Space liquid

Much interesting NASA news this week. Today, Phoenix has found water in a Mars soil sample.

“We have water,” said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted.” (From NASA)

Yesterday, NASA announced that Cassini had identified a liquid ethane lake on
Saturn’s moon Titan. This makes Titan the only place in the solar system except Earth that is known to have liquid on its surface.

There are lots of awe-inspiring images on NASA’s site and the Cassini ones are particularly fascinating. Saturn and its moons must be the all time favourite space pictures, what with Saturn being the most photogenic planet by a few light-years.

But this picture is pretty good, too. A planet with surface water and water vapour and everything. Looks good enough to move to.

from - earth and moon

from - earth and moon

Wowee science week

Wow number 1
A cursory check hasn’t turned up any other blogs that deal with this one. So, here’s a link to BBC post about a fossil fish that presents evidence of live birth.

The 380 million-year-old specimen has been preserved with an embryo still attached by its umbilical cord.
The find, reported in Nature, pushes back the emergence of this reproductive strategy by some 200 million years.

In your faces, yet again, young earth creationists. Though I suppose it’s another of those incomprehensible god-tests where he sticks evidence that contradicts the book of genesis just to sort out those people who prefer evidence to myth so he can put their names in the “go straight to hell for doubting the magic words” book

Wow number 2

Monkeys have been able to control robot arms to feed themselves, using the power of thought alone.

I’m not the world’s greatest fan of messing about with the bodies and brains of animals but the implications of this research are pretty amazing.

Does this mean that we can finally carry out the 100 monkeys with typewriters experiment?

Wow number 3

Mars. How great that it looks like an abandoned farm planet.

Small whines.. I have to moan a bit about the false colouring, which makes the enterprise seem a little spurious. Why didn’t they use colour cameras? (Yes, space bandwidth, and so on. I don’t care. I want full-colour images.)

And I could have done with fewer pictures of the lander. It’s a bit like taking a holiday in Angkor Wat and then putting yourself in the foreground of every photo.

Aside from these tiny gripes about the presentation, seeing the surface of Mars is fantastic.

Two Suns

Midnight Sun 3 - Twin sunsNot much on-line time today, so I will keep it short. Today’s BBC website has an entertaining little article about how “many planets have two suns.”

Star Wars got it right!

The BBC opens with:

The dual suns that rise and set over Luke Skywalker’s homeworld in the film Star Wars may be more than just fantasy, according to data from Nasa.

In a classic scene from the 1977 movie, the hero gazes into the distance as two yellow suns set on the horizon.

Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope has found planetary systems are at least as abundant around dual stars as they are around single stars, like our own Sun. (Read Original)

Brilliant. Who would have thought George Lucas would have been so prescient…. Although the BBC (and I presume the article in the Astrophysical Journal) did go on to qualify this: (emphasis mine)

Dr Trilling said that if planets did exist in dusty discs around these binaries, they might be at distances where the conditions could be hospitable for life.

The Luke Skywalker picture is science fiction. But I don’t see anything that’s astronomically incorrect about it,” said the University of Arizona researcher.

“With some of our systems, you could play with the geometry, put a planet there, get the temperatures right and make it look just like [Tatooine].”

Still, I am sure everyone who watched Star Wars (the proper one, not the rubbish new ones) as a child can still hope that one day…

[tags]Science, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Star Wars, Planets, Spitzer, Space, Telescope, NASA, BBC, George Lucas[/tags]