Terra Cognita – Updated

See below for July 2015 update

When I first made this graphic, it included two unexplored worlds: Ceres and Pluto, and 2015 seemed impossibly far away.

Now here we are, and only one remains. Of course, all these places have centuries of exploration ahead, but the era of unveiling major worlds in our solar system for the first time is reaching its twilight, right before our eyes. I almost don’t want it to end.


Terra Cognita
Some worlds of the solar system before and after they were explored by recent spacecraft.

Updated July 2015

Now this chart is complete. (But the exploration of the solar system is not.)

before and after
Some worlds of the solar system before and after they were explored by recent spacecraft.

My Own Corner of Mars

On the 16th of February, at 3:16 pm (local Mars time), a robotic spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet trained its most powerful camera on the surface. It captured an image so detailed that if someone were standing there waving you could see their shadow.

This dune field inside a crater, on the floor of an ancient river bed, is one small part of that picture. Why did NASA engineers radio commands across 60 million miles of space in order to point the multi-million-dollar spacecraft at this particular spot?

Because I told them to. Continue reading “My Own Corner of Mars”

National Poetry Writing Month 2014/15

4104 (for MESSENGER) – April 30, 2015

I don’t know my last orbit’s number
But when I trace that final curve
I hope I’m like you:
Careening headlong into fresh frontiers
A head full of new stories
That I didn’t quite have time
To finish telling


Goldstone – April 19, 2015

I want to be more like Goldstone
Remote from routine radio
From morning shows, sugar spike pop, chronic anger
Away from the fumes of cars pushing through
The bruised vein connecting LA to Vegas
Shielded from the low static of alarm and boredom
I want to be apart from thoughtless days
One following after another like boxcars rattling into Barstow

I want to earn the silence of an open sky
To listen to the desert
The commerce of mice
The glow of scorpions
The slow rumble of rock rising and weathering
To the percussion of summer lightning
The sigh of a cactus flower opening
Just as Jupiter clears the horizon

Even now, pictures of the rings sparkling in Saturn’s cold daybreak
Are arriving on waves that gently wash over my body and yours

I want to be exquisitely sensitive to the subtlest of light
I want to reverberate to the hushed, awed whispers

Drawing: Paul Calle, 1971

  Continue reading “National Poetry Writing Month 2014/15”

Dancing With Saturn

As I type this, the robotic spacecraft Cassini is traveling at 2.4 kilometers per second (about 5,300 MPH) relative to the planet Saturn. On April 9th, when Cassini makes its closest approach to the planet during this current orbit, the craft will reach nearly 9 kilometers per second (about 20,000 MPH). For all that amazing speed, the pictures we see from Cassini are usually still shots, arrestingly beautiful–but also arrested in time. Continue reading “Dancing With Saturn”