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

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Our Watery Moon, The Inevitability Of Life, And The Height Of A Sheet Of Paper

Recent reports tell us that there is an abundance of water on the moon , more than was previously thought
Time for a re-think / return to the moon ?
Sub-lunar bases ?
At a mere 230,000* miles distant, it's a lot closer than Mars - and with possibly as much water as Earth- (beneath the surface), I say that we should go for it.
Not to be outdone, we hear evidence of ancient bodies of water on Mars.

It appears that particles have been detected in the atmosphere of  Titan which could serve as the building blocks of life - speaking of which, this article asserts that life on Earth was an inevitable result of physics, rather than a biological fluke...
upper atmosphere of Titan         Cassini image : NASA/JPL 

On the subject of moons, the first exo-moon has possibly been discovered - it's four thousand light years distant, but hey- its an exo-moon.
My enthusiasm is muted, as I ponder the many unexplored moons in our own solar system.
Still, it's a new thing....even though it has not yet been confirmed -  infact the whole thing was made public on social media by a third party, thus forcing the hand of those involved, and creating a premature media hype.
This is the downside of social media.

A sheet of paper- relevant ...
My personal interest is in the burgeoning world of quantum mechanics.
I'm not smart enough to fully grasp what's going on, but that's part of the wonder.
The fact that it seems to defy accepted laws of physics,
whilst allowing for almost magical interactions,
is what attracts me to it.
The sense that there is much more to come;
that there is a missing key somewhere...
I think we have problems even describing this new ' realm '
For instance :

Excerpt from this article :

Mir Faizal, one of the three-strong team of physicists behind the experiment, said: “Just as many parallel sheets of paper, which are two dimensional objects [breadth and length] can exist in a third dimension [height], parallel universes can also exist in higher dimensions.”

Surely even a humble sheet of paper has height ?
Which means that a sheet of paper is not two-dimensional, technically.
My assertion is that this metaphor is clumsy.
We need to stop thinking in terms of human scale.
Our visual perception is limited
Which is why we have aids to vision;
Spectacles, contact lenses,
Microscopes and telescopes.
I don't think we'll ever truly understand the quantum world
Until we stop making comparisons
And there's the rub - without comparisons, how can we define something enough to understand it ?
Until next we meet...


* Arbitrary figure, unscientifically guesstimated.