Icy moons, exciting targets of exploration

The Interior of Enceladus Looks Really Great for Supporting Life
Article in UniverseToday on one of Saturn’s moons

In the early days of space exploration it was the rocky planets, particularly Mars and Venus that held some hope of significant life. Though those with the tools of observation and analysis were pretty negative and life in the rest of the solar system looked impossible. But as our knowledge and tools expanded the icy moons quickly became of interest because as cold region natives know, ice is not a bad insulator and a couple of miles of it would protect a lake. These days it seems pretty clear that Icy Moons often have oceans, seas or lakes inside, and the heat that melts the ice from underneath (from orbital stresses and or radioactive decay) could quite conceivably support life.

The article linked discusses model based research based on data from earlier orbiters and flybys. It shows that notionally their are several mechanisms that could be feeding nutrients and energy sources into the ocean of Enceladus, at a rate suffient to support a significant biome.

There are lots of other interesting articles on space at universe today website, take a look.

Wow this is … Fantastic

20140201-170827.jpgA composite image showing jets and radio-emitting lobes emanating from Centaurus A’s central black hole. Credit: NASA/ESO/WFI
The photo-art and the article it goes with. The article Grey is the new black hole: is Stephen Hawking right? Jan 29, 2014 by Geraint Lewis at The Conversation. It is a great piece of science writing explaining the evolution of our understanding of Black Holes and the context of Hawking’s latest pronouncements

Talk about taking your breath away

When tectonics killed everything
by Johnny Bontemps

Permian Seafloor — More than 90 percent of ocean species vanished during the Permian extinction. Credit: University of Michigan Exhibit of Natural History


Late Permian (260 million years ago) — All the world’s lands had joined into a single supercontinent, Pangea, and all the world’s sea water had formed a global ocean, Panthalassa. Credit: Ron Blakey, NAU Geology

Some 300 million years ago, at the beginning of the Permian period, all the world’s lands had joined into a single supercontinent, Pangea, and all the world’s sea water had formed a global ocean, Panthalassa.

The formation of Pangea led to higher mountains and deeper oceans. According to an equilibrium principle, a giant continent should have a thicker crust than each scattered continent, and the oceans should become deeper. This recession of water away from the land would have eliminated a lot of the biodiversity that thrives in shallow water near the coasts. This recession would have also led to changes in ocean currents and wind patterns, initiating global climate changes.
What’s more, the inland region of one giant continent would become dry and arid, leading to the disappearance of much vegetation.

But something else also went on, deep within the Earth.

When the lands joined, some tectonic plates moved under others and sunk deep into the Earth’s mantle. That cooler material then may have reached all the way to the Earth’s core layer. Evidence for that includes the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field that occurred around that time, an event called the Illawarra magnetic reversal.

The accumulation of cool material near Earth’s core then could have led to the formation of a large mantle plume (by a process called thermo-convection), other researchers had suggested. That “super-plume” would eventually reach the Earth’s surface in two separate bursts—first with an eruption in China 260 million years ago, and then with the other in Russia 251 million years ago.

By that point, all life had nearly vanished.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-11-tectonics.html#jCp

newScientist: 6 months in the air? Swifts, natures endurance mini drone…

20131014-194818.jpgSwifts stay airborne for six months at a time: by Andy Coghlan. 08 October 2013
It’s possible young swifts don’t spend much or any time on the ground for three years.
Some theorize sleeping on the wing or shutting down half the brain. But it’s known that dolphins and suspected other large marine mammals can be awake for weeks at a time with no harm.