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Space Science

Lake On Titan Winks From a Billion Kilometers Away 139

Posted by timothy
from the next-time-send-chocolate dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "NASA's Cassini spacecraft took an image of Saturn's giant moon Titan earlier this year that serendipitously provides proof of liquid (probably methane) on its surface. The picture shows a glint of reflected sunlight off of a monster lake called Kraken Mare (larger than the Caspian Sea!). Scientists have been getting better and better evidence of liquid methane on Titan, but this is the first direct proof."
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Lake On Titan Winks From a Billion Kilometers Away

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  • billion kilometers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by g0dsp33d (849253) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @09:57PM (#30483006)
    Its called a terameter. What is the point of the metric system if you don't use the other scales?
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday December 17, 2009 @10:01PM (#30483026)

    Methane is an organic material. Organics are one of the key building blocks of life. In fact, it is one of many byproducts of life processes. An abundance of organic material bodes well for finding life (probably bacterial) on Titan.

    The question is whether life arose there on its own or was seeded by wayward asteroids and comets.

  • Fossil Oxidisers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @10:12PM (#30483104) Homepage Journal

    If it was possible to mine or drill for oxidizers under the surface of Titan, then you would have a complete energy economy.

    Frozen Nitrous Oxide anyone?

  • by pclminion (145572) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @10:51PM (#30483344)

    Methane is an organic material. Organics are one of the key building blocks of life. In fact, it is one of many byproducts of life processes. An abundance of organic material bodes well for finding life (probably bacterial) on Titan.

    I doubt it. "Organic" is an artificially created classification. It just means anything that is prevalently composed of carbon atoms. There happen to be a lot of carbon atoms in the universe, due to its relatively low atomic mass. There's also a ton of helium. It is not really surprising that these common elements might be found, in combination, in large quantities. We have large deposits of hydrocarbon here on Earth as well. Yes, these compounds are, according to our own definitions, "organic", and in fact originated from living matter, but we do not see organisms thriving in the deep oil wells.

    I do not see how an excess of methane would indicate the likelihood of finding "bacterial" life. What would the cell walls be composed of? It would have to be something like a lipid bi-layer, so that the membrane wouldn't just dissolve into the methane. But then, what's INSIDE the cell? Probably, it would be more hydrocarbons. These non-polar materials are ill-suited as stages for complex, biological chemical reactions. They cannot dissolve ions. Without soluble ions, hell, without soluble polar compounds, there isn't a whole hell of a lot of interesting chemistry that can take place.

    If we found tons of water that would be far more indication of the potential for life. Water has dozens of extremely unusual properties all of which make it conducive to life.

  • Re:Fossil Oxidisers (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @11:48PM (#30483680)

    Wouldn't that depend on if you were collecting the radiant energy from the sun?

    As I understand it, Saturn and Jupiter emit lots of blackbody infrared energy from their own gravity causing atmospheric friction events.

    Failing that, one could also utilize the tidal forces of the gas giant as an energy source, since even at it's distance from it's parent planet, the gravitational mass-energy of the system would be immense. (Saturn may be smaller than Jupiter, but it's no midget either. It's got plenty of mass.) With the prospect of sources of liquid working fluid at surface pressure and temperature, one could set up a tidal force power plant instead to heat the methane.

    Also, Methane is unusual in that it has an extremely low boiling point, and in an environment very near the critical threshold for the 3 phase transition to occur it would make a fantastic working fluid in a sterling engine. (because the thermal expansion and contraction would be very large, over a very small temperature change range.) (Not meant as primary power, but as a good reclamation system for wasted thermal energy produced by the tidal plant.)

    Properly engineered, one could feasibly get a very sizable amount of power generated out there.

  • by g0dsp33d (849253) on Friday December 18, 2009 @12:32AM (#30483898)
    It is generally accepted to try to use the prefix that will best keep the number of units between 1-999. More people might still speak parts of Latin if people used the correct terms. Also Slashdot is a technical crowd and I would bet that less than 1% doesn't know what a Tera means.
  • by noidentity (188756) on Friday December 18, 2009 @12:58AM (#30484010)
    Heh, reminds me of I think it was Enterprise episodes where they were talking of thousands and tens of thousands of meters from the ship. I kept wondering why they didn't say for example 3.5 kilomoeters, 20 kiliometers, etc.

    Just be glad the headline wasn't "Lake On Titan Winks From a Giga Kilomoeter Away"

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