What Hath Archimedes Wrought?

Ever since Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and became shamed out of Paradise, there has been an inextricable bond between discovery and emotion. The classic scientific example is the anecdote of Archimedes entering a bathtub, seeing his body force some water to spill over the tub's edge, then discovering the Archimedes Principle with such a burst of joy that he sprang from the tub and ran naked in the streets screaming "Eureka!" (More on this in this month's article about the Archimedes Palimpsest.) And there was Alexander Graham Bell's "delight" at seeing Thomas Watson enter the room after he asked him to come over in the world's first telephone call. All well and good. Understandable and a bit required, really. What a terrible world it would be if scientists didn't get psyched about their discoveries. But there are limits.

"It's so utterly breathtaking, it almost gives you vertigo," said Carolyn Porco, a top scientist with the Cassini probe that's exploring Saturn, about her team's latest images. I've interviewed Porco before, when she gushed over an ice geyser (ba-dum-bum) in a cryovolcanic system found on one of Saturn's moons. I didn't quote her. She can be intense.

But, really, astronomers need to be over-the-top like this. Have you seen what they have to work with? They get these rinky-dink low-res images, and transform them into these epic cosmic ballets of illustrative mass and energy.

Still, even with those artists' conceptions, there are limits of good taste. Let's try to rein in our excitement, shall we?

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