Shields Up! Cassini Begins First Dive of Final Descent

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Around 5am ET, NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft dove through the gap between Saturn and its rings. The Twitter account used to document the mission sent out a message announcing the descent.  “Shields Up!” they tweeted. “As we pass over #Saturn, we’re turning our high-gain antenna into a shield RIGHT NOW to deflect oncoming ring particles.”

Cassini is entering a region no spacecraft has ever explored. Because the antenna normally used to send images will now act as a shield, Cassini will be out of contact with Earth for at least a day.

“No particles larger than smoke particles are expected,” NASA says, “but the precautionary measure is being taken on the first dive.”

The data collected by the spacecraft during the dive will be sent back to the Cassini team, who will use the information to gauge the atmosphere of the ring for future dives.

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Two days ago, Cassini captured an image of Saturn’s moon, Titan, on its final flyby. This course of action put the spacecraft into its last act, which NASA is calling Cassini’s Grand Finale. Using Titan’s gravity to bend its path, Cassini will begin a series of 22 dangerous dives between the ring and Saturn, which will end with a plunge into Saturn itself, destroying the spacecraft. The mission will conclude in September, just shy of the 20-year anniversary. Cassini first began its journey in 1997.

If all goes to plan, NASA hopes to regain contact with Cassini no earlier than 3:30am ET. They estimate images will come shortly after.

Dear World: Please Stop Telling Celebrities They Saved Your Life

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Your hands shake. Deep in the pit of your stomach every organ feels like it’s going to explode. Another foot, and then another. The person you’ve admired for so long is now arm’s length away. It’s your turn to speak. Tears well in the back of your throat. You open your mouth and –

Stop.

Before you say what you’re going to say, let’s take a moment to discuss what you shouldn’t say. Common courtesy dictates there are subjects off-limits, like abortion and religion and, before Donald Trump, politics. But somewhere along the way – between the growing popularity of celebrities speaking openly about taboo subjects, and the judgmental, terrifying world of Twitter – we’ve taken advantage of what we think we’re entitled to.

Celebrities are people. At the core of it, they breathe and pulsate just the same as you and I. And, just like us, there is only so much they can handle before they break. Take a look at Justin Bieber. Just recently, Bieber canceled all meet and greets during his tour. On Instagram, he writes, “I always leave feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression … The pressure of meeting people’s expectations of what I’m supposed to be is so much for me to handle and a lot on my shoulders.” Whether you like Bieber or not, the kid has point.

We need to stop telling celebrities they saved our lives.

The appeal is strong – romantic, even. Standing in front of a celebrity, expressing the emotions coursing through you, finally telling them they are the reason you are alive today. It all sounds so melodic. The problem, however, is we don’t account for how draining this is. We don’t account for the pressure this puts on these human beings. There’s a difference between saying, “You helped me through a hard time,” and, “You’re the reason I didn’t kill myself.” The pressure is immense, and for some reason we feel we’re entitled to tell celebrities about it.

With more and more famous people being open about things like mental illness, we’re connecting in a way we never could before. When Jared Padalecki, star of the CW’s Supernatural, started a campaign to bring awareness to mental disorders, he opened a door to his fans and invited them into his life. He dreamed of a world where people could discuss diseases like depression without the stigma that normally comes along with it. But this open door allowed a rush of people who would, for long after, find themselves under the belief it is appropriate to share these often burdening stories with people who are – let’s face it – strangers.

In the case of Padalecki, who tours the United States throughout the year doing fan conventions, the emotional baggage can take its toll. A user on Twitter, who goes by the handle “princesscortese”, made a long post discussing the effect these interactions have on Padalecki. After seeing a tearful fan approach him during his autographs, she states, “I watched him take a moment, take a deep breath and run a hand over his face, sort of gathering himself and then he pulled a smile back onto his face and talk[ed] to the next person.” Interactions like these have caused Creation Entertainment, who runs the fan conventions, to buckle down on the rules. They lowered the numbers of autographs available and now have trained personnel stationed in photo op rooms to snatch any crying fans away and calm them before they reach Padalecki.

It’s clear these situations are causing emotional distress, so why are fans still approaching celebrities and confessing their life stories?

The answer, plain and simple, comes from two places. The first is that no one has told them not to. No one has come forward and told these people that the thing they are proud about – meeting their idol and expressing the impact they’ve had – can be emotionally draining. Bieber said it best: “The pressure of meeting people’s expectations of what I’m supposed to be is so much for me to handle and a lot on my shoulders.” Telling someone, especially someone constantly in the spotlight, that they are the reason you are alive is distressing. What if they do something wrong? What if they do something that upsets you? What if they aren’t enough to stop you from hurting yourself? Are they then the reason you’re not alive?

The second answer, one that may come as a surprise, is some people simply don’t care. Why? Because, unfortunately, they feel entitled. When a fan asked a personal question to Padalecki that made him cry, people on social media stated they had a right to ask him their question because he decided to be open about his depression in the first place. These people fall under the assumption that celebrities can handle the situation themselves if they are uncomfortable. But they fail to realize celebrities tend to cater to peoples’ desires so they don’t ruin their image. A famous person who refuses a picture with a fan or won’t answer a question is painted as rude and uncaring. It doesn’t matter if they were uncomfortable or not.

Celebrities are not therapists. The desire to emphasize how their work has helped you in life is one that is strong and appealing. Before you step in front of your idol, think about the burden you will cast on them if you tell them your life story. Consider how many crying fans approach them during the day. Consider how emotionally draining it is on them. There is a difference between saying someone helped you through a hard time and saying someone is the reason you’re still here today.

Let them know you appreciate what they’ve done, but please, please, stop telling celebrities they saved your life.

7 Things to Avoid in the Opening of Your Novel

The opening of a novel is one of the most important things you’ll write. It’s what captivates readers and makes them want to join your characters on the adventures they are about to embark on. It’s also what will help an agent decide if your story is something they’d be interested in representing. Nothing turns an agent and a reader off more than a bad beginning, so here are some common things to avoid when writing your opening.

  1. Your Character Waking Up

Never start your novel with your character waking up. Just don’t. It’s a cliché opening that agents and readers alike have seen done many, many times. Waking up is a mundane action, like eating breakfast or getting ready for school. Agents don’t care that your character has just emerged from sleep, unless, perhaps, they are waking up to the sound of their mother being killed in the next room. But generally speaking, there are few times this situation works, so try to avoid it at all costs.

Along with the idea of waking up …

  1. A Dream

Your character is going through an exciting turn of events. Maybe they are being chased by a man with a gun. Maybe they are hanging on the edge of a cliff, a second away from falling to their death – then BAM. An alarm clock rings, someone calls to them from downstairs that breakfast is ready. It was all a dream.

I can almost guarantee an agent is sending you a rejection at this point. Never start your novel with a dream. It’s a cheap gimmick and agents will feel cheated. Unless the dream is somehow essential to the story line, avoid at all costs.

  1. First Day of School/Work

Nothing more needs to be said about this. It’s over-done. Don’t start your novel with your character going to their first day of school or work. This seems like a natural place to begin and that’s why everyone begins there. Avoid at all costs.

  1. Prologue

Most agents hate prologues and so do many readers. Prologues are just back story. Agents want to be moving with the plot, not standing outside it while things are explained. If you know your characters and story well enough, the back story will come through on its own. It’s part of who they are. It’s in their DNA. Implicate it slowly throughout your novel and you’ll be fine.

As such …

  1. Back Story

Never open a novel with back story. The “information dump” is another name for it. See above reason.

  1. Your Character Looking Into a Mirror

This is a somewhat lazy and overdone way of telling readers what a character looks like. Be creative. (Bonus: a laundry list of what the character is wearing is another thing to avoid.)

  1. An Opening Line That is Exciting But Has Nothing to Do with Your Story

The pressure of having a great opening line is strong. We all want to be the next, “Call me Ishmael” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But having an opening line that has nothing to do with what is about to happen is something you must avoid at all costs. Sure, starting a novel with a dramatic first line is exciting, but make sure it actually relates to your story before you use it. And remember, the first line doesn’t always need to be brilliant in order for your novel to be good. Make sure you start at the right place and any plain first lines can be forgiven.

To the Person I Used to Be (and the person I still am)

Yesterday is over. As hard as it is, as hard as it has ever been, it’s time to accept that the things you did yesterday can no longer be changed.

But yesterday will change you.

You have made mistakes. You have hurt people, you have hurt yourself. And you will do it for years to come. People will always have different opinions and you will never be able to please everyone no matter how many times you let them walk all over you. You have spent too long letting them control you in a desperate attempt to keep everything from flowing over the edge. You have spent too long worrying about what will happen if you upset someone by being who you are. You have spent too long hiding.

You are hurting, and that’s okay. Be hurt. The world can take it. Don’t push your feelings aside and pretend like they aren’t important. Yes, other people have it worse. Other people will always have it worse. But that is not a reason to dismiss yourself. If it hurts you, it’s a problem. And it is a problem. So be hurt. Cry. Vent. But do it in a healthy way. You are allowed to be hurt, but you are not allowed to hurt yourself in the process.

Remember you are not alone. You have never been alone. Look around you. Look at the people who care for you. You have lost friends, you have been betrayed, you have lied and you have done things for reasons you can’t understand. Look around again. Those people who are still there will stay for years to come. And the friends you lost will find their way back into your life to fulfill different purposes. To remind you of who you used to be, and who you are now.

That will make you sad – remembering who you used to be. Remembering the things you did and the way you hurt people and how every little thing felt like the end of the world. You are not that person anymore. You never were that person. Those things you did were side effects of growing up. But you, the real you, has always been the same. The kind, caring person who befriends the bullied and helps anyone who is sad. You are a good person.

Bad things will happen to you. Bad things have already happened to you. You will hold onto the mentality that nothing else bad can happen because you’ve already been through horrible things. It’s not true. There isn’t a balance to life like that. Things will get worse. Things will get very bad. But things will also get very, very good.

You must learn to let go. Let go of yesterday. Let go of the person you think you are now, because that person is not who you will be. Learn to be hurt and be okay. Remember your mistakes, but do not dwell in them. Look around you. Take a breath.

You are not alone.

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr – Review

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All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr is rated one of the top 10 best-selling books of 2014 by the New York Times, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and was short listed for the National Book Award. With so many achievements following it, I had to pick up a copy and see what all the fuss was about. To say the least, I was not disappointed.

Told in present tense, almost lyrical prose, the story follows the lives of two children as they grow up during World War II and find themselves on either side of Hitler’s rise to power. Each chapter is short, sometimes less than a page, and jumps not only between the two children, but between different time periods. The story itself begins in 1944 when our heroine, Marie-Laure, is sixteen, and our hero, Werner, is eighteen. Then it jumps back to when they are children and bounces around between years right until the end. It can sometimes be hard to follow, but as a whole ends up working well to tell the story.

In 1934, six-year-old Marie-Laure loses her eyesight to cataracts. Her father, a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History, immediately steps forward to help her, determined to not let it ruin her life. He teaches her to read Braille and creates small replicas of their neighborhood and house for Marie-Laure to memorize so she can navigate her way around. He takes her into town on Tuesdays and has her lead them back home, which forces Marie-Laure to learn to count things like storm gates and trees and hydrants, until she can walk the streets without getting lost.

Her father brings her to work with him so she can learn from the other staff members. While there, she learns the tale of a mysterious diamond referred to as the “Sea of Flames,” which is said to curse whoever possesses it and was sent to the museum so no one would ever suffer the fate of it again. The diamond has a recurring role in the novel and creates an almost magical feel to the otherwise strictly historical genre this book is placed in.

At the same time, in a small town outside Germany, we learn about eight-year-old Werner, who lives in an orphanage with his younger sister Jutta after their father is killed in a mining accident. Werner, with his snow-white hair that often makes people stop and stare, is an ambitious, charming, curious child. One day he finds a broken radio and brings it back to the orphanage to fix. He is drawn to science and is naturally able to find what is wrong with the radio even though he’s had no prior experience with one. He seeks to fix more things, and it isn’t long before word of his talent extends to the locals. One day, a high-ranking official asks him to fix his radio and is so impressed with his work he tells Werner about a school where he can go to learn more about the things he is interested in. In their town, and perhaps most of Germany, when a boy turns fifteen he is sent to work in the mines. There is nothing that horrifies Werner more than working in the mine that killed his father, so he leans in the direction of the school.

Of course, the school is actually the horrific breeding grounds of boys who are being trained to be soldiers in Hitler’s army. By the time Werner learns this, it’s too late to get out. It appears the only way boys leave this school is by dying, so Werner tries to obey the rules and power through without losing who he is. When he graduates, his skills earn him a place in the Wehrmacht, where he tracks down the senders of illegal radio transmitters. But the job haunts Werner when, at the end of one of the radio signals, he finds a girl who has been shot in the head. There are still elements of the younger, ambitious Werner trying to break through in the older version of himself, and it’s heart-breaking to see him reflect on a time when science was something that created joy for him, not death and misery.

At the same time of Hitler’s rise, the museums of Paris work to hide all their treasures. Marie-Laure’s father is trusted with the Sea of Flames, or one of the replicas of it – no one can be sure if it’s the real one or not, for safety’s sake. When the Nazi’s invade, he and Marie-Laure flee to Saint-Malo to stay with Uncle Etienne, a very anxious ex-soldier who rarely ever leaves his house for fear of the outside world. One day, Marie-Laure’s father is arrested by Germans and doesn’t come back. Years later, when the Nazi’s are dispatched to the shores of Normandy, Etienne is also arrested and Marie-Laure is left alone. As part of who she is and her stubborn attitude, she finds herself joining the Resistance. At the same time, only blocks away from where she is, Werner is trapped under the remains of a hotel.

Doerr creates a parallel between Marie-Laure and Werner before we ever see them meet. Marie-Laure is somewhat of a prodigy; she devours large books quickly and is able to crack any puzzle her father presents her with within a few minutes. Werner is also a prodigy; he can easily fix things that even professionals struggle with and he passes his entrance exams with flying colors. Beyond that, there is also the parallel that concerns the title of the story. In Marie-Laure’s case, the light she cannot see is the obvious one we tend to think of – the light of the world, of existence, that only eyes can pick up. For Werner, the light refers to a discussion he hears when he is younger on a late-night radio broadcast about the brain’s ability to create light in the darkness.

The characters finally meet toward the end of the book. Their first encounter, told from Werner’s point-of-view, is awkward. When Marie-Laure emerges from the house instead of Etienne, Werner seems strangely fascinated with her and follows her down the street. Later, after Werner picks up her voice on one of the radio signals and tracks her down to save her, they have another awkward encounter. This time Werner actually talks to her, instead of stalking her, and helps her out of her hiding place. This is the only point in the novel where things seem to fall flat. There is never any place where you doubt the age of Werner – he sounds young, is often referred to as being small, and carries an air of youth around him. With that in mind, his meeting with Marie-Laure makes it seem as if he is eight years old again. The entire scene moves too easily, as if the two have been friends since they were children. Marie-Laure is not afraid of him (what happened to not trusting strangers, Marie?) and they talk casually to each other about things from their past and how hungry they are. Marie-Laure shows him around and they eat peaches and hide out until it’s safe and fall asleep talking to each other. It makes them both appear a lot younger than they really are, and much younger than they’ve both acted throughout the previous scenes.

When they wake again, Werner leads her out of the house and takes her to safety. Before they depart, his inner monologue says, “Her voice like a bright, clear window of sky. Her face a field of freckles. He thinks: I don’t want to let you go.” It’s the kind of interaction one might expect to find in a love story – the sudden attraction to an almost complete stranger, the familiarity shared between them in their first words. In other contexts, it would work well, but falls short here because of all we know about these two characters before they meet up.

Still, it’s disappointing to see them part so quickly when it takes so long for them to get together. Doerr has a way of using beautiful descriptions and crisp sentences to make us truly and deeply care about these two kids. He paints France and Germany into a perfect picture, capturing the essence of war while maintaining the transition of growing up. Doerr’s novel does not disappoint and will appeal to a wide variety of audiences. In the end, I can honestly say I’m glad I decided to read this book and will recommend it to anyone willing to listen.