Holding up a photograph taken by the Voyager spacecraft that morning, Dr. Tobias Owen of the State Universty of New York at Stony Brook last Sunday night walked into an office occupied by Dr. Bradford Smith of the University of Arizona in Building 264 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"Is that what I think it is?" Smith asked. Owen nodded his head. "Right at the time of ring crossing?" Smith asked. Owen nodded his head again. Smith replied: "Oh, God, that's all we need."
Whith those words came the first hint that Jupiter possessed a ring like Saturn. When Smith said "taht's all we need," he didn't mean he wasn't delighted with the discovery of a ring around Jupiter. It was just that at the time "all hell was breaking loose," as the Voyager spacecraft was photographing Jupiter's Great Red Spot at the same time that it was entering the worst of Jupiter's intense radiation fields.
All hell has been breaking loose in the back science rooms of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory all week long as discovery after discovery has poured down on earth from the Voyager spacecraft as it flew by Jupiter 442 million miles away: the aurora circling Jupiter, the halo of sulfur surrounding the moon Io, the hint of ice volcanoes and tidal waves of ice on the frozen moons Ganymede and Callisto, the vivid colored surfaces of all four Galilean moons and the discovery that radiation bombardment has spalled hundreds of meters of Io's surface into space.
"No planetary mission in history has had this kind of incredulity," said Dr. Laurence A. Soderblom of the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the nation's foremost planetary geologists. "You pinch yourself every half hour to beileve all this is really happening."
The 106 scientists comprising the 11 science "Teams" analyzing Voyager's torrent of information have worked an average 18-hour day ever since last Saturday. The last four days have been 20-hour days. Sleep has been lost, families forgotten, recreation spurned as Voyager weaves its way by Jupiter and its intriguing moons.
The only meal the Voyager scientists are guaranteed these days is lunch, and that comes in brown bags. Days end around midnight and start at six the next morning for the science teams, who are literally struggling to keep pace with the information coming back to earth from Voyager.
"The hardest part right now is keeping up with the science," said Dr. Edward C. Stone of the California Institute of Technology, a Voyager Project scientist. "There've been so many new ideas presented these last few days that it takes all of your effort and all of your time attempting to understand it."
Stone is the 43-year-old head of a science team that has been planning and experiencing Voyager for the last seven years, the man who's approved the ubstryment and cameras that have flown with the spacecraft and who made the recommendation to disapprove a single instrument taken off the spacecraft to save money five years ago.
The way Ed Stone looks these days, there can be no dubt he's on a sevenday week. The cirecles under his eyes have grown the same way Jupiter and its moons have grown as Voyager approached the planet. Stone has not been home any eariler than one o'clock in the morning the last five days.
It has been Ed Stone's job to absorb the most pertinent information each day from each science team, then bring the teams together twice a day to plan what they want Voyager to do for them the following day.
That's not as easy as it sounds. That means some scientists lose time from their instruments while others win time for theirs. It means long hours of discussion and it means heated conversation and bruised feelings. Final decisions are made by stone, which means he steps on a lot of toes every day.
"You don't do science by voting," Sone said. "You don't take 11 science investigators and say let's vote on which one we do. You try to do science on the basis of understanding what's likely to pay off and that means hashing it out together as often as possible."
One loser in the "hashingout" has been the University of Michiganhs Dr. Thomas Donahue, whose ultraviolet instrument on Voyager tried to measure the hydrogen-helium ratio in Jupiter's atmosphere. Donahue's instrument was unable to look down through the hydrogen to see the helium, in part because the planet's atmosphere may have expanded in the last few years due to intense solar wind ressure that has warmed the atmosphere.
Once Donahue realized this, he tried to get time for his device to peer down through several clearings that have been identified in Jupiter's atmosphere. He was denied the time because other observers had already been assigned time for their instruments.
"It was too late," Donahue said ruefully the other day. "The spacecraft was already targeted for other locations and that was it. I guess we'll have to wait for Galileo," a spacecraft that will orbit Jupiter in 1984.
Denahue's experience is the exception rather than the rule. Most Voyager scientists are overwhelmed with data from their instruments. The way this mission has been going, Cornell Universityhs Dr. Carl Sagan said the other day, Voyagr may be regarded as a milestone in planetary exploration. The license plates in the JPL parking lots now read VENUS and MARS and may soon be joined by license plates called IO, EUROPA, Ganymede/ and CALLISTO.