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Waves Spotted On Titan 73

Posted by Soulskill
from the lakeside-property-for-sale dept.
minty3 writes "Planetary scientists believe they have observed waves rippling on one of Titan's seas. The findings, presented on March 17 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, describes how the Cassini spacecraft captured images of sunlight glinting off the Punga Mare (abstract), suggesting they are not reflective sunlight but waves." The Planetary Society recently posted a nice breakdown of the basics about Titan's lakes: "To flow with liquid, those river valleys must have been filled with methane that came from higher elevations; it had to rain methane on Titan. Rainfall runs off, and then what? It must pool somewhere. What we learned from the Cassini orbiter at Saturn is that there are lakes on Titan. ... Rainfall, river runoff, lakes, evaporation into clouds, rainfall again. Cassini has seen clouds make storms on Titan. We have seen the whole cycle -- it's just like Earth's water cycle, but with a completely different substance [methane], and much, much colder."
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Waves Spotted On Titan

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  • by darkshot117 (1288328) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @07:06PM (#46520753)

    Because there's no oxygen to ignite the atmosphere.

  • by delt0r (999393) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @04:46AM (#46522787)
    I know this is always a popular theme. Life may not be as we know it. However proper analisis makes it less likely than water based carbon life for a number of reasons. Methane as the base solvent however works at lot better that the reaching silicon based life suggestions.

    Quite simply you need some form of universal solvent to provide mobility to produced compounds. Water is just so hard to beat for this. Methane is not polar so at the very least "life" would not be able to use hydrophilic/Hydrophobic properties of base building blocks to control structure. Note this is not just used to fold proteins, but also the formation of bi lipid membranes. In fact it is postulated that the first stages of life was the spontaneous formation of such membranes.

    Then there is the temperature problem. Liquid methane is cold. Really cold. A lot of reaction are just not going to happen at all at these temperatures. So having a viable metabolism would be challenging.

    But carbon based life is certainly a lot more plausible in methane than these silly silicone based life forms everyone likes to suggest. For a start silicon does not form lots of stable compounds with itself and other elements. Unlike carbon. It does not oxides into easily removed/dissolved compounds. There is no effective solvent for most longer chain silicones ..etc.

    And the real kicker is that a planet that has silicon will also have carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen etc around as well. Temperatures where complex compounds/chains are stable but interesting reactions also happen tend to be close to where water is a liquid. Also don't forget just how much of the current elements are essential to life. Its often more than people think. http://umbbd.ethz.ch/periodic/ [umbbd.ethz.ch]

    Bottom line is that water is practically magical in its solvent like properties and carbon is a freaking miracle. Its hard to see where they can be beat or anything else can come even remotely close.

    But even carbon based life in water has vast scope to be very different to us. Even the hard sci fi gets this totally wrong (alien life will not be food that is for sure. Biocompatibility == 0). It may not be amino acids that are the blocks of whatever passes as proteins. Even if it is it will not be the same ones and almost definitely not 20 like we have. Instead of DNA is could be something quite different (but there will be some information store, we know that). There may not be any RNA like intermediary. In fact if alien life did look a lot like us, ie DNA (even if it was different bases) amino acids with some overlap of our own, it would be quite a strong case of common origin. There is simply no real evidence that there should be convergent evolution to the particular set of DNA/RNA/Amino acids we have here.

    And it could be far simpler than even the simplest bacteria (which are bloody complicated). For example you could have something that just has plasmid like loops of "DNA" floating around with no structure, blobs of cell just buds off all the time. And by chance alone some of these buds has enough of the different plasmids to rinse and repeat.

    But non carbon based, non water solvent life is definitely not nearly as likely as many people think. Too much sci fi, and not enough numbers. We have a very good understanding of chemistry and even an alternative metabolism hasn't even been suggested outside arm waving and doctor who level science.

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