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Cassini Orbiter Videos: Saturn Flyby

Cassini is currently hanging out near Saturn, conducting various missions with its wide array of instruments (including cameras, radar, magnetometer, cosmic dust analyzer [!], plasma spectrometer, and so on). It launched in 1997, arrived at Saturn in 2004, and since then has sent back some stunning images -- many of which are collected in the video below.

Cassini has seven primary objectives, according to Wikipedia:

1. Determine the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the rings of Saturn
2. Determine the composition of the satellite surfaces and the geological history of each object
3. Determine the nature and origin of the dark material on Iapetus's leading hemisphere
4. Measure the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the magnetosphere
5. Study the dynamic behavior of Saturn's atmosphere at cloud level
6. Study the time variability of Titan's clouds and hazes
7. Characterize Titan's surface on a regional scale

What's missing from this list? "8. Make awesome videos of frickin' Saturn!"

In the video below, various flyby images are composited together (with edits and tweaks, but no 3D CGI) as part of an IMAX film project in production by Stephen Van Vuuren. It's so "clean" looking that it looks fake, but it's based real images of Saturn -- and it's not even complete; this is just a test clip. Van Vuuren writes: "This is still a work-in-progress and it's an art film, not a science film, but as new image data comes down I will tweak this shot for improved accuracy." Looks pretty good to me.

The most impressive bit starts at 57 seconds in, and is described as "Camera Test 1 (Spring 2010). 5.6k frame resolution 32-bit color. First IMAX resolution, natural light and color full fly-through of Cassini images." Um. IMAX video of a flyby of Saturn? Two tickets, please!

5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

For more info, check out the Outside In movie site. Of particular interest is the About Stephen Van Vuuren video.

(Via Kottke.org.)

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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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entertainment
Why Our Brains Love Plot Twists
Getty Images
Getty Images

From the father-son reveal in The Empire Strikes Back to the shocking realization at the end of The Sixth Sense, everyone loves a good plot twist. It's not the element of surprise that makes them so enjoyable, though. It's largely the set-up, according to cognitive scientist Vera Tobin.

Tobin, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, writes for The Conversationthat one of the most enjoyable moments of a film or novel comes after the big reveal, when we get to go back and look at the clues we may have missed. "The most satisfying surprises get their power from giving us a fresh, better way of making sense of the material that came before," Tobin writes. "This is another opportunity for stories to turn the curse of knowledge to their advantage."

The curse of knowledge, Tobin explains, refers to a psychological effect in which knowledge affects our perception and "trips us up in a lot of ways." For instance, a puzzle always seems easier than it really is after we've learned how to solve it, and once we know which team won a baseball game, we tend to overestimate how likely that particular outcome was.

Good writers know this intuitively and use it to their advantage to craft narratives that will make audiences want to review key points of the story. The end of The Sixth Sense, for example, replays earlier scenes of the movie to clue viewers in to the fact that Bruce Willis's character has been dead the whole time—a fact which seems all too obvious in hindsight, thanks to the curse of knowledge.

This is also why writers often incorporate red herrings—or false clues—into their works. In light of this evidence, movie spoilers don't seem so terrible after all. According to one study, even when the plot twist is known in advance, viewers still experience suspense. Indeed, several studies have shown that spoilers can even enhance enjoyment because they improve "fluency," or a viewer's ability to process and understand the story.

Still, spoilers are pretty universally hated—the Russo brothers even distributed fake drafts of Avengers: Infinity War to prevent key plot points from being leaked—so it's probably best not to go shouting the end of this summer's big blockbuster before your friends have seen it.

[h/t The Conversation]

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