Composite image of Titan “coastline”

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The European Space Agency has put up a mosaic of the images taken during the Huygens descent.

I think that Huygens landed in the middle of the dark stuff. If so, the images and data from the surface indicate that this isn’t strictly an “ocean,” rather it is some kind of spongy material. A giant hydrocarbon bog, perhaps? Huygens had a GC/MS on board that took samples for 70 minutes, so we should get a quite thorough analysis of the molecular composition of the atmosphere during descent, and the surface material.

The clouds/fog are also very interesting, if they represent “moisture” evaporating off of the “ocean” and then “raining” on the “land” to form the channels. We may be seeing a complete “hydrologic” cycle, except for the “hydro” part , since the molecules involved are hydrocarbons rather than H2O. It appears that a whole new vocabulary will be needed to describe the physical geography of Titan.

See also this article in The Scientist for what astrobiologists are saying:

Although no one expects life to exist at -180 degrees Celsius (-280 degrees Fahrenheit) on Titan, the moon promises to be a treasure trove for the study of organic chemistry outside of Earth. “Titan is a planet-sized Miller-Urey experiment in progress for a hundred million years,” Christopher Chyba, who holds the Carl Sagan Chair at the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) The Scientist

Meanwhile, astrobiologists will have to be satisfied with the stunning pictures of the surface of Titan relayed by Huygens and released to the public. At first, Martin Tomasko, the University of Arizona-based principal investigator of the imaging team, speculated during a televised commentary that the large bluish shoreline implied a lake. But when the first image returned from the probe on the ground, it wasn’t sitting in liquid, but 16 centimeters deep into a spongy bog. Water ice pebbles surround the landing site.

The surface consists of a “…a thin crust, followed by a region of relatively uniform consistency,” the principal investigator of the surface science package, John Zarnecki, of the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, told a press conference on Saturday (January 15). He likened the surface to crème brulee, “but I don’t suppose that will be appearing in any of our papers.” The Scientist

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“Despite lack of life on Saturn’s moon, astrobiologists could gain much from mission”

Interesting title for the article. What astrobiologists have the most to gain is more funding.

In a book review in Science, origin of life researcher Jeffrey Bada concluded the same. He reviewed the book The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology.

“Today, it seems nearly everyone is an astrobiologist. A decade ago, I knew essentially none. Why this sudden obsession with a field that encompasses so many diverse areas in both the physical and life sciences? So far, life has not been found to exist away from Earth, although the surge in interest in astrobiology suggests there is intense optimism within at least parts of the science community that this singularity will change in the future. But scientific curiosity alone likely cannot explain the explosive growth of astrobiology. After reading The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology, I came to the conclusion that one of the field’s attractions was money, and lots of it.”

“Astrobiology has a big stake in these efforts. Finding evidence for life on another body in our solar system would give the field the justification it requires in order to remain an active, well-funded area of research. If finding evidence for life continues to be elusive, then as George Gaylord Simpson once noted, astrobiology will remain an area of study without a known subject.”

Beautiful, color, panaroma out, via Diggers Realm.

It would be cool if the probe finds life based on a hydrocarbon solvent that is liquid at -180C. However I still think Europa is our best bet for life. We should be careful talking about this though or else people might find out that Titan and Europa don’t exist. The truth might get out that they are really part of a myth created by the global scientific community to reinforce our atheist materialism.

“Astrobiology has a big stake in these efforts. Finding evidence for life on another body in our solar system would give the field the justification it requires in order to remain an active, well-funded area of research. If finding evidence for life continues to be elusive, then as George Gaylord Simpson once noted, astrobiology will remain an area of study without a known subject.”

I know of several ecologist-types who cleverly exploited the astrobiology angle to milk money for their studies of life in various “challenging” environments on earth.

Think about how sexy these news fields sound: astromolecular evolution, evolutionary astrobiology, astroontology, astromitotic signalling pathways, astrocrystallographic structures, astrogenomics and, last but not least, astroproteomics.

Remember, it’s not just about getting results. It’s about taking DaveScot’s money.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 17, 2005 1:53 PM.

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