Saturn-Day and Moon-Day Arrive
Last Saturday, we looked at news about Saturn and its rings. This Saturday we look at news about Saturn’s moons.
The planet Saturn just surpassed Jupiter in number of moons. Twenty more moons were discovered in Cassini data, Science Daily says, bringing the total to 82, compared to Jupiter’s 79. NASA is calling on the public to help give them names. But actually, Saturn has so many moons, they could never be counted. Within the rings are “propeller” moons that, while not obvious, leave evidence of their existence in propeller-shaped wakes consisting of disturbed ring particles. And actually, every ring particle is a moon orbiting Saturn, some as large as houses, some mere specks of dust. Here we concentrate on two of the most noteworthy moons of Saturn: Titan and Enceladus.
Lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan are explosion craters, new models suggest (Science Daily). Some of the small polar lakes on Titan have steep rims hundreds of feet high. A new model that might account for them considers them craters where frozen nitrogen exploded upward, contributing to Titan’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere. In order to keep Titan billions of years old when they know the atmosphere cannot be sustained that long, some planetary scientists like Jonathan Lunine (whose prediction of a global ethane ocean was falsified by Cassini) are now envisioning “cycles” —
Over the last half-billion or billion years on Titan, methane in its atmosphere has acted as a greenhouse gas, keeping the moon relatively warm — although still cold by Earth standards. Scientists have long believed that the moon has gone through epochs of cooling and warming, as methane is depleted by solar-driven chemistry and then resupplied.
This, however, amounts to special pleading, and could not work. By now (if the current atmosphere were at most 10 million to 100 million years old, as they believe), there would have been 45 to 450 cycles of methane depletion and resupply over the assumed age of the solar system. We know, however, that the methane is subject to the solar wind 20% of Titan’s orbit. Nothing is going to resupply it. And the ethane should have formed that global ocean over billions of years, as Lunine had predicted; it would be going nowhere, so where is it?
Cassini explores ring-like formations around Titan’s lakes (European Space Agency, via Phys.org). Cassini found “around 650 lakes and seas in the polar regions of Titan—300 of which are at least partially filled with a liquid mix of methane and ethane.” Some of the lakes have steep-walled rims, as noted above, and some have broken rims. But others “are surrounded by ramparts: ring-shaped mounds that extend for tens of km from a lake’s shoreline” that completely enclose the liquid. How did these form? So far they cannot tell if the ramparts are “old” or “young.” They may have to wait for the next mission, named Dragonfly, to look from ground level instead of from orbit.
‘Bathtub rings’ around Titan’s lakes might be made of alien crystals (Science Daily). Cue the Twilight Zone music: the rims of Titan’s lakes “might be encrusted with strange, unearthly minerals, according to new research being presented here.” Once again, though, confirmation of these features, which resemble rings of precipitated salt around salty lakes on Earth, will await more data from the next mission. They might consist of butane, acetylene and benzene, which are known to precipitate in Titan’s atmosphere. These alien crystals, though, appear to form snowflakes with ethane molecules captured inside.
Flying on Saturn’s moon Titan: what we could discover with NASA’s new Dragonfly mission (The Conversation). Think of what scientists could see with a drone flying around Titan above the surface, instead of from orbit. That’s the plan for a follow-up visit to Titan. The mission is named Dragonfly. To promote it, Christian Schroeder (U of Stirling) has learned his propaganda well. Insert the L-word life to trigger public drooling.
Flying on other worlds is the next leap in the exploration of our solar system. The Mars Helicopter will piggyback on the NASA Mars 2020 rover mission to demonstrate the technology. But this is only the start. The real prize will be the Dragonfly mission in 2026, sending a drone to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan – as just announced by NASA.
For a craft to become airborne, it needs air or, more generally, an atmosphere. Only a handful of objects in our solar system fit that bill. Titan boasts an atmosphere thicker than Earth’s, which has shrouded this world in mystery for a long time. Studies have shown Titan may be able to host primitive lifeforms and is the ideal place to study how life may have arisen on our own planet.
SMU’s ‘Titans in a Jar’ could answer key questions ahead of NASA’s space exploration (Southern Methodist University). This university long ago went from “Methodist” in the tradition of John Wesley to “Methodological Naturalist” in the atheist sense. As such, its research department will spend its $195,000 NASA grant looking for evidence of a naturalistic origin of life.
Before the rotorcraft lands on Titan, chemists from SMU will be recreating the conditions on Titan in multiple glass cylinders — each the size of a needle top — so they can learn about what kind of chemical structures could form on Titan’s surface. The knowledge on these structures can ultimately help assess the possibility of life on Titan — whether in the past, present or future.
Saturn’s Icy Moon Enceladus Is Likely the ‘Perfect Age’ to Harbor Life (Live Science). Astrobiological fervor about Titan is only exceeded by the fervor of looking for life on Enceladus. As we saw last week, the evolutionary moyboys that control planetary science these days need to keep these moons old in order for life to have time to emerge by chance (as if time helps). They realize that just a few tens or hundreds of millions of years is far too short for that. One way they keep them old is just to declare them old, hoping nobody will notice that it’s an evolution-based assumption, not a measurable fact.
Below the ice-covered surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus hides a vast ocean.
This sprawling ocean is likely 1 billion years old, which means it’s the perfect age to harbor life, said Marc Neveu, a research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center last Monday (June 24) during a talk at the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference.
In order to appear sciency, the chief wizard Neveu ran some computer simulations with contrived parameters to make Enceladus look just old enough for the time he thinks would be needed for the miracle of life to happen, if you had carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen available (Enceladus has lots of water ice, but very little of anything else). Yet Neveu has to admit that it’s rather surprising Enceladus would have an ocean left after all this time.
One of Cassini’s major discoveries was that Enceladus had an ocean filled with hydrothermal vents. “It’s very surprising to see an ocean today,” Neveu told Live Science after the talk. “It’s a very tiny moon and, in general, you expect tiny things to not be very active [but rather] like a dead block of rock and ice.”
Neveu needs the moon to be the right age. So he imagines it, guided by evolutionary magic.
If the ocean is too young – for example, only a couple of million years old – there probably wouldn’t have been enough time to mix those ingredients together to create life, he said. What’s more, that’s not enough time for little sparks of life to spread enough for us Earthlings to detect them.
On the other hand, if the ocean is too old, it’s as if the planet’s “battery” is running out of juice; the chemical reactions needed to sustain life might stop, Neveu said.
In this world, the elements that needed to dissolve would have dissolved, all the minerals needed to form would have formed, he said. The moon would’ve then reached an equilibrium, meaning that the reactions to sustain life wouldn’t take place.
That means Enceladus’ ocean may be the perfect age to harbor life.
How he got to that non-sequitur isn’t clear. In the meantime, his computer simulations continue running.
Organic Compounds Found in Plumes of Saturn’s Icy Moon Enceladus (Space.com). Ready to supply some building blocks of life for the astrobiologists, this article triumphantly announces “organic molecules” in the plumes of Enceladus, but doesn’t say what they are. (Note: many deadly poisons are “organic molecules”). It only teases readers that “Similar compounds on Earth take part in the chemical reactions that form amino acids, which are the organic compounds that combine to form proteins and are essential to life as we know it.” Were any of these things found? No.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus is having a snowball fight with other moons (New Scientist). Now here’s a finding that should put the moyboys into clinical depression. The geysers of Enceladus are spray-painting other moons white with icy snow. The amount of snow is not trivial, either:
Alice Le Gall at the University of Paris-Saclay in France and her colleagues analysed these radar observations and found that three of the moons, Mimas, Enceladus and Tethys, seem to be twice as bright as we previously thought. They presented their work this week at at a joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the Division for Planetary Sciences in Geneva, Switzerland.
That can be partly explained by Enceladus: it has huge geysers that spew water from its subsurface ocean into space, which then freezes and snows down on the nearby moons and Enceladus’ surface. Le Gall and her colleagues calculated that this layer of ice and snow should be at least a few tens of centimetres thick.
“Now we know that the snow is actually accumulating, it’s not just a thin veneer but a much thicker layer of water ice,” Le Gall says.
Could that go on for billions of years? Enceladus, remember, also builds a huge E-ring around Saturn, but this tiny moon is only about the diameter of Washington State. Neveu in the previous article said that this small moon should be like a dead block of rock and ice after all this time. As usual, the scientists completely ignore the age implications of this discovery. Spray cans give out after a while of continuous spraying.
Why are the planetary scientists ignoring this? They will never admit defeat. Charlie & Charlie* are too important in their pantheon to disgrace.