Friday, December 24, 2004

Cassini-Huygens Leads to Discovery;
Difference Between Fonks and Gonks

artist's concept of CassiniThe Cassini space probe is set to release a daughter probe, Huygens, sometime today.  Cassini is the craft that has been providing us with pictures of Saturn, its rings, and moons.  Cassini was named after an astronomer, although I am not sure which one; Wikipedia informs us that there were four astronomers named Cassini.  The elder Cassini seems to have been the most influential, so I suspect that the probe was named after him.

The eldest, Giovanni Domenico (Jean-Dominique) Cassini, discovered the Great Red Spot.  He also figured out how to use the eclipses of the moons of Jupiter as an -- admittedly unwieldy -- kind of clock. 

Huygens also was an astronomer.  (He was mentioned in Neal Stephenson's inspiring novel, Quicksilver, which is what drew my attention to this whole thing.)  If you want to look him up, be advised that his surname also can be spelled Hugens, or Huyghens.  Cristian Huygens discovered the mathematical properties of the rings of Saturn, and observed the moons of Saturn.  Like Cassini, he was interested in timekeeping.  Among his many important works was Horologium Oscillatorium, a book in which he described the motion of the pendulum.  This led to the development of the first clock that was accurate enough, and sufficiently precise, for scientific work. 

The development of a clock that was accurate, precise, and practical, was necessary for the progress of Science.  Politics, as we shall see, still has a way to go.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story.