Oceans trapped under ice appear to be pretty common in the solar system and one of them, on a small moon of Saturn’s, appears to be quite hot.
This week in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists reported evidence for hydrothermal vents on the Saturnian moon Enceladus, with temperatures of its rocky core surpassing 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius) in spots. The discovery, if confirmed, would make Enceladus the only place other than Earth where such chemical reactions between rock and heated water are known to be occurring today — and for many scientists, it would make Enceladus a most promising place to look for life.
CONTINUE READING via Suddenly, It Seems, Water Is Everywhere in Solar System – NYTimes.com.
Scientists believe they have come up with a solid model for a new type of methane-based, oxygen-free life form that could thrive in the harsh, icy conditions of Saturn’s mysterious freezing moon, Titan.
The researchers at Cornell University reckon they have come up with “the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it.”
Chemical engineering graduate, James Stevenson, said he had been partly inspired by sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote the essay Not as We Know It about the concept of non-water based life in 1962.
Stevenson worked with chemical molecular dynamics boffin, Paulette Clancy, and Cornell’s director for radiophysics and space research, Jonathan Lunine, on the project.
As The Register previously reported, Saturn’s giant moon Titan is the only other planetary body in the Solar System that has naturally occurring surface liquids – it contains vast seas of methane.
The university’s researchers theorised that such a celestial body “could harbour methane-based, oxygen-free cells.”
The boffins came up with a cell membrane that they said was composed of small organic compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero.
CONTINUE READING via BOFFINS: Oxygen-free, methane-based ALIENS may EXIST on icy SATURN moon • The Register.
For those who hunt for life on other worlds, water in its liquid form is perhaps the leading indicator. Life as we know it on Earth is based on water and carbon. And if organisms can prosper here in nasty environments — in geysers, in the depths of the sea, in toxic waste, in water that is too hot, too cold, too acidic or too alkaline — why could they not prosper out there?
A REFRESHING ICY DIP Ontario Lacus is a large lake on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Scientists for years regarded liquid water as a solar system rarity, for there was no place apart from Earth that seemed to have the necessary physical attributes, except perhaps Jupiter’s ice-covered moon, Europa, which probably concealed a subterranean ocean.
The past 20 years of space exploration, however, have caused what the astrobiologist David Grinspoon calls a sea change in thinking. It now appears that gravity, geology, radioactivity and antifreeze chemicals like salt and ammonia have given many “hostile” worlds the ability to muster the pressures and temperatures that allow liquid water to exist. And research on Earth has shown that if there is water, there could be life.
via Fountains of Optimism for Other Life Out There – NYTimes.com.
Saturn’s moon, Titan, has been considered a “unique world in the solar system” since 1908 when, the Spanish astronomer, José Comas y Solá, discovered that it had an atmosphere, something non-existent on other moons. One of Saturn’s 60 moons, Titan is the only moon in the solar system large enough to support an atmosphere.
Titan is the only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere, and the origin of its nitrogen-rich air is a mystery. A new theory is that the atmosphere was created 3.9 billion years ago in a period known as the late heavy bombardment, when armadas of comets zipped through the solar system.
“Huge amounts of cometary bodies would have collided with outer icy satellites, including Titan,” says Yasuhito Sekine of the University of Tokyo, Japan.
via Did Comets Create the Atmosphere of Saturn’s Moon, Titan?.
Scientists working with data from NASA’s Cassini mission – now in its sixth year of operations at Saturn – have discovered an electrical current running between Saturn and its moon Enceladus that creates an observable emission on the ringed planet. A paper describing the research appears in the April 21 issue of Nature. Don Mitchell, Cassini science team co-investigator from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, first observed the current connection as a strong “bull’s-eye” emission in the middle of images snapped by the APL-built ion and neutral camera (INCA) on Cassini.�
via Icy moon zaps Saturn with electron beams | Space | EarthSky.
February 17, 2011
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is set to skim close to Saturn’s moon Titan on Friday, Feb. 18, to learn about the interaction between Titan and Saturn’s magnetosphere, the magnetic bubble around the planet.
The closest approach will take place at 8:04 a.m. PST (4:04 p.m. UTC) and bring Cassini within about 3,650 kilometers (2,270 miles) of Titan’s surface.
As Titan makes a complete 360-degree orbit around Saturn, the relative influence of the sun’s illumination and the hot ionized gas trapped in the magnetic bubble changes. These factors are important for understanding the relationship between Titan and Saturn’s magnetosphere. It is important to make measurements at a variety of locations in the Saturn magnetosphere, so this flyby will occur in a part of the magnetosphere that has been poorly sampled so far.
Previous flybys have shown the magnetic environment near Titan to be rather variable and unpredictable. For 12 hours before and after closest approach, the Cassini plasma spectrometer instrument will be pointing in a direction to capture ionized gas in the region.
At the same time, Cassini’s radio science subsystem will be gathering sensitive gravity data from Titan to improve understanding of the structure of the interior. Collecting data like these will eventually enable scientists to determine whether Titan has an ocean under its crust.
via Cassini to Sample Magnetic Environment around Titan – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Middle School Classroom Materials
Cassini has developed several classroom material sets focused on students in grades 5-8
Saturn In Your Kitchen (Inquiry–based activities featuring Cassini Science and Engineering)
Saturn Educator Guide
Cassini Scientist for a Day
GAVRT Radio Telescope
The Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) provides curricula and training for middle and high school teachers to learn about the Deep Space Network, a group of radio telescopes responsible for worldwide radio communication to interstellar and deep space instrument and spacecraft. Here students can perform actual radio astronomy experiments, truly engaging in revolutionary scientific discovery.
via Cassini Solstice Mission: Middle School Classroom Materials.