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Greetings from Jupiter!

posted 7 Oct 2019, 14:45 by Charles Greene
Greetings from Jupiter!
Shabbat Shuvah, Vayelech  2019 - Lodzer

Just as we entered the time of awe and soul-searching, right in between the Day of Judgement and the Day of Atonement, the most breathtaking open space drama since Stanley Kubrick is taking place above our heads (or right under our feet, if you prefer), mere 650 million km from your home, give or take. Let me sum it up for those of you who’ve been on another planet, devoid of news and internet.

Juno the space probe has been on exploratory mission in Jupiter’s orbit since July, 2016. Initially entering it at the velocity of a full orbital cycle per 53 days, it was expected to perform a thruster burn to speed up to 14-day orbits. Yet due to a suspected engine problem the speed had to remain the same; the probe still covers the same “amount of science”, it just takes longer.

Now, here’s the rub; Jupiter casts a long, dark shadow. Juno is mortally afraid of the shadow of Jupiter. You see, long time in freezing planetary shadows is not healthy for solar-powered spacecraft.  It does not usually carry spare batteries either, as those are very heavy. It took Juno 5 years to merely reach Jupiter, by which time it has covered roughly 2.8 billion km.

Should Juno have entered that shadow, the 12 hours in the freezing darkness would drain its energy, it would run out of juice and die. In a daring and inventive way of avoiding such premature demise, Juno had to burn over 70 kg of fuel for 10.5 hours in order to both increase its speed and shift its position against the shadow.

I am not going to keep you in this nail-biting suspense any longer. All is well that ends well. Juno escaped the mortal peril. In total, it is expected now to successfully accomplish 32 orbital runs before it turns to the astonishingly radioactive planet and plunges to its timely death in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

We humans hold varying views and beliefs on most everything, from our political affiliation to which Schule we go to, from the sports teams we support to our take on capital punishment, gun control, and garbage recycling. Yet somehow, we all agree when it comes to Juno’s struggle against the darkness. Everybody roots for Juno; I have yet to meet a person who would cheer for the entropy instead. And of course, it is partly because it’s very hard to cheer for entropy altogether, and partly because we always feel for the underdog. But I propose to you it is largely because we see Juno as one of us.

There is, on one hand, the eternal human tendency to strive for perfection – trying to keep your brand new shoes pristinely clean and whole, getting your soft boiled egg to be “just so”, always making the right decision, and being in the right place in the right time. We yearn to be perfect to compensate for a sense of inadequacy, the realization of our shortcomings. Even as we will stand, flushed and penitent, on Yom Kippur, and begin confessing and acknowledging our shortcomings, we want to do a perfect job of that, paradoxically.

And on the other, truth be told, there is no merit in being perfect; not only is it not achievable, but if it were, nobody would like the perfect person, as the perfection would be rubbing in our own imperfections.

Everybody, by contrast, likes Juno. Juno is not perfect; it’s had its share of trouble, probable engine issues, having to slow down, altering orbits. What we love about Juno is not perfection; it is functionality in sight of imperfections. Juno could not have been more anthropomorphic if it had two legs, two flailing arms, and a laughing face. We all are Juno. What with our needs, our fears, our problems and constant struggle as we hang in the air. Like Juno, we all come with individual expiry date even though we have mercifully been spared the knowledge of what it is.

On the verge of Yom Kippur I remind you that it is not a day of sadness. It is not a day of wailing and mourning. It is a yontef, a celebration of being human, a holiday of introspection that gives us an opportunity to recharge our batteries before we bravely (or cautiously, or unwittingly; you choose) plunge back into the shadows.

And – yes, sometimes in order to recharge our batteries we need to burn a lot of fuel. It is not about perfection. It is about being fully present in the moment, being aware of our life, being functional.
Do not let entropy get the better of you. As we read in this Shabat’ Haftarah, Shuvah Yisrael ad Hashem Elokeicha; return People Israel, return to the moment, return to the orbit, carpe diem, for this day of burning bright is the heavenly gift to you.

G'mar Tov,