Saturday, March 29, 2008

Our Amazing Solar System: Enceladus


Some truly amazing discoveries were made by our robots in the outer solar system this week.



"Enceladus [en-SELL-ah-dus] is one of the brightest objects in our solar system. Covered in water ice that reflects sunlight like freshly fallen snow, Enceladus reflects almost 100 percent of the sunlight that strikes it. Because Enceladus reflects so much sunlight, the surface temperature is extremely cold, about -201° C (-330° F)."


"NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon."


"We realize that this is a radical conclusion -- that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold," said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms. High-resolution Cassini images show icy jets and towering plumes ejecting large quantities of particles at high speed."


"Scientists examined several models to explain the process. They ruled out the idea that the particles are produced by or blown off the moon's surface by vapor created when warm water ice converts to a gas. Instead, scientists have found evidence for a much more exciting possibility -- the jets might be erupting from near-surface pockets of liquid water above 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), like cold versions of the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone."




"PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft tasted and sampled a surprising organic brew erupting in geyser-like fashion from Saturn's moon Enceladus during a close flyby on March 12. Scientists are amazed that this tiny moon is so active, "hot" and brimming with water vapor and organic chemicals.

New heat maps of the surface show higher temperatures than previously known in the south polar region, with hot tracks running the length of giant fissures. Additionally, scientists say the organics "taste and smell" like some of those found in a comet. The jets themselves harmlessly peppered Cassini, exerting measurable torque on the spacecraft, and providing an indirect measure of the plume density.

It’s been supposed for some time that Enceladus, like Jupiter’s moon Europa, has a subsurface ocean. The surface itself is mostly water ice, implying strongly that any ocean would have water as well. The plumes erupt out from cracks in the surface, and when Cassini dove through them it got to directly sample the interior of Enceladus. And it tasted organic compounds, 20 times as dense as previously thought."

"We very clearly saw water; there's water everywhere on Enceladus, it's 99.9% water ice in general at the surface, and we've known that for years, so it wasn't a big surprise," he told the BBC News website.

"But when we started looking at our spectra we saw absorption bands from a compound that had to have carbon and hydrogen bonded together.

Enceladus in a very real sense becomes a stronger candidate for life than [Jupiter's moon] Europa

Bob Brown, University of Arizona, Tucson
"And when we mapped the location, it was right in these 'tiger stripes' - right where the jets are coming out, and right where it's hot - and it's pretty hard to imagine it's getting there from anywhere but inside."

The organic molecules appear to be quite simple, he said, probably largely methane.

The jets also contain nitrogen; and putting all this together means, said Dr Brown, that Enceladus contains all the ingredients necessary for the development of life, or of precursors to it.

"What you need to put microbes together of the kind that we're familiar with is carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, and water to act as an intermediary for metabolism," he said.

"You've got a rock core that's hot as hell; you've got all the conditions that we think gave rise to the first self-replicating molecules and eventually to life on this planet.

"So Enceladus in a very real sense becomes a stronger candidate for life than [Jupiter's moon] Europa, for instance."


The organic compounds sampled by Casinni could suggest possible methanogens.

The ever expanding, extreme locales that nurture thriving ecosystems on our own planet give increasing credibility to possible life in our own solar system.

If life is so potentially ubiquitous in our own, tiny little solar system, how many other possible habitats for life and nursery's for intelligence must exist in the unimaginably vast expanse of the universe?

I get much more awe and mystery from actual facts about the universe around us than I could ever get from the small minded, narrow, supernatural view of the faith-based world.

21 comments:

Shane said...

The difference between you and me is that I believe that "unimaginably vast expanse of the universe" was created by something more powerful than me. Science explains a lot, but there's still tons that we don't know nor can we comprehend.

Xavier Onassis said...

shane - "The difference between you and me is that I believe that the "unimaginably vast expanse of the universe" was created by something more powerful than me."

You are within your rights to believe whatever you like. You can belive in hobbits and elves or Thor if you like. But there isn't any evidence to support hobbits, elves or gods.

That's the difference between a faith based and a fact based perspective.

"Science explains a lot, but there's still tons that we don't know nor can we comprehend."

I agree that there is "still tons that we don't know" but vehemently disagree that there are things that we cannot comprehend.

There are many things in the universe that are unknown. But nothing in the universe is incomprehensible or unexplainable.

Satyavati devi dasi said...

Oh boy... I'm not dragging this argument out of the closet, I swear I'm not...

...so I'm just going to say that I didn't know that Saturn had a moon called Enceladus, and that it's all very interesting, and I would like to know more about a geology that has ice cold geysers.

Wasn't that nice?
:)

PS. Didn't you see that they found "hobbit" fossils not so very long ago? They were all for making it a new species of hominid. I wrote a huge post on speciation vs. variation and then what do you know, they revised their conclusions.

I swear!

Keith Sader said...

Hang on, let me see if I've got this straight - science is cool?

I don't understand the post. Where's the poo-flinging? ;-)

Le Grand Lapin said...

Science is self-correcting, religion is self-validating.

Fate said...

For some reason, volcano pics and especially that ice eruption picture remind me of popping zits. By the size of the eruption, I'd say the ice one had been developing for some good time...

emawkc said...

"There are many things in the universe that are unknown. But nothing in the universe is incomprehensible or unexplainable."

Unless you have hard, verifiable proof of this (and if you do, please provide a link), then it is a statement of faith.

Xavier Onassis said...

emaw - "...it is a statement of faith."

Nonsense. It's nothing of the sort.

Every single thing we have observed in the universe has been explainable and comprehesible. Therefor, all of the empirical evidence indicates that whatever remains unknown, once observed and studied, will also prove to be explainable and comprehensible.

Not a matter of faith at all. Just extrapolation based on known facts.

Fiery said...

I love that under that cool tough image (shades & goatee) that you're a total nerd that loves sciency things!

Loved this bit! I get much more awe and mystery from actual facts about the universe around us than I could ever get from the small minded, narrow, supernatural view of the faith-based world.

The universe is so much more interesting when looked at through the lens of science then to stick your fingers in your ears and say "LALALALA GOD-DID-IT! LALALALA!!" And saying God Did It doesn't make the universe knowable or comprehensible. It settles ponderously in the "who are we to question" slot where you fester and rot. *shudders*

Xavier Onassis said...

Fiery - "I love that under that cool tough image (shades & goatee) that you're a total nerd that loves sciency things!"

Hey, Carl Sagan smoked weed. Smart and cool are not mutually exclusive.

"The universe is so much more interesting when looked at through the lens of science then to stick your fingers in your ears and say "LALALALA GOD-DID-IT! LALALALA!!"

Exactly!

I think that it cheapens the universe and removes all awe and mystery if you assume that some supernatural being can call it all into existence and suspend all known laws of physics with a few spoken words and a snap of his fingers.

What is special or unique about that?

It turns a grand, incredible, awe inspiring vista of unimaginable variety and diversity into a cheap parlor trick.

The concept of an all powerful creator of the universe lessens the glory we see all around us and brings it down to the level of some supernatural science fair exhibit. A glorified ant farm.

Taking the universe on exactly as it is and explaining it on its own terms using its own inherent laws is much more humbling and awe inspiring than assuming that it was winked into existence by some supreme sky daddy.

I prefer reality to fantasy.

emawkc said...

"Every single thing we have observed in the universe has been explainable and comprehesible."


Not true.

"Not a matter of faith at all. Just extrapolation based on known facts."

What a cop out.

Xavier Onassis said...

emaw - are you saying that there are observable phenomena in the universe that are not explainable or comprehensible?

Thats a bold statement, my friend.

Please give some examples.

Satyavati devi dasi said...

OKOK...

Now, yall, I have deliberately refrained from getting into the theological arguments here in the name of keeping the poop where it belongs.

We did this not so long ago and didn't we just come to an impasse?

So I'm going to just say that I bet Enceladus has really interesting geology.

And although I'm choosing to curtsey out of this one, watch out for the next one, cause the shit's pilin up.

I'm just sayin.

Xavier Onassis said...

LOL!

Satyavati - your sense of restraint is palpable. I feel your frustration and I remember a recent bruising bout on your blog regarding the same subject.

But I abide by my assertion that everything...absolutely everything we can observe is explainable, knowable, comprehensible and devoid of any supernatural component.

There just isn't any evidence to suggest anything else.

emawkc said...

Your parsing of language ("explainable" and "comprehensible") is a cop out.

What I'm saying is that there are observable phenomena that have not been fully explained (quantum entanglements for example, and the origin of the universe itself("We organized the conference because we both felt that the standard Big Bang model was failing to explain things,” Turok says.)).

Scientists may find a way to explain these phenomena. I think they probably will, as do you I imagine.

But saying we believe scientists will find the answers to these and other as yet unknown questions is an expression of faith in those scientists.

But that's not even the issue here. Science and spirituality are attempts to answer fundamentally different questions. Through science we are endeavoring to learn how we came to be here and how the world around us works.

Spirituality (and philosophy, art, etc.) are our attempts to learn WHY we are here and what is the meaning (if any) of our place in existence.

Xavier Onassis said...

"But saying we believe scientists will find the answers to these and other as yet unknown questions is an expression of faith in those scientists."

Again, I disagree. It has nothing to do with "faith".

The examples you gave of scientific theories which still have some unanswered questions (quantum entanglement and the big bang) still fall squarely into the arena of knowable and comprehensible phenomena which can and wil be explained.

"Faith" don't enter into it, mate.

All observable phenomena have always proven themselves to be explainable and comprehensible.

No observable phenomena have ever been shrugged off as being "supernatural and unexplainable".

Therefore, it is logical to reach the conclusion that any unanswered questions regarding quantum entanglement or the big bang will, in the end, be explainable and comprehensible.

Faith has nothing to do with it.

Faith is belief without evidence.

That is the opposite of a logical extrapolation based on a preponderance of centuries of empirical evidence.

Xavier Onassis said...

emaw - "Spirituality (and philosophy, art, etc.) are our attempts to learn WHY we are here and what is the meaning (if any) of our place in existence."

There is no "why" or "meaning" other than that which we ourselves provide through art, philosophy, etc. But there is no objective "purpose" to the universe. There is no "reason why we are here".

We simply exist.

What we do with that existence is up to us.

crise said...

At the risk of making obvious that i did not read the philosophical debate in the comments, I want to add that although im not an atheist (which i really don't mind if you think it's ridiculous. fantasy. coping skill. manifestations of years growing up in a vastly dysfunctional fundamental religion. I can admit it's illogical and fear-based but hell, how else could i support my therapist if i didn't have this stuff to bring to the table?) i also find way more comfort in the unimaginably vast expanse of the universe. It gives me a strange sense of hope and "allrightness". So thank you so much for sharing this buddy!
PS: My goal for the day is to make my blogroll for my new location and unless you stand up and scream right now you are being transitioned to the new roll my friend!

Anonymous said...

that would have been crse

emawkc said...

"There is no "reason why we are here".

We simply exist."

Well, that's and interesting opinion and I know you share it with many others. However, since there's not definitive proof of this, even it is a matter of faith. Yeah, I know, you can't prove a negative. But the point is choosing not to ask the question isn't the same as finding an answer.

There is one other point I would like to raise, though. If you say all things are knowable and comprehensible, then logically you must make room for the eventuality that we as a human race (given enough time) will know everything there is to know, at which point we will be come omniscient.

From there, it's a small leap to assume that we will be able to control control everything (since we will understand how it works). At that point we will be omnipotent.

Sounds quite God-ish to me.

KC Sponge said...

I just know that the ultimate expanse of the world is far beyond my understanding, as well as my grasp of a higher being overseeing it all.

I know it makes me feel small and huge all at once. I know it makes me wonder and gawk and feel that I have some purpose - whether its here or not here.

I know it makes me feel closer to you and others - we're unique to this tiny planet in this small universe, so no matter how different we seem, we're really unmistakenly alike. We look for meaning or we look for answers, we seek connections or we seek to distinguish ourselves, we find solace or we find peace, we question faith or we question the lack of it. We're human. We're earthlings. We fucking kick ass.