It’s a stretch – but Saturn’s largest moon Titan could support methane-based life forms. It is the only other place in the Solar System than Earth that is known to have liquid on its surface. Not liquid water though – which would freeze at Titan’s temperature of minus 283 degrees Celsius, but liquid hydrocarbons.
An interesting finding shows hydrogen molecules flowing down through Titan’s atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Another is that maps of hydrocarbons on the surface show a lack of acetylene, (used on Earth as welding gas). One explanation is that methane-based life forms are eating it. Sensibly, Mark Allen, principal investigator with the NASA Astrobiology Institute Titan team, said: “Scientific conservatism suggests that a biological explanation should be the last choice after all non-biological explanations are addressed.”
Nevertheless, the thought of cool science like this keeps me warm at night. Nature keeps coming up with stuff far more exotic and wondrous than our own ancient magical myths ever imagined.
NASA’s recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is returning early images that confirm an unprecedented new capability for scientists to better understand our sun’s dynamic processes. These solar activities affect everything on Earth.
Some of the images from the spacecraft show never-before-seen detail of material streaming outward and away from sunspots. Others show extreme close-ups of activity on the sun’s surface. The spacecraft also has made the first high-resolution measurements of solar flares in a broad range of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.
“These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “SDO will change our understanding of the sun and its processes, which affect our lives and society. This mission will have a huge impact on science, similar to the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope on modern astrophysics.”
Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO will provide images with clarity 10 times better than high-definition television. SDO will send 1.5 terabytes of data back to Earth each day, which is equivalent to a daily download of half a million songs onto an MP3 player.
The SDO “is shedding new light on our closest star, the sun, discovering new information about powerful solar flares that affect us here on Earth by damaging communication satellites and temporarily knocking out power grids. Better data means more accurate solar storm warnings.”
A new ‘quantum logic clock’ would neither gain nor lose one second in about 3.7 billion years. The logic clock is based on a single aluminum ion (electrically charged atom) trapped by electric fields and vibrating at ultraviolet light frequencies.