Miscellaneous wrap-up

As noted earlier, I missed posting more the last few weeks due to being sick, but here is a condensed summary of some of the other recent interesting updates as we come to the end of 2010…

Does Pluto, of all places, have a subsurface ocean? This new report says maybe; Cassini has found new evidence for an ice volcano on Titan; the building blocks of life could possibly form on Titan’s surface more easily than thought if there is any liquid water temporarily on the surface from ice volcano eruptions (or comet impacts); there’s a new theory on how Iapetus may have obtained its odd equatorial ridge; the “arsenic life” discovery continues to be criticized by some other scientists (see also here) while the scientists involved have responded and rebutted those claims (see also here); the Spitzer space telescope has found the first known carbon-rich exoplanet; a fourth large exoplanet has been photographed orbiting a star 129 light-years from Earth; another smaller exoplanet, a “super-Earth” was found to have an atmosphere with either high clouds or hot steam; a new study says that the entire Tharsis Rise on Mars should be named the largest known volcano in the solar system instead of the current Olympus Mons (one of four volcanoes that are part of Tharsis Rise); the warm fissures on Enceladus, the source of its water-ice geysers, were seen up-close by Cassini again; there may be another Jupiter-sized planet hiding out in the outer solar system; and finally, the current known exoplanet count is now 516 (and the hope was for at least 500 by the end of this month)!

Highlighted by, among other things, the next exoplanet update from Kepler in February and the launch of Curiosity, the next bigger and better Mars rover, in November, 2011 should also be an interesting year…

Ingredients for life in Titan’s atmosphere?

There have been some interesting findings from a research team led by the University of Arizona, indicating that amino acids and other complex building blocks of life may be present in Titan’s atmosphere, and that the processes involved can occur in the upper atmosphere of a planet or moon, without the need for liquid water as has long been presumed.

Simulations of Titan’s atmosphere, subjected to UV radiation (like from the sun, as happens in the upper Titanian atmosphere) produced complex organic molecules such as amino acids and nucleotide bases, the primary building blocks of life on Earth. The Cassini spacecraft has already confirmed organic molecules there, but there are some more complex ones in the atmosphere which haven’t been identified yet.

As has been reported previously, there has has been a growing interest lately in the possibility of primitive life on Titan, despite the very cold temperatures, given the hydrological cycle of rain, rivers, lakes and seas, but with liquid methane instead of water. If prebiological molecules are being massively produced, as seems to be the case, could anything be alive in those alien lakes and seas…?

More information here, here, and here.