Phoebe fly-by

Saturn’s frozen moon, Phoebe, is unusual in many respects: it has a very dark, cratered, surface; its ‘top’ has been blown off by some colossal impact; its orbit is considerably inclined to Saturn’s ring-plane; and it orbits in the ‘wrong’ (retrograde) direction. By approaching to within 2000 km of its surface, the Cassini probe has recently captured images in much greater detail than the Voyager missions of the 1980s. But these fly-bys have had an emotional impact, unreported until now.

Pity Phoebe: very old,
Quite alone and icy cold;
Cratered skin all disarrayed;
Orbit tilted, retrograde.
Captured into Saturn’s grip
From Kuiper’s Solar System tip.

Seven million miles away
From her guardian’s ringed display,
She felt ignored, unloved, rejected.
But in the ’80s, unexpected,
Two Voyagers flew past and gave
A photographic Phoebian wave.

“It gives me hope,” poor Phoebe said,
“That, though they snapped my dented head,
There might be someone out in space
Who might quite like my pock-marked face.”
But Phoebe’s mood again turned glum:
She felt romance would never come.

When twenty years or more had passed,
A distant speck appeared at last,
And grew in size, though still quite teeny.
Then, on its side, she saw: “Cassini”.
Its closeness made her all excited –
A spark of love had been ignited . . .

She smartened up each Phoebian feature
And waited for the probe to reach her.
She heard Cassini’s high-tech clicks
As, overhead, it took its pics.
But then, to her intense dismay,
Cassini seemed to drift away . . .

The probe was answering Saturn’s call –
It didn’t fancy her at all.
Imagine, then, her bitter woe
When thus rejected by her beau,
And pity Phoebe: very old,
Quite alone and icy cold.

[Photo: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute]
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