used aerobraking to reduce fuel mass for orbit insertion.

September 04, 2009 1:27 AM  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Pete - given that it's the only moon with an appreciable atmosphere, you would need special equipment and structural strength not required to land on the other moons, so it isn't just a fuel cost (think LEM vs Command Module). Also, Titan's higher gravity relative to the other moons means that achieving escape velocity would require way more fuel, and there are all kinds of other reasons why Titan, although a fantastically dynamic and diverse world, isn't especially hospitable; it's the Saturnian equivalent of Io, IMHO.

September 04, 2009 12:01 PM  

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