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Methane-Based Life Possible On Titan 69

Randym writes: With the simultaneous announcement of a possible nitrogen-based, cell-like structure allowing life outside the "liquid water zone" (but within a methane atmosphere) announced by researchers at Cornell (academic paper) and the mystery of fluctuating methane levels on Mars raising the possibility of methane-respiring life, there now exists the possibility of a whole new branch of the tree of life that does not rely on either carbon or oxygen for respiration. We may find evidence of such life here on Earth down in the mantle where "traditional" life cannot survive, but where bacteria has evolved to live off hydrocarbons like methane and benzene.

NASA Releases Details of Titan Submarine Concept 119

Zothecula writes: Now that NASA has got the hang of planetary rovers, the space agency is looking at sending submarines into space around the year 2040. At the recent 2015 NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts Symposium, NASA scientists and engineers presented a study of the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design (PDF), which outlines a possible mission to Saturn's largest moon, Titan, where the unmanned submersible would explore the seas of liquid hydrocarbons at the Titanian poles.

"At its heart, the submarine would use a 1 kW radiothermal Stirling generator. This would not only provide power to propel the craft, but it would also keep the electronics from freezing. Unfortunately, Titan is so cold that it's almost a cryogenic environment, so the waste heat from the generator would cause the liquids around it to boil and this would need be taken into account when designing the sub to minimize interference. However, NASA estimates that the boat could do about one meter per second (3.6 km/h, 2.2 mph)."

Blizzard Has Canceled Titan, Its Next-gen MMO 155

Ptolemarch writes: Blizzard never officially announced it, but now it's gone: Titan, the next-generation MMO that had been in development for seven years, has been canceled. Mike Morhaime said, "[W]e set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn't come together. We didn't find the fun. We didn't find the passion. We talked about how we put it through a reevaluation period, and actually, what we reevaluated is whether that's the game we really wanted to be making. The answer is no." Polygon adds an article detailing everything publicly known about Titan (which wasn't much). MMO-Champion's report mentions rumors of a new project at Blizzard called Prometheus.

Waves Spotted On Titan 73

minty3 writes "Planetary scientists believe they have observed waves rippling on one of Titan's seas. The findings, presented on March 17 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, describes how the Cassini spacecraft captured images of sunlight glinting off the Punga Mare (abstract), suggesting they are not reflective sunlight but waves." The Planetary Society recently posted a nice breakdown of the basics about Titan's lakes: "To flow with liquid, those river valleys must have been filled with methane that came from higher elevations; it had to rain methane on Titan. Rainfall runs off, and then what? It must pool somewhere. What we learned from the Cassini orbiter at Saturn is that there are lakes on Titan. ... Rainfall, river runoff, lakes, evaporation into clouds, rainfall again. Cassini has seen clouds make storms on Titan. We have seen the whole cycle -- it's just like Earth's water cycle, but with a completely different substance [methane], and much, much colder."

Blizzard's Unannounced 'Titan' MMO Rebooted, Development Team Reduced 193

An anonymous reader writes "VentureBeat reports that the next-gen MMO Blizzard Entertainment has been hinting at since 2007, codenamed 'Titan,' is getting restarted with a drastically reduced development team. It was originally being built by a 100-person 'dream team' of developers that had their roots in other popular Blizzard games. Many people were expecting an announcement about Titan at this year's Blizzcon, but now that looks unlikely. 'Blizzard's development teams aren't known for their speed. The publisher often cancels projects that have been in the works for years if it believes that those games don't meet its standard of quality.' VentureBeat's sources say the game is now looking at a 2016 release at the earliest."

Too Much Gold Delays World's Fastest Supercomputer 111

Nerval's Lobster writes "The fastest supercomputer in the world, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's 'Titan,' has been delayed because an excess of gold on its motherboard connectors has prevented it from working properly. Titan was originally turned on last October and climbed to the top of the Top500 list of the fastest supercomputers shortly thereafter. Problems with Titan were first discovered in February, when the supercomputer just missed its stability requirement. At that time, the problems with the connectors were isolated as the culprit, and ORNL decided to take some of Titan's 200 cabinets offline and ship their motherboards back to the manufacturer, Cray, for repairs. The connectors affected the ability of the GPUs in the system to talk to the main processors. Oak Ridge Today's John Huotari noted the problem was due to too much gold mixed in with the solder."

Craters Quickly Hidden On Titan 39

MightyMartian writes "NASA scientists say Cassini has discovered that far fewer craters are visible on Titan than on the other moons of Saturn. The craters they have discovered are far shallower than other moons' craters and appear to be filling with hydrocarbon sand. On top of being another reason Titan's active geology is very cool, it adds to the mystery of where all the methane on Titan is coming from. 'The rain that falls from Titan's skies is not water, but contains liquid methane and ethane, compounds that are gases at Earth's temperatures. ... The source of Titan's methane remains a mystery because methane in the atmosphere is broken down over relatively short time scales by sunlight. Fragments of methane molecules then recombine into more complex hydrocarbons in the upper atmosphere, forming a thick, orange smog that hides the surface from view. Some of the larger particles eventually rain out onto the surface, where they appear to get bound together to form the sand.'"

The Swirling Vortex of Titan 45

sighted writes "New images from the robotic spacecraft Cassini show the ongoing formation of a massive vortex in the atmosphere of Saturn's planet-sized moon Titan. (See also this animation.) The same moon has recently provided tantalizing hints of an underground ocean as well. Future missions, if any are ever funded, will have plenty to explore."

Is There a Subsurface Water Ocean On Titan? 57

Stirling Newberry writes "Luciano Iess and team have hypothesized that Titan joins Earth, Europa, and Ganymede as ocean worlds. They measured the size of the tidal bulges and found that the moon is likely not solid (abstract). Team member Jonathan Lunine points out that Titan's methane atmosphere is not stable, so it needs some source, perhaps from outgassing. On Earth, water means life, and in the future, ice covered ocean worlds are targets for human colonization. As the late Arthur C. Clarke observed, water is the most precious substance in the universe to humans."

Why Mars Is Not the Best Place To Look For Life 298

EccentricAnomaly writes "A story over at Science News quotes Alan Stern (former head of NASA Science missions) as saying: 'The three strongest candidates [for extraterrestrial life] are all in the outer solar system.' He's referring to Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. So why is NASA spending $2.5B on the next Mars Rover and planning to spend over $6B more on a Mars sample return when it can't find the money for much cheaper missions to Europa or Enceladus?"

Titan May Have Water Ocean Under the Surface 64

RedEaredSlider writes "NASA's Cassini probe, in orbit around Saturn, may have discovered evidence for a liquid water ocean under the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. The data comes from radar observations of the surface that measure Titan's rotation and tell how it is oriented relative to the plane of its orbit — its axial tilt. According to a paper to be published in an upcoming issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics (preprint PDF at, the new data showed that many of the planet's surface features were in the wrong place, sometimes off by as much as 30 kilometers (19 miles). Titan always presents the same face toward Saturn, just like the Moon does to Earth. But in those situations, one expects that the moon will be in the 'Cassini state,' which means that the axial tilt will have a certain value. In Titan's case, the axial tilt was measured at 0.3 degrees. That seemed too high if one assumed Titan was a solid body."

Titan May Have an Ocean 109

olsmeister writes "Titan has been a particular focus of attention because of its dense, complex atmosphere, its weather and its lakes and oceans. Now it looks as if Titan is even stranger still. The evidence comes from careful observations of Titan's orbit and rotation. This indicates that Titan has an orbit similar to our Moon's; it always presents the same face toward Saturn and its axis of rotation tilts by about 0.3 degrees. This data allows astronomers to work out Titan's moment of inertia and points to something interesting. The numbers indicate that Titan's moment of inertia can only be explained if it is a solid body that is denser near the surface than it is at its center."

Hints of Life Found On Saturn's Moon Titan 227

Calopteryx writes "New Scientist reports that in 2005, researchers predicted two potential signatures of life on Titan. Now, thanks to research done with the help of the Cassini spacecraft, both have been seen, although non-biological chemical reactions could also be behind the observations. NASA's writeup has further details: 'One key finding comes from a paper online now in the journal Icarus [abstract] that shows hydrogen molecules flowing down through Titan's atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Another paper online now in the Journal of Geophysical Research maps hydrocarbons on the Titan surface and finds a lack of acetylene. This lack of acetylene is important because that chemical would likely be the best energy source for a methane-based life on Titan, said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., who proposed a set of conditions necessary for this kind of methane-based life on Titan in 2005. One interpretation of the acetylene data is that the hydrocarbon is being consumed as food. But McKay said the flow of hydrogen is even more critical because all of their proposed mechanisms involved the consumption of hydrogen.'"

Microbial Life Found In Trinidadian Hydrocarbon Lake 141

KentuckyFC writes "Pitch Lake is a poisonous, foul-smelling hell hole on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. It is filled with hot asphalt and bubbling with noxious hydrocarbon gases and carbon dioxide. Various scientists have suggested that it is the closest thing on Earth to the kind of hydrocarbon lakes they can see on Saturn's moon Titan. Now a group of researchers has discovered that the lake is teeming with microbial life which is thriving in the oxygen-free environment with very little water, eating hydrocarbons and respiring with metals. Gene sequence analysis indicates that these bugs are single-celled organisms such as archea and bacteria. The researchers say the discovery has exciting implications for the possibility of life on Titan. There is a growing sense that Titan has all the ingredients for life: thermodynamic disequilibrium, abundant carbon-containing molecules, and a fluid environment. There is also evidence that liquid water may not be as important for life as everybody has assumed, since some microorganisms can make their own water by chewing on various hydrocarbons. That may make Titan an even better place to look for life than previously thought."

Proposed NASA Mission Would Sail the Seas of Titan 197

The BBC has a report on a proposal that will be submitted to NASA for funding — a mission to Saturn's moon Titan that would deposit a lander on its hydrocarbon sea. (We recently discussed the widely-circulated photo of sunlight glinting off one of Titan's seas.) "The scientific team behind the idea is targeting Ligeia Mare, a vast body of liquid methane sited in the high north of Saturn's largest moon. ... 'It is something that would really capture the imagination,' said Dr Ellen Stofan, from Proxemy Research, who leads the study team. 'The story of human exploration on Earth has been one of navigation and seafaring, and the idea that we could explore for the first time an extraterrestrial sea I think would be mind-blowing for most people,' she told BBC News. ... The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) has already been under study for about two years. It is envisaged as a relatively low-cost endeavor — in the low $400m range. It could launch in January 2016, and make some flybys of Earth and Jupiter to pick up the gravitational energy it would need to head straight at the Saturnian moon for a splash down in June 2023."

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