Liquid lakes on Titan

Radar image of liquid lakes on Titan

Scientists have confirmed that liquid lakes exist on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, using the spectrometer on board the Cassini spacecraft. It's not liquid water, though. It's liquid ethane, a hydrocarbon that probably rains down from the cold skies of Titan. While radar images of the surface of Titan strongly suggested that there were liquid lakes, this is the first time direct observational evidence was gathered.

With all the hydrocarbons on Titan, along with all the liquid ethane sloshing around like water, it would be truly extraordinary if there were carbon-based life forms which use liquid ethane as an analogue of liquid water used in Earth-based life forms. It's unlikely, but even if there are no life forms, Titan could turn out to be a great source of organic material for manned space exploration given its low gravity and rich deposits of hydrocarbons. And it would be really interesting to try bioengineering such life forms that could thrive on Titan.

WhiteKnightTwo, the mothership

I wish I'll eventually be able to afford a trip on the WhiteKnightTwo that was recently rolled out. Even better would be a ride on the yet incomplete SpaceShipTwo, the spaceplane that will take passengers on a suborbital trip near the edge of space. It would be a blast of a ride, with exhilarating G-forces on the way up and a few minutes of free fall at the top. And the view will no doubt be breathtaking. Although I do wonder if it's feasible to take a camera up with you and take pictures. You might be enjoying free fall and the view too much to spare any attention for taking pictures!

At $20,000 a ride, the first of which will probably be in a couple of years, the price is far too steep for the average proletariat like me. At least the price includes training on the WhiteKnightTwo and the actual suborbital ride on SpaceShipTwo, and prices might actually drop to an affordable level within my lifetime. Of course, a few years after Virgin Galactic starts its suborbital flights, I'll probably also start pining for a stay at a space hotel, like the one Bigelow Aerospace is hoping to launch within the decade. It would be even more out of my price range, though, with millions of dollars required for a single stay.

Sticky Martian dirt

The Mars Phoenix Lander has been thwarted yet again in its attempts to scoop up Martian soil into one of its lab instruments. You might remember the previous occasion when the soil was too clumpy to fall through the screen over the instruments. The same stickiness that made the soil clump together struck again in a worse way, where the soil wouldn't even drop from the scoop.

One crazy idea why the Martian soil got stuck on the scoop is because of the slime oozed from Martian life. Of course, realistically it's the half-melted water getting frozen on the scoop, although there could be some other chemical phenomenon that is the cause. While the researchers hoped to have analyzed a sample with water ice mixed in, they'll be analyzing dry samples while they figure out how to get watery samples into the instruments. I hope a short circuit doesn't break the instruments before watery samples can be analyzed.

This is yet another reason to send humans to Mars instead of just robots. With a human around, they could have just scraped off the dirt from the scoop, and we would probably done the same amount of science that the Phoenix has done so far weeks ago. I wish we had something like a space elevator to make space exploration much cheaper.

Angered by conservatives, blame liberals

It's very puzzling to me when a man, angry at not being able to get a job and being cut off from food stamps, would go out and shoot at people in a Unitarian Universalist church for their liberalism. Isn't outsourcing and reduction of welfare more of a conservative right agenda? And isn't it the conservative right's agenda for as little oversight and control of the financial markets a big reason for the current severe downturn in the economy? And why did he have to go and shoot at Unitarian Universalists, especially when they had nothing at all to do with his woes?

With Unitarian Universalism being one of the few religions I have great respect for, it's quite sad to hear them being attacked for something they have no responsibility for. Incidents like these also just reinforce the belief that irrational people are often unable to realize the problems they themselves or their beliefs cause, and instead blame the ones who actually want to make things better.

Blogging has a glass ceiling?

It's been reported that while a roughly comparable number of men and women blog, blogs maintained by women apparently attract less attention. Some women believe that it's because people tend to take a woman's blog less seriously than that of a man. I have to wonder if this is really the case. In most of the blogs I read and comment on, I don't even know if the writer is a man or a woman, and frankly, I don't care. For that matter, I often don't even have a clue about a writer's race, age, job, etc. Am I an anomaly? Are there really so many people who read blogs depending on the writer's gender?