NASA has released an amazing image in recent days, taken from the Cassini spacecraft. When I think of Cassini it is hard for me to get beyond Oleg Cassini — cologne, celebrity menswear, the AMC Matador and the “Jackie Look” — but in this Cassini is short for Cassini-Huygens, the joining of the surnames of 17th-Century Saturno-centric astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens.

The image, a ‘natural color mosaic’ comprised 141 wide-angle photos, is the first in which the planet Saturn, its moon and rings, Earth, Venus and Mars are all visible. The image was able to be created due to the blocking of the sun’s light by Saturn. The incredibly sharp clarity of this image and its details calls to mind a counterpoint of some of the recent Justin Bieber single covers. Although stark and dark, there is also funky, tanned futuristic warmth: An image jazz artist Sun Ra would have loved.

The pianist, whose birth centennial approaches next spring, often recounted the tale of his soul’s teleportation (during the course of intense religious meditation in 1936 — although the year varies) to Saturn, where he conversed on a stage with beings that had antennas over their ears and eyes. This is the point where he became aware of his musical purpose. Later, during Sun Ra and his Arkestra’s early Chicago period, he would record a great Latin-tinged track titled “Saturn” on Sound of Joy (1957). Even more notably, he would soon form a label titled El Saturn Records and release the album Jazz In Silhouette (1959), which featured a proto-psychedelic cover art of helmeted, bare-breasted women soaring above a ‘moon of Saturn.’

Music and performance footage of Sun Ra and the Arkestra are featured in The Cry of Jazz (1959), along with intense interracial and inter-philosophical discussions in a room and astral night shots. One solo piano sequence of Sun Ra conjures the image of a deep space probe being serviced by frantic hands.

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Later still, The Magic Sun (1966) is a short musical film completed around the time of Sun Ra’s Heliocentric Worlds releases, featuring the band and their instruments in sharp, close-up negative images very much recalling musical moons, rings and planets, as well as possible beings that reside therein.

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NASA might do well to pipe the Arkestra’s music into its offices to keep the workers inspired.

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