Space Porn

Moon river: Cassini spots river of methane on Titan

One of the more unique features of Earth, at least as far as current space exploration has been able to show us, is a “hydrologic system,” or a stable system of liquid transformation from solid to liquid to gas and vapour. On Earth, this system is one made up of water, where precipitation forms rivers, which flow into seas and oceans, and then evaporate back into a gaseous state to restart the whole system over again.

We do however have one very close neighbor which shares a similar feature. Jupiter’s moon Titan, a cold world distant from our sun, has a hydrologic system made of methane.

NASA JPL has released a photograph of a “mini Nile” which empties into a smallish a sea called the Kraken Mare, about the size of the Caspian here on Earth. Like the Nile, it is formed of a large number of tributaries feeding into one relatively straight river basin. Scientists speculate that the straightness of the main column may suggest that the river actually marks a fault line in the bedrock of the moon. Whether this indicates some sort of tectonic plate, as it might on Earth, remains a mystery.

Whereas the Nile river is some 4,100 miles long, this newly-photographed river is a scant 200 miles. But the similarities between the features of these two worlds are striking. This also represents the first time an active river has ever been photographed at this resolution outside of our Earth system.

Science Space Porn

@NASA finds its first Goldilocks. Is there life out there?

The Goldilocks Zone: like its namesake, this term defines a place which is neither too hot nor too cold. In this case, it is an orbital distance from a star which is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist. And science is looking for planets in the Goldilocks Zone because they represent the best chance we have of discovering life on other planets as we understand it.

NASA has announced today that they have discovered the first genuine candidate for Goldilocks honors, in addition to doubling the list of planets we’ve discovered in the universe. They also say there are ten more candidates for the Goldilocks crown.

Are planets in the Goldilocks zone the only ones with potential for life to exist? Perhaps not. Science’s definition of life and its habitats changes all the time. But science works best under controlled circumstances, and with over 1000 planets having been discovered, simply picking one out of a crowd to start searching is no way to go about things. Discovering other planets that share as much as possible in common with our own – the only planet we can say definitively has life on it – increases our odds of success.

In this case, the planet is named – after the sexy fashion of @NASA – Kepler 22-b. This planet is 600 light-years away, is 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbits in a 290-day route. Its sun is in the same G-class of stars as our own, though it is slightly smaller and cooler. But the major common trait is that its in the right orbit to sustain liquid water.

Will there be life on this Kepler 22-b? How would we even go about proving that, one way or another, at such a distance? Only time will tell if our first Goldilocks lives up to its potential, or even exceeds expectations.

For more information on the discovery and announcement, have a look at the press release from NASA below:

NASA – NASAs Kepler Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-Like Star.