“Cassini Vanishes Into Saturn, Its Mission Celebrated and Mourned”

Source: Cassini Vanishes Into Saturn, Its Mission Celebrated and Mourned – The New York Times

A thrilling story, it might move you to tears.

It did me. It also moved me to my shelf of books on and by Galileo (1564-1642) because I remembered learning something about Cassini, an early astrophysicist, when I was devoted to Galileo.

Who was this man after whom an “intrepid” spacecraft had been dubbed?

Here’s what I found (in my one-volume Columbia Encyclopedia, published in 1939–odd spellings, punctuation and capitalizations are sic):

The Cassinis were:

…family of French astronomers and topographers, of Italian origin. Four generations in succession were heads of the observatory at Paris, their combined periods of office covering 122 years.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini, 1625-1712…was called by Louis XIV to take charge of the new observatory. Naturalized soon after he took up his labors there in 1671, he organized the activities of the observatory. He discovered four of the Satellites of Saturn and the division in Saturn’s ring; determined the rotations of Jupiter, Venus, and Mars; cooperated in determining the solar parallax; and is claimed to have made the earliest systematic observation of zodiacal light. Among other additions to scientific knowledge is his discovery of the Cassinian oval, a curve he proposed to substitute for Kepler’s ellipse.

Oh yeah. He deserved his own spacecraft that explored Saturn, didn’t he?

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