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Space NASA Science

Saturn's Moons Harboring Water? 161

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the where-else-is-aquaman-hiding dept.
eldavojohn writes "New bizarre images of Saturn's moons are exciting scientists as there may be some indication of water, possibly at very low depths in the frigid environment they possess. From the article, 'Titan's north pole is currently gripped by winter. And quite a winter it is, with temperatures dropping to -180C and a rain of methane and ethane drizzling down, filling the moon's lakes and seas. These liquids also carve meandering rivers and channels on the moon's surface. Finally, last week NASA and Esa revealed images from Cassini which confirmed that jets of fine, icy particles are spraying from Saturn's moon Enceladus and originate from a hot 'tiger stripe' fracture that straddles the moon's south polar region. The discovery raises the prospect of liquid water existing on Enceladus, and possibly life.' You can find the images here."
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Saturn's Moons Harboring Water?

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  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:16AM (#20981871)
    "a rain of methane and ethane drizzling down, filling the moon's lakes and seas."

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Titan's lakes and seas are already methane or ethane. Maybe they mean "filling the moon's valleys"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by db32 (862117)
      It is the same as how here on our much more boring earth, rain fills our lakes. If a pond or lake doesn't get any rain it will eventually evaporate away, it has to be refilled. I don't think it was meant in the sense of "its filling the lake with something other than what is already there" so much as "this is how these lakes were formed and are maintained".

      I remember as a child reading about this stuff and being fascinated. It has been a long time, but the descriptions I read stuck with me. I can't sa
      • by 10Ghz (453478)

        It is the same as how here on our much more boring earth, rain fills our lakes. If a pond or lake doesn't get any rain it will eventually evaporate away, it has to be refilled. I don't think it was meant in the sense of "its filling the lake with something other than what is already there" so much as "this is how these lakes were formed and are maintained".

        That reminds me of a one Mandrake the Magician [wikipedia.org] story, where they encountered visitors from the future. They told how in the future people live undergroun

        • by db32 (862117)
          I'm not entirely sure but it sounds like you are denying the ability for a lake to evaporate away. Even more, to cite the water cycle with such a weak understanding if that is your claim. When water evaporates it goes into the air. It does things like form clouds, move around, and then fall somewhere else. To cite a childrens story about the oceans evaporating as evidence that a lake or pond cannot do this is disturbing. I hope this wasn't your intent.
          • by 10Ghz (453478)
            well, yeah. Lakes and other bodies of water can evaporate away. But like you said, that water then forms clouds and after a while the water rains down and refills those bodies of water from where the wter gets evaporated from. Sure, the water could go to some other body of water, leaving the original source of water dry. But the thing in the comic was that they wanted to prevent the OCEANS from evaporating. And that begs the questions: If oceans evaporated, what would happen to the water? Well, we aready h
            • by db32 (862117)
              Well yeah...but its supposed to be storytime not science time. My original point was that "filling the lakes with methane" doesn't mean they weren't already filled with methane to begin with. The rains have to fill the lakes...if they don't they will dry up as the fluids move elsewhere in the system. Its the same way our mundane Earth lakes stay full, the rain fills them with water.

              I mean really. You are upset about their explanation of the sea boiling off without batting an eye at the time travel par
              • by 10Ghz (453478)
                "I mean really. You are upset about their explanation of the sea boiling off without batting an eye at the time travel part?"

                It's called "suspension of disbelief" [wikipedia.org]. We can accept things like time travel, or superhero that flies. But we can't really accept things like water that vanishes forever in to thin air (pardon the pun) or the fact that no-one realized that Clark Kent was Superman. A flying superhero is something so strange that we can accept that as part of the story. Same thing with time travel.
                • by db32 (862117)
                  Except that we have more evidence supporting water being stripped of a planet (though not exactly the same way the story explains it) then anything regarding time travel. Your suspending the wrong disbelief. :P
    • by sholden (12227)
      The rain ends up in the lakes and seas hence filling them, just like the water version does on earth.
    • by l4m3z0r (799504)
      It boggles my mind that /. does not have a mod -1 Pedantic.
  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:25AM (#20981979) Journal
    Between the gravity well of each repsective Moon (and the big Saturnian one as well) and the hard radiation coming off of Saturn, you'll likely spend as much energy getting it out as it could provide.

    Now if they could score a lot of water off of asteroids and other ultra-low-gravity objects, we'd be golden, esp. the theories floating about concerning "dead comets", which IIRC are almost all water ice.

    That's where IMHO we need to be throwing exploration money; to get the low-hanging fruit first.

    /P

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Ummm, there's no shortage of H2O on this planet.

      It's a lot more cost effective, and a hell of a lot easier, to treat what's already here. Obtaining water in meaningful quantities from asteroids/comets is nearly as infeasible as obtaining it from Saturn.

      If you want "low-hanging fruit", you might want to consider Earth first.
      • by Vexor (947598)
        I think their interest in water stems from the fact that it could sustain life and it's required for life as we know it. Not because we have shortage of water on Earth.
      • by zentinal (602572)
        Please correct me if I'm mistaken, but, I believe the idea is to not have to lift H2O out of a deep gravity well, to provide water for humans off planet.
      • by Rakishi (759894)
        We don't need water HERE, we need it everywhere else. That includes as fuel for spaceships, as drinking water for spaceships, as drinking water for any space stations/habitats and so on.

        If it's in some place we have much better odds of setting up a colony there. However if it's harder to get it out of some place then it's of only marginal use save for some scientific colony.
      • Ummm, there's no shortage of H2O on this planet.

        True indeed... but at around $10,000/kilo just to get it into orbit, I wouldn't exactly call it "cost effective". If it weren't for that constant 1g pull keeping it all down here and the expense of getting it up there, we could just take as much as we wanted with us. Problem is, if we're going to get folks into space permanently, 'living off the land' is much cheaper and far more feasible than simply dragging along every last thing we could use.

        Obtaining water in meaningful quantities from asteroids/comets is nearly as infeasible as obtaining it from Saturn.

        Not necessarily; I mentioned dead comets [iasf-roma.inaf.it] for a reason. W

    • Useless??? (Score:3, Interesting)

      Am I the only one who read the slashdot intro and thought, "I soooo want to go there!"?
  • liquid water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:28AM (#20982011) Journal
    The fact that some of Satrun's moons have water is nothing new, Tethys for example has a density very near 1 g/cm^3 indicating that it is likely mostly made of water ice. The real interesting thing here is that tidal heating could create pools of warmed liquid water neneat the surface.
  • With Saturn being like a somewhat failed star that one of its moons would resemble a sister planet to earth with water and everything. Now life is another matter, at least in a form that we know...
    • Er, are you joking? I'll assume you aren't...

      How is Saturn like a failed star? It has a solid core that makes up ~20% of it it's mass, that's no star. Even if it were somehow a failed star, that in no way implies that it'd have liquid water on any moons. The issue has nothing to do with formation, it's all about composition and heat: the moons of Saturn are made of ices (especially water) in a way that the terrestrial planets aren't *and* are too far from the Sun to support liquid water without some le
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Neither Saturn nor Jupiter are failed stars. Let Phil explain you this a bit better than I could [badastronomy.com]
      • Re:It makes sense (Score:5, Informative)

        by MBGMorden (803437) on Monday October 15, 2007 @11:25AM (#20983507)
        That explanation is, somewhat lacking. It explains very well why Jupiter is not a brown dwarf. "Failed star" isn't quite so specific.

        Basically, Jupiter is one extremely massive body. It's far more massive (more than twice as much) than all the other planets (even all the other gas giants, including similarly sized Saturn) combined. It's also made of MOSTLY hydrogen (prime element fueling a star), and interestingly enough, the center of mass between the Sun and Jupiter is actually OUTSIDE of the surface of the Sun. Not much outside of it admittedly, but no other planet in our system comes anywhere near it, and it's much like the Pluto/Charon system though not as exaggerated; the objects to some degree orbit each other rather than just one orbiting the other.

        So, we really need a good understanding on how binary star systems form. If they both coalesce from the same cloud, then Jupiter can indeed be seen as an "almost" star that had all the right components, and could have formed in a way similar to a binary system, but it simply didn't pickup enough mass during formation.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          You find the following lacking?

          So: Jupiter is *not* a BD; it formed like a planet, in the disk around the Sun. It also has about 1/1000 the mass of the Sun, or about 1/80 of the mass it needs to fuse hydrogen.
          Plus the fact that Phil Plait is a real astronomer? I'd take his word over yours anyday...
          • Re:It makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

            by MBGMorden (803437) on Monday October 15, 2007 @12:15PM (#20984205)
            I said in my explanation that Jupiter is indeed not a Brown Dwarf, and that the linked text did explain that well. My point is that being excluded from the technical designation of brown dwarf does not exclude it from the less specific, and not as specifically defined designation of "failed star".

            I'd also question your term "real astronomer". I minored in astronomy in college and am still an avid amateur. Perhaps Galileo wasn't a "real astronomer" either since he never obtained a PhD in the discipline.
            • by gstoddart (321705)

              My point is that being excluded from the technical designation of brown dwarf does not exclude it from the less specific, and not as specifically defined designation of "failed star".

              But, in that case, does the term have any meaning???

              Am I a failed giant, or someone who is of average height?? Or a failed famous person because I'm not famous? That sounds silly -- a hill isn't a failed mountain, it's a hill. A huge planet isn't a failed star, it's a huge planet.

              If Jupiter wasn't big enough for the step whi

          • by Rakishi (759894)
            Just because someone is X doesn't mean that person is right regarding X, just that he's somewhat less likely to be wrong. Also just because they may be right doesn't mean they answered the proper question.

            More importantly YOU are saying that the parent is wrong despite him specifically saying that Phil Plait is correct. In other words now YOU'RE claiming to know more than the parent, how do YOU back up your credentials since you find that so vital?
        • by CorSci81 (1007499)

          What Phil was really getting at is Jupiter most likely did not form in the same way as binary stars or brown dwarfs. The formation of Jupiter-size objects is still somewhat of a mystery, but the most promising scenario is one of a runaway core accretion, whereas it's generally thought that brown dwarfs and binary systems form through a direct instability in the collapsing proto-stellar cloud/accretion disk. In the current catalogue of stellar objects there's somewhat of a gap between the largest known gas

        • If I read grandparent's link correctly, it seems to be saying that Jupiter is the product of acretion in the planetary disc, a process which never produces a star; in order to be a star, or even a failed star, the body has to arise direclty from the cloud, not from the disc, as Jupiter is thought to have. So if the sun and jupiter had "both coalesce[d] from the same cloud, then Jupiter" would be "seen as an 'almost' star." That's my reading at least.
  • hmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:33AM (#20982067)
    How could life, as we know it, exist in an atmosphere dominated by methane? Even if there was liquid water, how do we know that it is rich enough in oxygen to support life? I'm thinking that there is nothing to see here. Look somewhere else.
    • Re:hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by david.given (6740) <dg@cRASPowlark.com minus berry> on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:45AM (#20982207) Homepage Journal

      How could life, as we know it, exist in an atmosphere dominated by methane?

      It wouldn't, of course. But there could be life as we don't know it. There's nothing magic about oxygen: it's merely a good oxidiser and we have lots of it. In some exotic environments on Earth, there's life that doesn't respire oxygen; and how did you think it got there, in the first place? Photosynthesising plants made it all. What do you think they breathed?

      Complex organic chemistry + lots of energy + a rich environment = ...well, we don't know, really. But it's bound to be interesting.

      • There's nothing magic about oxygen: it's merely a good oxidiser
        Pfft. I suppose next you'll be telling me that if Earth had methane in abundance instead, we'd all be methodists.
    • by db32 (862117)
      We have methane eating bacteria here [softpedia.com] already. There is a great deal of life as we know it that doesn't need oxygen. I think you are grossly oversimplifying and misunderstand what "life as we know it" really means. Just be cause us squishy hairless monkeys need large amounts of oxygen doesn't mean everything around us does too.
    • by Cyberax (705495)
      Ever heard of 'anaerobic respiration' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_respiration)?
    • by Ihlosi (895663)
      How could life, as we know it, exist in an atmosphere dominated by methane?

      It's better for many kinds of life than an atmosphere filled with this horribly dangerous and aggressive oxygen stuff ...

    • by vertinox (846076)
      Even if there was liquid water, how do we know that it is rich enough in oxygen to support life?

      Last, I checked plants don't need oxygen but CO2 and they are mostly interested in the Carbon and release the oxygen part as a by product.

      However, I wouldn't think photosynthesis would work too well out that far, but as biological history goes... Plants came first and then animals.
      • by david.given (6740)

        Last, I checked plants don't need oxygen but CO2 and they are mostly interested in the Carbon and release the oxygen part as a by product.

        Plants do breathe oxygen --- the photosynthesis happens as a separate process that happens in parallel. Admittedly, they don't use much of it (they don't get about much), but if you put them in a pure CO2 atmosphere, they'll die.

        Insert standard disclaimer about plants with weird freaky biochemistry here. There's always something that behaves oddly and breaks the rules

    • Very easily, no oxygen was present when life originated here on earth either. All the oxygen present here now was produced later by photosynthetic organisms, allowing aerobic life forms to evolve. So oxygen is not a requirement for life to form, probably it even helps if it is absent, being all toxic and all...
    • "enough in oxygen to support life" There was no oxygen in Earth's atmosphere when life formed. Oxygen was toxic to early life. Some of these early microbes are still around -- We called them "anaerobic". Oxygen still kills them. Only later as the oxygen level rose did life evolve a defence for oxygen then later a way to actually use oxygen
  • by east coast (590680) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:37AM (#20982111)
    a rain of methane and ethane drizzling down, filling the moon's lakes and seas.

    I'm guessing this is a non-smoking moon?
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <.ten.enilnotpo. .ta. .rehtorgw.> on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:38AM (#20982121) Journal

    Saturn's Moons Harboring Water?

    CmdrTaco's pun routine is up and running this morning I see...

    • by cain (14472)
      Water you expect with this guy?
    • Saturn is harboring water? Oh great, when did Bush declare war on water? I guess he figures the terrorists are 60% water, and then Katrina... So now NASA has a new mission to seek out and destroy all extra-terrestrial water?
    • by smoker2 (750216)
      Not a pun at all.
      A pun is a play on words, such that one word or phrase can have different meanings, or using a different word but similar in sound, for comic effect. eg. "Will this elastic do the job ? At a stretch".
      A harbor (or harbour) is a harbor is a harbor, in whatever context, and means the same thing through each.
      Google it [google.co.uk]
      Now if the headline was "Reports of Saturns moons harboring life don't hold water" then that's a pun.
      Man discovered dead, he was a cigarette addict - well there's your smoking gu
      • It was a pun, using two meanings of the word "harbor". One is a noun and the other is a verb, so it shouldn't be too hard to notice...
  • Harboring water? It's pun-tastic.
  • How can't it? (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Alzheimers (467217)
    It must be. How can you harbor [wikipedia.org] *without* water?
  • ESA (Score:3, Informative)

    by LuSiDe (755770) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:41AM (#20982159)
    ESA is an initialism standing for European Space Agency [wikipedia.org]. If you write NASA with capital letters (in proper English one should do this) you should do the same with ESA.
  • I really like the fact that there might be water out there in the solar system. How can it be so abundant on Earth, and nowhere else? It's just every time that there is something about water on other surfaces in our solar system, it's seems gimmicky. Remember, water on Mars? Moon? And we never hear anything else about it.
    • Re:I want it! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:57AM (#20982343)
      I really like the fact that there might be water out there in the solar system.

      Water is abundant in the universe. To get the stuff off a planet, you basically have to boil it off (using a combination of temperature (see Venus) and/or low pressure (see Moon, Mars)). Otherwise, if you have hydrogen (most common stuff in the universe) and oxygen (pretty common stuff in the universe), you're going to end up with water.

      Now, liquid water, that's another story.

      How can it be so abundant on Earth, and nowhere else?

      Earth is dry compared to objects that pretty much consist of water with some rock mixed in. Earth has a little bit of water sitting on the surface, and that's it.

    • by jsz0 (1174083)
      I completely disagree. We hear about water on Mars all the time in scientific papers. There is definitely water there in the ice caps and perhaps under the surface. The reason you're not hearing about it is due to the ignorant media, not the scientific research which is on-going and producing good results.
      • You are right about the media. I just wish they would at least take more of an interest in this. Instead, they want Paris Hilton and Britney Spears
  • Ewww...? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Jugalator (259273) on Monday October 15, 2007 @09:46AM (#20982221) Journal
    Methane rain drizzling down to form lakes and rivers?
    Is that the celestial equivalent of wet farts? :-(

    That must be proof of an Intelligent Evil Designer if any.
  • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Monday October 15, 2007 @10:20AM (#20982613) Homepage
    You can find the whole press release about the correlation between the Tiger Stripes and jets of Enceladus here [ciclops.org].
  • by EvilNight (11001) on Monday October 15, 2007 @10:27AM (#20982711)
    She discusses the Cassini mission in detail, including what we've learned about Titan and this strange behavior on Enceladus. It beats reading dead text.

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/178 [ted.com]
  • by mattr (78516) <mattr&telebody,com> on Monday October 15, 2007 @10:48AM (#20982997) Homepage Journal
    I was intrigued about why the names of those tiger stripe cracks are middle eastern cities. Googling I found this article [planetary.org] which notes that there is a convention of naming features on this moon after places in the Arabian Nights. The page is cool and tells you what a sulcus is. And there's is a link on that page to a giant 6mb map [arizona.edu] with names of features on it.
  • Old news don't ya think? I found out about a life bearing Saturn Moon just by watching Cowboy Bebop... Get with the program! =)

    --
    X's and O's for all my foes.
  • Many people will not realize this because they have not been reading what is being said, but the recent announcement that the jets of Enceladus are hot point sources that originate from the "tiger stripes" (more technically called rilles) is further confirmation for the Electric Universe Theory.

    I would like to point people especially to the video at http://ciclops.org/view.php?id=1702&js=1&navjs=1 [ciclops.org]. Now, watch the rotation of the planet, then re-start the movie and observe the lack of movement for t
    • by arodland (127775)
      plz to learn fundamental physics kthxbye
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I would like to point people especially to the video at http://ciclops.org/view.php?id=1702&js=1&navjs=1 [ciclops.org]. Now, watch the rotation of the planet, then re-start the movie and observe the lack of movement for the jets. You can see for yourself that the jets are rotating across the planet rather than with it, presumably along the rilles. The video is rather undeniable. ... People, you will perhaps get no better opportunity to see for yourself that space plasmas can be highly electrical.

      God, I must de

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by iamlucky13 (795185)

        I didn't view the movie, but from the description provided by our resident EU theorist, it seems to be something easily explained by Cartesian geometry and oft-encountered in orbital mechanics.

        As the radius of the plume increases, yet its speed remains the same, its angular velocity decreases, so it fall behinds objects below it moving the same speed along a concentric path. Thank goodness for this or we wouldn't have geosynchronous satellites as we know them and Copernicus might never have figured out he

        • by pln2bz (449850) *

          I didn't view the movie, but from the description provided by our resident EU theorist, it seems to be something easily explained by Cartesian geometry and oft-encountered in orbital mechanics.

          As the radius of the plume increases, yet its speed remains the same, its angular velocity decreases, so it fall behinds objects below it moving the same speed along a concentric path. Thank goodness for this or we wouldn't have geosynchronous satellites as we know them and Copernicus might never have figured out heli

      • by pln2bz (449850) *

        But all I'm seeing right now is a Richard-Hoaglandish theme: whining about being Kept Quiet By The Establishment(TM) while pointing out "amazing" and "undeniable" details in fuzzy images instead of writing serious scientific papers that include testable predictions.

        There are in fact numerous papers that relate to EU Theory. You can view many of them here:

        http://public.lanl.gov/alp/plasma/papers.html [lanl.gov]
        http://www.plasma-universe.com/index.php/Plasma_Universe_resources [plasma-universe.com]

        And EU Theory is eminently testable relativ

  • When is this pop-sci trend of anytime something about space comes into the news the tagline has to be 'may contain life'. It's a poor excuse becuase it's sheer speculation. What we DO know is that there is water there. There is also loads of hard radiation and no visible cities, green belts, or anything else remotely indicating that there is life. Get a life folks. Do science for science's sake, if someday in the far future we actually encounter life, celebrate then, but until then find a different re

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