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Monday, June 14, 2010

So very, very cool.

This just in* from the Cassini probe: there might be life on Titan. No, I am totally not kidding:

Something strange is afoot in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, according to data sent back from the Cassini mission. Data returned from a spectrometer on Cassini indicates that there's a large flux of hydrogen in the moon's atmosphere, with the gas forming in the upper atmosphere and being removed from the atmosphere at Titan's surface. We don't currently know what process is ensuring its removal, but the amounts of hydrogen being taken out of the atmosphere are consistent with an earlier proposal of methane-based life.

Of course, this isn't a smoking gun quite yet. We haven't directly observed the organisms, the chemical traces aren't necessarily impossible to achieve via non-living means, and there's generally still a lot to be teased out, but it's still pretty bloody cool. So should we be excited? Well, you tell me:

Two chemical enigmas certainly don't constitute life, and the authors of the latter paper provide a variety of ways to account for the acetylene shortage that don't involve an organism. It's also important to remember that there won't be anything resembling liquid water on the surface of Titan, so anything alive there would have to be living in a methane/ethane soup (not to mention at temperatures nearing -200°C).

Scientists are a cautious bunch, and it's likely that these results will remain in limbo for a while. The discovery of plumes of methane in the atmosphere of Mars was another chemical enigma that might be evidence for life. It's been about a year and a half since their announcement and nobody has come up with a satisfying explanation for their presence (at least as far as I'm aware), but the scientific community is nowhere close to ready to call that conclusive evidence for life.

Me? I'm going to be excited. Cautiously excited, granted, but excited nonetheless.

* And by "just in" I mean "from several days ago". Hell, people, if you wanted up-to-the-second news, you shouldn't be relying on a damn blog, you know?

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Anonymous Michael said...

If just one of those possibilities yields life, that would radically change our estimation of the possibility of life in the universe. Especially on Titan. Not only would that be two instances of life in one area, but two radically different forms. Instead of life being rare and an exception, life could well be the normal situation, well outside of what we think of as the proper regions suitable for life...

I like.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 3:44:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

How cool is that? Life arising from frozen farts. We're going to need a whole new Creation Museum for that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 8:24:00 AM  

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