It’s been a while since I posted much of anything science-related. Honestly I’ve been veeerrrry busy. Fucking slammed is a good way to put it. But here are some important bits of news/etc… to come out of the science world recently.

  • First off, there’s been rampant speculation on some news blogs in the last day or so regarding an upcoming NASA press conference (scheduled for tomorrow afternoon) that will “affect the search for extraterrestrial life.” Of course many are taking that to mean that NASA has found aliens. That almost certainly NOT the case, and I must direct you to the ever-reliable ambassador of reality, Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, for much more reasonable speculation on what NASA will be announcing tomorrow. Also, as always, Universe Today is on top it as well. The announcement will probably involve the discovery of a new way or process by which life could exist on Saturn’s moon Titan. So chill out, and don’t believe the sensationalist news sites that are claiming NASA has discovered aliens.
  • The Large Hadron Collider has been busy slamming lead ions together for the past month or so. They had been in a “recess” of sorts since their last set of collisions involving single protons. Now they’re slamming much heavier lead nuclei together in an effort to recreate the conditions that physicists think existed just milliseconds after the Big Bang. (On an atom-size scale, of course.) They got what they were looking for, though it was a bit surprising. The leading theory was that a superheated blob called a quark-muon plasma existed, and that it acted much like a gas. However, this experiment showed that the quark-muon plasma actually behaved more like a perfect liquid with no viscosity. This collision was the most energetic heavy ion collision ever achieved on earth, 13 times more powerful than the previous record set by the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in Brookhaven, NY, but it’s only about half of the LHC’s full capacity. Who knows what we’ll find when the LHC ramps up to full capacity over the next few years. (Via NewScientist)
  • We have now officially discovered over 500 exoplanets in our galaxy. Sort of. The news was announced, but there is really no way to put a “500” label on one particular planet. The problem is that the line between “confirmed” and “unconfirmed candidate” is a bit unclear, and many times in the past previously “confirmed” planets have been retracted as new, more accurate data has been gathered to prove they were in fact something else that’s not a planet. But the number is sufficiently past 500, so we can officially be happy that just 20 years after the discovery of the first exoplanet, we’re now past the 500-mark. With NASA’s Kepler spacecraft on the hunt, and already having produced over 700 exoplanet candidates, that number will soon start to rise very quickly. I’d say the next exoplanet milestone we’ll be celebrating is 1,000, along with the discovery of a true earth-twin. (Via Universe Today)

No aliens on Titan

June 9, 2010

Actual image of surface of Titan taken by the Huygens probe which landed on Titan in 2005.

Lately the media has been buzzing about the possibility of methane-based life on Saturn’s moon Titan. As usual, when scientists include the words “interesting,” “odd,” “life,” “extraterrestrial,” and “discovery” in the same press release, the media starts creating misleading headlines that make people think we’ve discovered extraterrestrial life. Chill out, folks, that’s not the case here. Basically what they found is that, in the hydrocarbon lakes on Titan’s surface, there is much less acetylene than expected, based on other measurements taken by the Cassini probe, currently orbiting Saturn. They also found via a computer simulation modeling the atmospheric conditions on Titan (not direct measurement) that there is also much less hydrogen at the surface than there should be. These are intriguing results, and deserve much further study, but methane-based life on Titan is just one of many possible explanations, the rest of which are non-biological. Good articles explaining this further can be found at Universe Today and Bad Astronomy, but the best explanation comes from Chris McKay at the NASA Ames Research Center. He’s one of the astrobiologists working with the Cassini mission, and states the facts very clearly (at least if you’re vaguely familiar with biology and/or organic chemistry. For a little bit more “laymen’s terms” explanation, I recommend reading either the Universe Today or Bad Astronomy articles.

Not much time today, but here’s the skinny for the weekend:

Tonight the Armed Forces play the first installment of the Poolapalooza series at the Opryland Hotel. This could be an interesting one… but I’ll be heading to Exit/In to photograph Black Moth Super Rainbow. I love the band name, but I’m honestly not that familiar with them. Also, How I Became the Bomb will be releasing the last installment of their 3-song digital EP series called Through Adversity to the Stars! at Mercy Lounge. They’ll be joined by Chattanooga’s Coral Castles and Pineapple Explode. Wait… what? Yes I agree, P.E. is by far the odd-man-out on the bill. But I’m really glad those guys/girl are getting to play for such a big crowd as opposed their usual basement shows.

Tomorrow I’m photographing Coldplay/Snow Patrol at the Sommet Center. Whatevs on the bands…. it’s always fun to shoot big stadium sized tours though. Snow Patrol is also doing a free in-store show at Grimey’s at 2pm. Sorry Grimey’s but I won’t be anywhere near your store tomorrow. I have a feeling the resulting clusterfuck on 8th Ave will rival that of Record Store Day.

Be sure to pick up a copy of the Scene before next week’s edition hits the stands and read Tracy Moore’s feature article “Almost Famous.” The article follows the story of 4 local-ish bands/artists who essentially got ground up and quickly spit back out of the major label music industry, and it’s damn good. Bands beware indeed. I honestly hadn’t a clue that Eureka Gold had come so close to a major record deal. Makes sense they kept it kinda quiet though.

I’m somewhat excited about a new sci-fi movie coming out called Moon. It’s set in the future where humans have a mining outpost on the Moon to extract Helium-3, which will solve the answer to earth’s energy crisis. The mining base is run by one solitary man, and the film follows him through his last 2 weeks of a 3-year stint working on the base. For a more detailed synopsis, check out the IMDB page. I’m not quite convinced it’ll really all that good, but it certainly shows promise. It comes out July 17th.

Speaking of moons, I came across this article on the Daily Galaxy about Saturn’s moon Titan. Astronomers are very interested in Titan because it’s one of the few places in the solar system that has the potential for life. The others being Mars, Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Jupiter’s moon Europa. Titan is basically a much colder analog of earth. It has oceans, land, clouds, mountains, and even a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. The difference is the temperature. Obviously it’s much colder than earth because it’s so much farther away from the Sun, which means the oceans and clouds are mostly made of liquid methane, not water. But still, even with the extreme cold and all the methane/nitrogen, it still could harbor microbial life. We even have a few pictures of the surface of Titan, thanks to the Huygens probe which was part of the Cassini mission. I highly suggest reading the Daily Galaxy article. The surface of Titan:

Have a great weekend!