The mysteries of Titan

Titan, locked in thick clouds, with Saturn and rings in the background. Image courtesy of Cassini/NASA/JPL

Titan has always excited planetary astronomers and science-fiction writers. For good reason. It’s a romantic place, orbiting lovely Saturn, the ringed celebrity of the solar system, and its the only moon with a thick atmosphere. Titan has an active surface carved by wind and rain dotted with oceans and rivers where natural gas falls in big fat droplets and volcanoes spew water like lava. In fact Titan is composed of so much icy stuff that if it were as close to the sun as Mars about half the moon would evaporate into a giant puffball, by some guestimates growing to half the size of Uranus, before the volatile gases took flight on the solar wind and blew away in a massive cometary tail. It would make for a spectacular sight!

But those icy layers offer a possible alien refuge for life, and to understand a hypothetical Titanian biosphere we don’t have to look into deep space for evil green slime, we only have to look beneath our own oceans for exotic microbes and bizarre metazoans. [Read more…]

The gubmint should stay the hell out of people’s bidness!

If there’s one thing my conservative friends agree on, it’s that the government is too damn big. It’s tyranny in the making, and those damn bureaucrats need to stay the hell out of people’s business! Well, except for what happens in womens’ uteruses. Outside of that the government should stay the hell out of the people’s business!

Wait, one more tiny thing, examining some people’s urine. But outside of womens’ uteruses and the people’s urine, the government should stay the hell out of the people’s business! [Read more…]

Here comes the sun, like you’ve never seen it before

NASA’s SOHO mission team has posted some beautiful images of our local star under the fitting header The Sun as Art with descriptive captions. Some of the images have been reworked, but most are simply composites or color filters. They’re remarkable, and a reminder of the enormous power of a massive hydrogen fusion reactor (And potential energy source) pumping out 4 trillion terawatts a mere 93 million miles away. Now if only I could find the original slideshow link … [Read more…]

Heartland Institute facing questions over leaked documents

It struck me that a lot of readers may not know the back story on the post about Watts, below, so here’s some context. The Heartland Institute is a right-wing org originally created in 1984, appropriately, to spread lies about issues like the health effects of tobacco use. When that gig started drying up in the 90s they had to find new wealthy benefactors, fast. One of the biggest clients they landed was the fossil fuel energy industry, interested in using similar disinformation tactics to combat pollution regulations and especially the growing scientific consensus on human induced climate change.

Last week internal documents from Heartland came to light reportedly showing the lengths to which the institute would go to further their sponsors’ interests. Via the Wiki: [Read more…]

Permian forest brought to scientific life

An artist's impression of a 300-million-year-old peat forest in northern China, based on plant fossils preserved in a huge volcanic ash-fall. PNAS

Paleobiologists of all kinds are used to dealing with frustrating scraps. Occasionally they get entire bones and once in a blue moon a nearly complete skeleton or fossil of an extinct plant or animal. But scientists working with remains below a Mongolian coal mine have done one better, they found a 300 million year old forest preserved in volcanic ash and have brought it to virtual life in what is being called the Permian Pompeii:

[Read more…]