A loveletter to the Cassini Mission to Saturn
Everything began in January 1986, when the first picture of Uranus was released. At that time she was just a child, but seeing that cerulean ball left a deep mark on her.. Since then she had unconsciously started to look at the sky differently, staring at the Moon, feeling her in her three dimensions and not just as a pale disk in the night sky.
A few years later, NASA released the first portrait of planet Neptune, which was incredible in its beauty, hued deep blue cobalt, floating in the black of the void with its thin rings resembling silver threads.
Phoebe had always gazed at the sky; she knew the name of everything she could see and where what she could not see was. She observed the limitless ecosystem of the cosmos:compared to the immensity of the space around her, daily troubles like rent or work had started to seem ridiculous. Phoebe knew that her life would have been worth it only if she had used it to enjoy the incredible and the extraordinary, and as long as knowledge had kept enlightening her mind. It didn’t matter if it was the infinitely big or the infinitely small, to her true value did not lie in material belongings but in the privilege of being witness to an era of marvellous discoveries.
With science, Phoebe saw the affirmation and apex of human greatness. Something sublime, the culmination of civilization. Science brought Nations together, because without cooperation they would not have been able to face the immense reach of their samples. She would spend hours reading about the moons and the incredible probes made by human hands, our eyes towards the stars.
For a time, she had lived alone in a country house in Tuscany. She had a small balcony facing a courtyard with a big oak in the centre. Throughout the summer until early autumn she would bring an armchair outside, and she would sit there comfortably to watch the stars, taking advantage of the absence of artificial lights. That was a place where darkness and silence mingled in harmony, creating pure peace. And like that, she could finally see the firmament in its entirety.
One night a woman came. She was beautiful and ageless, and she stood in the middle of a flooded room wearing an evening gown made of blue linen. Phoebe did not know her, but she was sure that she was her guide, because there is one in every dream. When we lose our lead, we flounder searching for a way out until the unavoidable awakening happens. So, she went close to her, and all around them the stuccoes and the mirrors evoked an illuminist decadence. The hair of the woman was brown and they unraveled on her shoulders in clammy curls, as of a creature that belonged to the water.
“In the other room there’s Titan” she said, raising her finger and pointing at a door.
Phoebe walked to open the door, and suddenly a giant sphere, so big that it filled all the available space, appeared before her, glowing with a dim blue light. It wasn’t Titan, more like its ghost instead. It rested silently in that empty ballroom that was as big as a city. Its atmosphere barely touched the ceiling and the walls, where the plaster was peeling off and cracking under the weight of its age.
Phoebe glanced beyond the moon and sighted Rhea and Dione in the distance, and farther away Jupiter and the blinding Sun.
“The Earth is so insignificant that I cannot even see her.”
“But she’s beautiful, even if you can’t see it.” the woman in blue said, back at her side.
“She’s the most beautiful of all planets, but at least there’s no cruelty here.”
Phoebe turned around. Behind the intricate hairdo of her guide there was Saturn, so immense that she could not see its end.
“Sometimes I wish I was Cassini, to linger by the rings of Saturn, quiet and isolated, where cruelty isn’t known and I hope it will never be.”
“Saturn doesn’t know cruelty because it doesn’t know life” the woman in blue said.
“So, can’t there be no life without chaos?”
“As much as absolute order corresponds to absolute nothingness.”
The guide turned back and raised a hand to shield her eyes from the dazzling light.
“See? From here you can see the Sun.”
“Nobody knows we’re here.”
“Except for Cassini.”
“Hark. We have all eternity to listen to the silence.”
Like two travelers on the top of a mountain, from there they could see the Solar System moving according to its harmonic dynamics, monitoring its mechanical flow within the cosmic emptiness. Phoebe looked at the distant Sun and it did not blind her. She could see Jupiter, Mars and the Earth, far away and as small as a grain of sand.
“This is no place for you.”
The guide gave her a hug, closed her eyes and rested her head on her shoulder.
“We are at bathyal depths, here you would die, you supralittoral creature.”
“In all the infinity, my home is just that pale blue dot… it’s so tiny, as if it didn’t even exist.”
“But that’s all you need”.
“I want to believe that my home is as big as my perceptions. Its limits are being drawn by the Voyagers.”
Phoebe gave a look around. “Who knows where they are now.”
The woman in blue indicated a point in space “There, beyond the bow.”
Phoebe smiled “Beyond the end of the Sun. It feels good to keep company to these great lords, the silent kings of void and lonesomeness, and to their devoted satellites.”
The guide took her head in her hands with a delicate gesture “Nobody can survive the love for beauty.”
“Why do we destroy, then?”
The guide looked at Jupiter “Because that’s the fate of all matter.”
Suddenly Phoebe remembered of the water and vertigo took her. She fell and she plunged in the ocean.
She woke up under the warm, yellow Sun she was familiar with. It took her a few moments to understand that she was awake. She was wrapped up in her blanket, crouched in the armchair. She stood up and the chill air made her shiver through her sweater. It was Sunday.
For the rest of the day she did not do anything but to think about that woman and the planets they had visited together, and she craved that tranquility again. The nocturnal quiet of the countryside could not match the serenity she had felt in the void, but she was glad she had tasted it in her dream. She loved the singing of the birds and she cherished the fresh wind, the rustle of leaves, the smell of dank wood and the colour of the vines in autumn. It was true, there was no lovelier planet than the Earth. Even though those alien objects exerted a mystical attraction on Phoebe, she knew she didn’t belong there. Not unlike death, their beauty could only be enjoyed from a great distance, from a safe place.
“Still, sometimes I wish I was Cassini, floating in the blackest of space where cruelty has no home.”