Saturday, 5 August 2017

Jumping Lunar Bots, And The Methane Seas of Titan

The mystery 'island' on Titan 

Recent news of complex, possibly life - capable molecules in the upper atmosphere of Titan got me a little excited.
Putting two and two together, and making five, I remembered a brief flurry of interest when images emerged of a vanishing something in the hydro-carbon sea of Ligeia Mare.
This was made even more intriguing by a documentary* about Titan which , in the final moments (start viewing at approx 35.24), examines micro-organisms thriving in Pitch Lake in Trinidad , the  closest thing on Earth to the hydrocarbon / methane lakes of Titan (minus the below- freezing temperatures).
 In the film,Dr Sarah Hörst replicates the conditions of the Titan atmosphere, successfully creating four major components of DNA, and a Dr McKay postures that life in such a nutrient - poor environment may take the form of a large, thin mat, maximising surface area...

Another anomaly on Titan is the cloud which shouldn't exist ( by our understanding, anyway)
These discoveries, and many more, were made by Cassini, the intrepid little probe that's been examining the Saturn system for twenty years ( and makes its final swan dive through the rings of Saturn next month).
The 'impossible cloud' , Titan      image  NASA/ JPL
I feel humbled, remembering the hugely impressive feat of the ESA probe Huygens being sent from Cassini down to the inhospitable surface of Titan in 2005, where it lasted just over an hour.
It remains our furthest landing on a planet in the solar system to this day.
Okay, there was the comet too, but that was just passing through, right ?
We are now agog at the wonders of Enceladus and Europa , both of which appear to contain large amounts of water, and great potential for life - or at least pre-biotic** conditions
Regardless of the possible existence of strange hydro-carbon based life forms , the sheer wealth of information gathered by Cassini has greatly increased our understanding of the Saturn system, and I will be drinking a farewell toast when it finally descends into the Saturnian depths...

Meanwhile, closer to home, a recent competition has resulted in the creation of jumping lunar nanobots.

The article speaks of profitability and rugged design, but I know that secretly, we're gearing up for nano-robot races on the moon !

Coming Soon - for those in the U.S.A. Once in a lifetime total eclipse of the Sun on the 21st August! To be extensively covered by NASA, I just leave this link here

*  Thanks to PlanetDr / SarahHörst for the link

**This seems to be the new buzzword

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