June 30, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Breaking News! Enceladus Is Dead!

Is water alive? Are organic molecules alive? No; they’re dead. Someone needs to bring some sense into reporting about life in outer space.

Here are the facts: some organic molecules have been found in the geysers erupting from the south pole of Enceladus, Saturn’s little Iowa-size moon. Is that a big deal? No; organic molecules are very common in the universe. You can find them in meteorites, comets, and interstellar clouds. “Organic” means anything that contains carbon. Your DNA is organic, but so is tailpipe soot. The category “organic” contains a vast number of molecules, all of which are dead. Even DNA is dead outside a cell; it will just sit there and decay, like it rapidly does in fossils. Life, in fact, consists of countless zillions of dead molecules. Only when they are organized into systems that function to metabolize, grow and reproduce do we consider the system a living thing.

Racemic amino acids. Credit: Illustra Media

A Quick Review of Organic Chemistry

Carbon, with its four valences, tends to link up with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and other atoms in complex ways, creating geometric shapes like sheets, rings, and polyhedra, from the pyramid-like tetrahedron to the complex soccer-ball-shaped fullerenes. Organic molecules, therefore, are often very large and complex. Because of its complexity and importance, organic chemistry constitutes a large sub-discipline of chemistry. Lifeless molecules with only carbon and hydrogen are called hydrocarbons. Lifeless molecules with carbon and nitrogen are called nitriles; these include the amino acids and cyanides. Lifeless molecules with rings are called aromatic compounds, such as benzene; these can link up into sheets called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.

Large organics can be made by natural processes such as the solar wind acting on the upper atmosphere of Titan, or starlight acting on interstellar dust. The point is that many organic compounds are known in space from purely physical formation processes.

If living molecules were to be magically transported into the assumed ocean under the icy crust of Enceladus, it’s likely that they would quickly perish in the toxic “organic” habitat there, if they didn’t freeze to death first.

Some organic compounds, including amino acids and sugars, come in left- and right-handed forms that are mirror images of each other, but have the same properties otherwise. The amino acids that form naturally, including those in meteorites and comets, are always “racemic” (50/50) mixtures of left- and right-handed forms. For reasons unknown to this day, life only uses left-handed amino acids, and right-handed sugars—a fact uncovered by creation biologist Louis Pasteur. Proteins and enzymes in living cells cannot function unless they are 100% pure one-handed, most likely because they would fail to fold into molecular machines with biological activity.

The Whole Enceladus

Here’s what Cassini scientists detected at Enceladus from the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) and Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instruments that looked for molecules as the orbiter flew through the plumes. The JPL press release, “Complex Organics Bubble up from Enceladus,” says,

Previously, Cassini had detected small, relatively common organic molecules at Enceladus that were much smaller. Complex molecules comprising hundreds of atoms are rare beyond Earth. The presence of the large complex molecules, along with liquid water and hydrothermal activity, bolsters the hypothesis that the ocean of Enceladus may be a habitable environment for life.

It’s important to separate the facts from the speculation at the end of the quote. It “may” be a habitable environment, but it may just as well be a bed of poisons. A cell would perish in an “organic” environment of CO (carbon monoxide), HCN (cyanide), gasoline, benzene, acetylene, or thousands of other toxic compounds. It takes much more than “large complex [organic] molecules” therefore to call an environment habitable. The paper in Nature specifically names some of these poisons among the “organic molecules” that were detected at Enceladus. So even if living molecules were to be magically transported into the assumed ocean under the icy crust of Enceladus, it’s likely that they would quickly perish in the toxic “organic” habitat there, if they didn’t freeze to death first. Understood?

Media Saturnalia

The Nature paper doesn’t even mention life or habitability. But since the JPL press release said the L-word life four times, let’s watch the Darwine-drunk press go crazy at their Saturnalia festival, aided and abetted by similarly inebriated scientists:

BREAKING: Complex Organic Molecules Discovered on Enceladus For The First Time. It has everything needed to host alien life! (Science Alert). Reporter Michelle Starr, overcome with fumes from NASA’s power of suggestion, relates her ecstatic hallucinations of what these poisons at Enceladus might do. The visions come quickly: “These findings bolster the hypothesis that, deep under its icy crust, Enceladus could be harbouring simple marine life, clustered around the warmth of hydrothermal vents.” Ahhhhh. “Let that sink in for a moment,” she says, passing you the smoking reefer.

Right Stuff For Life Found on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus (National Geographic). “What we know today is telling us that Enceladus is an outstanding target to go look for life, and there may be microbes living in that ocean today,” says Cornell University’s Jonathan Lunine. (Read more looney tunes from Lunine in the 3 May 2018 entry.)

Enceladus is spewing out organic molecules necessary for life (New Scientist). Leah Crane writes, “Saturn’s moon Enceladus has a subsurface ocean – and it may be coated with complex organic molecules that could be stepping stones to life.

Complex organic molecules discovered in Enceladus’ plumes could hint at life (Astrobiology Magazine). Keith Cooper ought to say, “complex organic molecules in Enceladus’ plumes smell like death.” Instead, he teases that these toxic compounds “could potentially form the building blocks of life.” Not according to thermodynamics and logic could they. But they could form the building blocks of lie.

SwRI scientists find evidence of complex organic molecules from Enceladus (Southwest Research Institute). Science Daily added to the headline, “Discovery indicates Saturn’s moon meets critical requirements for life,” possibly because SwRI’s press release includes the lie, “With complex organic molecules emanating from its liquid water ocean, this moon is the only body besides Earth known to simultaneously satisfy all of the basic requirements for life as we know it.” Like freezing poisons?

Saturn moon a step closer to hosting life (BBC News). “”The next logical step,” says Dr Postberg, “is to go back to Enceladus soon with a dedicated payload and see if there is extraterrestrial life.” Logical? Political, maybe, if NASA needs job security for its bio-astrologers.

Other Dead Worlds at Saturn

Bonnie Buratti, lower left, among Cassini scientists watching close-up images of Enceladus arrive on March 9, 2005. Photo by David Coppedge at JPL.

The Search for Activity on Dione and Tethys With Cassini VIMS and UVIS (Geophysical Research Letters). Some of the more level-headed Cassini scientists, like Bonnie Burati and Candace Hansen, went looking in the infrared and ultraviolet images for activity on the neighboring moons of Enceladus, Dione and Tethys. They found none. (Hansen appears in the bonus features of The Privileged Planet by Illustra Media.)

Limits on Dione’s Activity Using Cassini/CIRS Data (Geophysical Research Letters). Other Cassini scientists looked at infrared images and “find no evidence for activity on Dione in this study.” They didn’t rule out the possibility, though: “However, it is possible that very small regions of high surface temperatures would not be detected in this work.”

Titan’s Meteorology Over the Cassini Mission: Evidence for Extensive Subsurface Methane Reservoirs (Geophysical Research Letters). These Cassini scientists did not really find “extensive subsurface methane reservoirs” at Titan, but inferred their presence by models of how clouds and lakes should behave. Unfortunately, the clouds and lakes did not fit their expectations very well. They also did not address the conundrum of the missing ethane, which should have formed a global ocean according to 1990s predictions.

The Eye of Saturn’s North Polar Vortex: Unexpected Cloud Structures Observed at High Spatial Resolution by Cassini/VIMS (Geophysical Research Letters). Cassini atmospheric scientists found a “shocking mystery” at Saturn’s north pole, where the largest cyclone in the solar system is found, along with a hexagon of standing waves. Let them describe their surprise:

Saturn’s north pole was imaged with unprecedented clarity in over 200 colors during the Grand Finale phase of the Cassini mission, revealing surprising details on the structures of hazes and clouds. A cyclonic vortex caps the pole, extending out about 20° (20,000 km) in latitude, the largest cyclone known in the solar system. As a cyclone, this is a region of subsidence, where air descends downward. Such air, descending into warmer depths, should be relatively clear of condensate clouds of ammonia—one of the major condensables in Saturn’s visible atmosphere—especially in the eye of the polar vortex right at the pole. The new multicolored near‐infrared images obtained by the Visual Infrared Mapping Spectrometer reveal that indeed the polar eye is remarkably devoid of aerosols, having less than 3% of the aerosol content seen anywhere else on Saturn. But surprisingly, ammonia clouds at the edge of the eye—but still within it—are found to be remarkably thick, composed of the largest ammonia ice particles ever seen on Saturn, characteristic of powerful upwelling, not downwelling (subsidence). This conundrum of convection‐style clouds forming in a strongly downwelling region is a shocking mystery left by Cassini in its waning days.

None of these research papers needed hydrobioscopy to tell the public about interesting, and even startling, things.

The scientists who wrote the Enceladus paper knew they have to be empirically modest in a journal, but then look at them! They go right to the press and stir the pot with highly embellished accounts of what the data “means.” It’s all whipped-up frenzy based on materialist assumptions, based on the religious belief that life is nothing but chemistry, and that life emerges by chance.

If you are sick and tired of this propaganda, you need to speak up. Write comments when you can to the publishers of this hype, respectfully stating logical reasons why life does not follow from the presence of frozen benzene. Demand that tax-funded research stick to science, not materialist philosophy. And tell your elected representatives not to let NASA use “science” as a propaganda tool for materialism.



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