Wednesday, October 19, 2011

PBS Nova: "Finding Life Beyond Earth" gives a state-of-the-art exploration of the Solar System

If you want a grand tour of every feasible scenario for the development of life on other bodies in our Solar System, watch PBS Nova’s two –part “Finding Life Beyond Earth”.

The first hour gave a sneak –preview of what methane lakes could look like on Titan, before giving the history of planets – how our solar system’s are what remains after many collisions.  The later part fot he hour studies underground water on Mars, suggesting that liquid could temporarily exist underground.

The program showed an animation of the surface of a comet, with its jets than have been shown to contain some building blocks for amino acids.

The second hour looked at Io, Europa, Encedalus (with the spectacular snow geysers hundreds of kilometers tall), and again Titan.  The key concept is that the big planets Jupiter and Saturn produce enormous internal friction on their satellites. The information on Saturn's moons came largely from the Cassini voyage in early 2005. 

Squires said that it would be enormously difficult to drill through miles of ice on Europa to explore an ocean below many miles deep.  The presence of life near volcanic jets in ocean bottoms in arctic regions made the case for “extremophiles” that could live in similar circumstances on Europa.

A scientist creates an experiment with liquid methane and mixing thiolins known to exist on Titan to see if they can create organic molecules when exposed to lightning.  Would hydrocarbon rain generate thunderstorms the way water can (without the same bonding angle that water has)?

Science Daily (June 2010) has an interesting analysis of the chemistry of Titan's atmosphere (the lack of acetylene) and a realistic artist's picture here.

This film had the most vivid impressions of the surfaces of other moons yet. The film ended with some speculations about earth-like planets in other solar systems. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of jets on Encedalus.

In my own sci-fi screenplay script "69 Minutes to Titan", I hypothesize that angels have set up Titan as a basis for travel to other solar systems for humans who survive the coming "Purification".  

Basic link for the show.

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