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It's Raining Methane (Updated With Boodling)

   There's a big data dump today about Titan, Saturn's moon-on-steroids. Titan, as you recall, is the only place in the Solar System other than Earth that has weather. And what weather! It rains methane. The new findings say there may be methane springs. Worried about the smell? Then you don't want to know about the methane humidity. Yes, it's like 50 percent relative methane humidity, which is a prescription for one malodorous moon. Also there may be methane fog.

    The information comes from the probe Huygens, operated by the European Space Agency, which landed on Titan last December [oops, make that January]. The images taken by Huygens showed what appeared to be a landscape shaped by liquids. There seem to be the equivalent of dry lakebeds. According to the press release today: "From these features, along with apparent 'ponds' and elongated 'islands' oriented parallel to the 'coastline', the scientists can propose explanations for the nature of the brightness variations spread throughout the images. They appear to be controlled by a flow of 'runny' liquids (consistent with methane, ethane or both) down slopes, whether caused by precipitation or springs."

    I realize that some people may be less than thrilled to learn about mysterious liquids on some nasty moon that is upwards of a couple of billion miles away. But Titan is just so much more interesting than your average cold, dead, pebble-strewn, icy, airless moon. Titan is dynamic, a molecular playground, a chemist's dream. But maybe some people will never see the magic and grandeur of hydrocarbons.

   [For images of Titan and its neighbors, click here.]

   [Now, our 3:15 update:

    Whereas the big kitter dunt actually know what he's talking about, ScienceTim, boodler extraordinaire (French for "very good boodler"), happens to be a Titan atmosphere expert. He gets paid to know about Titan's air! What a world we live in! What interesting people we have hanging around this blog! So here are some excerpts of what he posted today:

    "What makes Titan so darned interesting to us planetary atmospheres-types is not just the hydrocarbons, it's the nitriles. Titan and Earth sport the only substantial atmospheres in the solar system that are nitrogen-rich. Titan's atmosphere represents our best current handle on what the Earth's original atmosphere looked like, although it would have been warmer and receiving more ultraviolet light than Titan. Solar UV cooks the upper atmosphere and creates new compounds -- methane and nitrogen get converted into various hydrocarbons and nitriles.

    "When I do public presentations on Titan, I offer the following simile: imagine preparing two batches of cake batter. Bake one cake and leave it on the counter. Put the other cake in the deep freeze. Wait 4-and-a-half billion years. The cake on the counter is all covered with green fuzzy stuff and a lot has changed. If you wanted to find out what goes into cake batter, which would be a better place to look -- the green and fuzzy cake, or the frozen one? Neither one gives you a precise list of the original ingredients, but two examples are better than one....

    "There is serious speculation that underneath Titan's outer shell, presumably composed mainly of water ice, there may be a liquid water ocean. The case is pretty solid for Europa to have an interior ocean; there is some evidence for Ganymede and Callisto to have interior oceans. Titan would be the first to have two completely independent oceans on top of one another -- a cool and flavorful hydrocarbon cycle on top, a crunchy layer of ice, then a refreshing layer of delicious salt water, all layered over a small and rocky nougat core. Tasty!...

   "[T]he first question that every class asks me when I speak to school groups is "Are there aliens?" Titan is another step towards answering that question, as well as the question "Where did we come from?" One of the big lessons of the past 25 years or so is that life is vastly more abundant, more inventive, more versatile than we mere humans had conceived. Every day is a surprise. The fictional Ian Malcolm is right: "Life finds a way."

   "Conceivably, Titan could have life buried under its crust. Conceivably, there could be some kind of life that lives off the methane hydrological cycle, based on chemistry we never thought relevant...."

  Read the Comments, also known as the Boodle, for more of same, plus a digressive conversation betwixt Dreamer (the New Agey persona of Achen/TomFan) and Tim on what we do and don't know and whether we know what we don't know or still don't have the foggiest notion of what we don't know.

    (ScienceTim: My own guess, and I did kind of write a book about this stuff but it's receding into my mental methane fog, is that there is a measurable quantity of wishful thinking whenever people talk about life in one of those still-hypothetical subsurface oceans on the Jovian and Saturnine -- is that the word??? -- moons. I'm not saying life's not there, only that this is the Preferred Answer. And one has to always guard against the Believing is Seeing problem. Everyone wants to find life, because it would be mighty scary if Earth is not only unusual but freakishly anomalous, to the point that there's hardly anything out there at all. The last thing you'd want to find out is that the most powerful organism in the universe is a guy who somehow wound up president of the United States and couldn't find Saturn, much less the Andromeda Galaxy, if you let him spend an ENTIRE DAY fiddling with Mapquest.-JA) 

    Meanwhile Curmudgeon has a song in his heart:

    I'm singing in the methane
    Just singing in the methane
    What a glorious feelin'
    I'm happy again
    I'm laughing at other moons
    So cold, dead, pebble-strewn, icy, and
    airless up above
    The sun's far, far away
    And I'm ready for love
    Let the flatulance chase
    Everyone from the place
    Come on with the methane
    I've a rictus on my face
    I walk down the lane
    With a happy refrain
    Just singin',
    Singin' in the methane ]

By Joel Achenbach  |  December 1, 2005; 10:44 AM ET
 
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Comments

Perhaps they should rename it Flatulus.

Posted by: CowTown | December 1, 2005 10:49 AM | Report abuse

"nasty moon that upwards of a couple of billion miles away."

[I don't know if this is a mistake or not -- maybe you're just getting creative with the language; I try to keep an open mind.]

Posted by: Tom fan | December 1, 2005 10:53 AM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, this one's ALL YOURS.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 10:54 AM | Report abuse

CowTown:
Or they could rename it CowMoon, or TitanInTheField, or ToRainMethaneIsBovine, or something.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 1, 2005 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Doh! Another one:

"Titan and it's [sic] neighbors"

Posted by: Tom fan | December 1, 2005 11:04 AM | Report abuse

At least I caught the "it's neighbors."

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I did catch it! I swear.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Did we vote yesterday for best comment for Curmudge...midst laurels stood?

Posted by: newkidontheblog | December 1, 2005 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Ha! Funny, CowTown.

Posted by: Sara | December 1, 2005 11:07 AM | Report abuse

One thing I perhaps should have mentioned about Titan is that, in addition to having methane humidity, it's also about minus-180 degrees C.
Talk about damp and chilly.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I believe ya; thousands wouldn't.

Posted by: Tom fan | December 1, 2005 11:07 AM | Report abuse

[Believe you about "its," I meant.]

Posted by: Tom fan | December 1, 2005 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Titan and its neighbors. Not it's.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 1, 2005 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Right up my, um, alley:

(1) Contrary to popular misconception, methane is a completely odorless gas. The stink when you or I (well, I for sure) fart is due to all the other nasty stuff that gets carried along witht he methane. The stink in gas stoves and furnaces, when they leak, is put there on purpose to make it harder to accidentally kill yourself. It has no effect upon your efforts to do so on purpose. I recall that there were a lot of fires and asphyxiations in the late 19th to early 20th centuries before the stink got added.

(2) The Huygens Probe entered Titan's atmosphere on January 15, 2005, at 10:10 AM Greenwich time (to be precise). I happened to be looking at a Hawaiian clock at the time, myself.

(3) What makes Titan so darned interesting to us planetary atmospheres-types is not just the hydrocarbons, it's the nitriles. Titan and Earth sport the only substantial atmospheres in the solar system that are nitrogen-rich. Titan's atmosphere represents our best current handle on what the Earth's original atmosphere looked like, although it would have been warmer and receiving more ultraviolet light than Titan. Solar UV cooks the upper atmosphere and creates new compounds -- methane and nitrogen get converted into various hydrocarbons and nitriles.

When I do public presentations on Titan, I offer the following simile: imagine preparing two batches of cake batter. Bake one cake and leave it on the counter. Put the other cake in the deep freeze. Wait 4-and-a-half billion years. The cake on the counter is all covered with green fuzzy stuff and a lot has changed. If you wanted to find out what goes into cake batter, which would be a better place to look -- the green and fuzzy cake, or the frozen one? Neither one gives you a precise list of the original ingredients, but two examples are better than one.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 11:11 AM | Report abuse

It is my understanding that the Boodler of the Week Award is bestowed by The Great Achz himself. Among other things, this system ensures that Boodlers (or rajahs, or rajneeshis, or whatever we're called these days) cannot vote for themselves.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 1, 2005 11:13 AM | Report abuse

-180 deg. and smells like truck stop men's room. Guess the wife and I will have to find another vacation spot.

Posted by: CowTown | December 1, 2005 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm singing in the methane
Just singing in the methane
What a glorious feelin'
I'm happy again
I'm laughing at other moons
So cold, dead, pebble-strewn, icy, and
airless up above
The sun's far, far away
And I'm ready for love
Let the flatulance chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the methane
I've a rictus on my face
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singin',
Singin' in the methane

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 11:16 AM | Report abuse

If there's methane rain, there's gotta be methane snow... Where are my skis???

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Also, I had a really jackassy idea about an alternative naming system for the Kit and Kaboodle. But I must point out in advance that I'm kidding here, i.e., no offense!

Here goes:

Achenbach could call the Kit his High Horse -- that way, when he comes down here to mingle with us he could say he was Coming Down From His High Horse.

See? It really IS jackassy. I don't REALLY think of Joel as sitting on a high horse. But if the Kit were already called Joel's High Horse, then, if an angry Googler came in and told him to get off his high horse, it wouldn't be as insulting as it normally would be -- it'd just be a benign fact.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 1, 2005 11:22 AM | Report abuse

There's a Boodler of the Week award? Where have I been? I've missed out on so many happenings.

Posted by: Sara | December 1, 2005 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"Titan, as you recall, is the only place in the Solar System other than Earth that has weather."

How do you define "weather"? Mars has dust storms, Venus has lightning, the gas giants have wind, the Sun has all sorts of chromospheric stuff going on, and even Pluto has an atmosphere for part of its orbit...

Posted by: BerkeleyBoy | December 1, 2005 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Haha! I think that's a great idea, Achenfan. Especially where the "get off your high horse" thing is concerned. I like it when you can change insults into regular, everyday facts.

Posted by: Sara | December 1, 2005 11:24 AM | Report abuse

And there's more, more, more!

(4) There is serious speculation that underneath Titan's outer shell, presumably composed mainly of water ice, there may be a liquid water ocean. The case is pretty solid for Europa to have an interior ocean; there is some evidence for Ganymede and Callisto to have interior oceans. Titan woulod be the first to have two completely independent oceans on top of one another -- a cool and flavorful hydrocarbon cycle on top, a crunchy layer of ice, then a refreshing layer of delicious salt water, all layered over a small and rocky nougat core. Tasty!

(5) Note that the article at the ESA web site that Joel linked mentions that methane is irreversibly converted to other hydrocarbons. This is one of the principal issues in Titan science today, and a major motivation for the next Titan probe mission (in the blue-sky-speculation phases right now): why does Titan still have methane in its atmosphere? The methane is photochemically converted to ethane, acetylene, and a zillion other hydrocarbons in the upper atmosphere, which diffuse downwards through the atmosphere until they condense at the bottom of the stratosphere and settle down to form clouds and/or rain. The surface is COLD, so the condensed hydrocarbons just sit there. Why hasn't all the methane been used up and left to sit on the surface in the form of other hydrocarbons? It has to be getting transported back to the upper atmosphere, but there's no evidence for how it happens.

So, why should anybody care? It's true that none of this will affect whether you have enough to eat tomorrow. However, the first question that every class asks me when I speak to school groups is "Are there aliens?" Titan is another step towards answering that question, as well as the question "Where did we come from?" One of the big lessons of the past 25 years or so is that life is vastly more abundant, more inventive, more versatile than we mere humans had conceived. Every day is a surprise. The fictional Ian Malcolm is right: "Life finds a way."

Conceivably, Titan could have life buried under its crust. Conceivably, there could be some kind of life that lives off the methane hydrological cycle, based on chemistry we never thought relevant. Conceivably, there may be none of that, but Titan still has lessons for us about how atmospheres in solar systems get put together and evolve. It's just so darned cool!

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I can't believe we haven't had someone post a lyrical tribute to The Weather Girls yet.

Posted by: mizerock | December 1, 2005 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Good point, mizerock. That sounds like a job for LunarCow . . . I can hear it now: "I'm gonna go out, and get myself, absolutely gassed . . ." Ugh. Yep -- I'd better leave it to CowTown, I think.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 1, 2005 11:35 AM | Report abuse

This is all nifty stuff. But it'd really be something if they spotted some footprints, particularly if they're one million years old.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 1, 2005 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Fun Facts about "It's Raining Men" (co-written by Paul Schaffer)

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2299&

Posted by: mizerock | December 1, 2005 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Funny you should be considering High Horse as a new name for the kit, when I've just been considering naming my soon to be delivered concrete horse ACHENHORSE (corny wordplay on RockinHorse). She won't be life-size, but she's pretty darn big. Big enough for little Phillip Flavius to "ride" when he's older. An artist friend of mine is going to paint her so's she'll be more realistic. I'm thinking black or chestnut. We'll see.

Posted by: Nani | December 1, 2005 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Ha! Achenhorse. And rocking chairs could be called Achenchairs -- especially if they were located on a porch.

And rock 'n' roll called be called Achenroll -- or did somebody else already mention that one?

And . . .

Posted by: Achenfan | December 1, 2005 11:41 AM | Report abuse

What most atmospheres-types seem to mean by "weather" is that there are constituents in the atmosphere that go in and out of the vapor phase under ambient conditions, and precipitate. Just moving the air around (dynamics) isn't weather, in that sense. You need rain and/or snow.

On Earth, we have water, which vaporizes and may recondense as a liquid or a solid, sprinkling down to the ground. On Titan, there is methane (and other hydrocarbons) filling the same role, then flowing once it reaches the ground, until it ponds. Sounds familiar? There is likely to be some evaporation from the surface back into the near-surface atmosphere, but not enough vertical transport to resupply methane in the upper atmosphere. The Huygens Probe measured about 5% methane near the surface, about 2.5% higher up. CO2 on Mars is kind of iffy about whether there's weather -- it freezes out onto the ground at the poles during winter, but it's not clear to me whether it precipitates (weather) or just forms a solid frost directly on the ground. H2O on Mars forms clouds, but does not precipitate. Jupiter actually does have weather -- but it is the spontaneous rain-out of liquid helium deep in Jupiter's interior at incredibly high pressure, where it can only be inferred, I think we will never be able to build a device that could directly explore it. (But who knows?)

Joel, you blogged on Titan today just to keep me from... finishing my paper on the atmosphere of Titan, didn't you?

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Bayou Self;

Didn't they spot a large, black rectangular sort of monolith?

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I'm still trying to come to grips with the idea that Tim does presentations on Titan. I mean, the commute must be hell!

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Every time we get new pictures of a solid surface in the solar system, I cross my fingers and hope to see the alien equivalent of a Coke can lying there. Trash and waste are better than statues and pyramids. Humanity's conscious works are swell and all that, but if aliens were to look to our solar system for signs of intelligent life, the best indicator would be our pollution. The presence of complex hydrocarbons in an oxygen-rich atmosphere is a sure sign of technology, and it's worldwide.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 11:48 AM | Report abuse

K-guy;

Even if Tim telecommutes, the time lag must REALLY foul up the Q&A portion.

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Gassy satellite
Its rains are cold profusion
Lousy picnic site

Posted by: CowSan | December 1, 2005 11:57 AM | Report abuse

OK, that first song was a little sappy. Let's try something a little more contemporary and C&W (Cowtown, Loomis, Bayou Self, this one's for you folks):

I'll never let you see
The way my broken heart is hurting me
I've got my pride and I know how to hide
All the sorrow and pain
I'll do my crying in the methane

If I wait for cloudy skies
You won't know the methane from the tears in my eyes
You'll never know that I still love you
So though the heartaches remain
I'll do my crying in the methane

Methane drops falling from heaven
Will never wash away my misery
But since we're not together
I'll wait for stormy weather
To hide these tears I hope you'll never see

Someday when my crying's done
I'm gonna wear a smile and walk in the sun
I may be a fool
But till then, darling, you'll never see me complain
I'll do my crying in the methane
I'll do my crying in the methane
I'll do my crying in the methane
I'll do my crying in the methane

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Fair disclosure: I didn't actually write those songs myself (I had some help).

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Haimoo?

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 12:01 PM | Report abuse

If the Kit becomes the Achenhorse, mustn't the Boodle neccessarily become the Achenhorse's (rump)?

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if we'd even be able to see the alien equivalent of a Coke can with our human senses. There could be all kinds of stuff there, only our brains aren't programmed or conditioned to recognize it.

"The way our brain is wired up we only see what we believe is possible. We match patterns that already exist within ourselves through conditioning. So a wonderful story that I believe is true is that when the Native American Indians on the Caribbean islands first saw Columbus's ships approaching they couldn't see them. Because it was so unlike anything they'd ever seen before, they couldn't see it."

-- Candace Pert, Ph.D.

"When Columbus's armada landed in the Caribbean, none of the natives were able to see the ships, even though they existed on the horizon. The reason that they never saw the ships was because they had no knowledge in their brains, or no experience, that clipper ships existed. So the shaman starts to notice that there are ripples out in the ocean, but he sees no ships. And he starts to wonder what's causing the effect. So every day he goes out and looks and looks and looks. And after a period of time, he's able to see the ships. And once he sees the ships, he tells everybody else that ships exist out there. Because everybody trusted and believed in him, they saw them also."

-- Joseph Dispenza

[Accompanied by much New Age-y music]

From the film "What the Bleep Do We Know!?"

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 12:04 PM | Report abuse

C-mudge, how about "Cow Flops Keep Fallin' on MY Head?"

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon, would you be willing to record that song? What is the tune? I have some fairly talented singer friends who could perform it for me. There is a long tradition of science-geek music (you really, REALLY need to check out the Chromatics and their AstroCapella CD). I'd do it myself, but I'd like people to hear it, and fingers in the ears make that hard to do. At least I don't have Weingarten's voice.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Great 'ku, CowSan -- you even managed to work in the correct usage of "Its"!

Posted by: Tom fan | December 1, 2005 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"The reason that they never saw the ships was because they had no knowledge in their brains, or no experience, that clipper ships existed."
Um, not to be tooo picky about this, but in the late 15th century, no one knew that clipper ships existed, because they wouldn't be invented for over 200 years.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe that bit about seeing only what we are programmed to see. My neurobiology family members refuse to say much about Candy Pert, but when her name comes up, it's always with a snort of derision.

Anyway, we are programmed to UNDERSTAND what we are prepared to see. We are programmed to try to understand what we see in terms of the intellectual models that we already have for what we should see. We are fully capable of recognizing when the things that we see fail to conform with our programming. It takes a period of orientiation to ensure that we are not simply experiencing an effect of looking at things funny, before we can fully accept that we are seeing something new. That's not a failure of imagination or a defect of primitive human brains, that's just good science.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, kurosawaguy! Again, it would provide immunity to insults: People could call any one of us a horse's ass [is it OK to say that word here?], and we could reply, "Yeah, so what's your point?"

Posted by: Achenfan | December 1, 2005 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Tim;

If Curmudgeon recorded the song, then the video would inevitably follow, and the costs of shooting on location would be a leeetle prohibitive, no?

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I had to go to some meetings...

Anyway, I looked over some of the Huygens data and raw images when they came in, and some of the early ones has features that resembled shorelines (and implied large bodies of liquid, assumed to be methane).

I guess on closer inspection, those images didn't reslove that way. Kinda like the original Viking pics from the Martian surface that showed a blue sky... a small filter adjustment later, it's a pink sky.

The Cassini images I saw earlier this week showing volcanic plumes from Enceladus were pretty cool, too.

I think we should see what going on at the surface of EuropaALL THESE WORLD ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.because it has a high probabilty forUSE THEM TOGETHER. USE THEM IN PEACE.life.

Hey, I think TypePad's really freaking out here. I think.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim, if you ever heard me actually sing, you wouldn't ask. It really would be cow flops falling on my head. But go ahead and run with it if you can find somebody else who can carry a tune.

Ditto Tom Fan, liked the 'ku too.

Uh...why does Joe Dispenza think Columbus arrived in the New World in a clipper ship? Not only didn't the natives know what a clipper ship was...neither did Columbus. (But good opportunity to work in two ellipseseseses.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Scotty, were there a bunch of monkeys around the monololith, with the sound of Also Sprach Zarathustra
in the background?

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 1, 2005 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey. "dump", "methane", "nasty", "smell", "runny", and there are a few other choice words in there.

Joel, you've been hanging out with Gene again, haven't you?

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Methane monkeys, BS? And I KNEW I'd heard that sound somewhere before...

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 12:25 PM | Report abuse

This is good -- during all the time I've been posting "Bleep" quotes on this site, no-one's really reacted to them or argued with them in any substantial way (IIRC). At least now I can say that the quotes perhaps merited a response.

"Just by talking and thinking about these ideas, whether you agree with them or not, you're affecting the quantum foam." [Not sure who said that one, but I kind of like it -- of course.]

At the end of the day, what we know with certainty pales into insignificance alongside what we *don't* know. And what we *know* we don't know is, again, tiny compared with what we *don't even know* we don't know.

[Gets carted away to Woodhaven for babbling incoherently]

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the blue sky is back for Mars. To the extent that the sky appeared pink, it was only scattering from reddish dust. The sky is mostly clear and Rayleigh-scattering, like the Earth's sky. It really is bluish.

There was a longstanding theory that there could be standing pools of hydrocarbons on Titan. The Cassini radar and near-IR images reinforced that, to some extent, but there's no direct evidence for oceans or big lakes. Huygens didn't see any such thing, but Huygens knows about only one spot. There remains evidence for coastlines and structures like rivers, based on morphology, but Cassini can't see if there is a fluid filling them. Maybe they are only occasionally filled. It is possible that liquids seep down into a granular surface after flowing for a while.

The next Titan probe likely will be either a balloon (hot air ballooning is pretty easy in a frigid atmosphere with massive molecules) or maybe even a helicopter. Then you can see what a lot of the surface is like. Personally, I love the idea of an airplane. You could take your own oxygen and run an internal-combustion engine. I'm assured that it is an inefficient solution to powering a Titan aircraft, compared to nuclear, but the idea still amuses me.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, digressing, it's raining Astroturf.

I get e-mail updates from the GOP. Today's featured a link to the Presidents plan in Iraq and a pitch about how he's doing a good job. There's also this link ...

http://www.republicanvictoryteam.com/GetActive/WriteNewspapers.aspx

This takes you to a handy online letter-writing spot, so that one can send comments to newspapers. It comes with a veritable crib sheet of talking points, from which one could simply cut and paste, if one wanted to. Which, of course, many do.

I thought this peek behind the curtain might be of interest to Joel and some of you political types. I've read before where virtually the same letter (Astroturf is the political nickname for this) lands in papers all over the country, with different names on them.

Of course, there's nothing to stop anybody from just writing whatever letter they might want to write. Which you could do if you were so inclined, using the link I posted.

I suggest flooding newspapers with requests for more Titan coverage? "Dear Editor. An issue of cosmic importance is being neglected by your publication and I wish to bring this to your attention. Amid the runny liquids of the moon Tital, there are reports that a large monolith has been found."

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 1, 2005 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Re. "clipper ships":

I guess he used the wrong word, which is too bad. He probably lost a lot of people at "clipper ships." He lost my husband when he accidentally said "mediocracy" instead of "mediocrity" in a different part of the film. But the guy's a scientist [sorry, Science Tim], not a historian, a grammarian, or an expert on ships.

Still, all this shows how word usage can affect a person's credibility.

Posted by: Dreamer and Tom fan | December 1, 2005 12:38 PM | Report abuse

BS, more science coverage is always a good thing. *nodding*

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I don't respond to the "Bleep" quotes because they're airy-fairy bloviating. Sorry, it's just the way I feel. Epistemological discussions of how we don't know what we don't know are not terribly interesting to me. I'm more interested in how we know what we do know. While science trades in continual falsification of old ideas to be replaced by new ones, the replacements are usually in the nature of refinements; those big paradigm shifts are wonderful, the stuff that every scientist dreams of doing, but they're not common. The world is not flat, it's round, like a bowl. The world is not a bowl, it's a sphere. The world is not a sphere, it's slightly pear-shaped. Each idea replaces the earlier, wronger, idea, and gets replaced in its turn by a righter idea. However, the idea of spherical Earth is not nearly so wrong as a flat Earth. (I stole the successive-Earth model discussion from an old Isaac Asimov column in F&SF).

Rather than moaning about our limitations, let's think about how remarkable and wonderful it is that we can do what we can do. 2000 years ago, using sticks and guys who could measure their paces very well, Eratosthenes deduced the diameter of the Earth to better than 10% accuracy. The Greeks already knew perfectly well that the Earth was nearly spherical. Our first photograph of the whole Earth is less than 40 years old, but we have had fairly acccurate globes for centuries. We can see galaxies 10 billion light years away. We have learned that the universe is 13.2 billion years old, and that there is a mysterious force accelerating the growth of the universe. We can look at rocks and deduce that the Earth's atmosphere was once a poisonous brew of methane, nitrogen, cyanide, and other Titan-like chemicals. It is easy to decry our ability to answer all our big questions. It is hard to actually do something about it. You wanted all the answers at once? It doesn't work that way. We're working with a few pounds of skull-meat between our ears (thanks, Joel!), yet we have been able to accomplish so much with an organ whose major purpose was to give us a better chance than the next guy to get laid. Pretty "bleeping" incredible.

I'm not angry -- I'm just being passionate. You know, there's a reason I went to all the effort of going through college and grad school, it wasn't just a whim.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Bayou Self - The letter generator wouldn't let me write a silly letter to the editor. I got an error message. Does the GOP employ a silliness or bogusness filter?

Posted by: CowTown | December 1, 2005 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I can only agree and applaud, Tim.

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Bayou Self alluding to Wagner just inspired me to give it just one more try. Science Tim, this one goes out to you. I call it "Titan Up":

Hi, everybody, I'm Science Tim of the Huygens Probe
From the European Space Agency
We don't only sing but we dance
Just as good as we walk
On Titan we just started a new dance
Called the Titan Up
This is the music we Titan up with

First Titan up on the drums, come on now, drummer
I want you to Titan it up for me now Oh, yeah

Titan up on that solar UV now, Titan it up
Ha, ha, yeah
Now let that guitar fall in...oh, yeah
on January 15, 2005, at 10:10 a.m. Greenwich time
Titan up on that organ now

Yeah, you do the Titan up, yeah, now
I said, if you can do it now
It sure would be tough
Now look here, come on now
Now make it methane

Let's Titan it up now, do the Titan up
Everybody can do it now, so get to it

We're gonna Titan up
Let's do the Titan up
You can do it now
So baby, get to it

Look to your left now, look to your right
There's two oceans, one right on top of the other, oh, yeah

Come on and Titan up, let's Titan it up now
Let's Titan it up now, Titan it up
Do the Titan up, come and Titan it up
Titan it up now

Come on now, Timmy, Titan it up
Oh, yeah, sock it to me now, Titan it up

Come on and Titan up that bass, oh, yeah
Now look here, I want that guitar, to fall in on there
Titan it up now
Oh, yeah
Now Titan it up, organ
Yeah
Now everybody Titan it up now

Now look here,
a cool and flavorful hydrocarbon cycle on top,
a crunchy layer of ice,
then a refreshing layer of delicious salt water,
all layered over a small and rocky nougat core
We gonna make it rain methane for you now
We gonna make it smelly now

Titan it up
You can get it
Move to your left
Move to your right
Titan it up now
Everything will be outta sight
Come on and Titan it up
Titan it up now
You can do it...

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon: The Hardest Working Man in the Boodle.

Posted by: CowTown | December 1, 2005 12:54 PM | Report abuse

*wondering who gets to be Curmudgeon's Maceo*

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Oooooooooh. "Timmy." I hate that. I've hated that name since I was five. But I like the rest of the song.

Honestly, Dreamer, I'm not trying to crush you. It's just that this is something that I care about pretty deeply, so I can get a little ... exercised.

(The ellipsis: God's own punctuation. Or the Phantom's, whichever.)

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 12:59 PM | Report abuse

No one can possibly follow Curmudgeon's lyrics. Prhaps he can help me out with a little ditty that "goes a little something like this": (Remember those old country music tv shows where the singer always introduced his song by saying "...and it goes a little something like this"? I always wanted someone to say "...and it goes exactly like this."

The methane in Spain stays mainly in the plain.

Posted by: Nani | December 1, 2005 1:02 PM | Report abuse

What the *bleep* - "an infomercial for Ramtha". You were better off ignored than examined.

http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2005/04/what_the_bleep_.html

Posted by: mizerock | December 1, 2005 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Tim. methinks you are a little... exorcised, not exercised. Words do matter, and by the way, don't you just love to use "bloviating"? It ain't squamous, but it'll do in a pinch.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Gotta love the Titan Up. As performed by the Methane Monkeys.

Cow, can't tell you why you got an error. They perhaps have a filter to strike letters with certain key words and phrases. "Runny liquids" comes to mind.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 1, 2005 1:13 PM | Report abuse

No worries, ScienceTim. I wasn't offfended, and I hope I didn't offend *you*. I'm no scientist, but "Bleep" really resonated with me, and I can't help wondering whether the quantum physicists and other scientists interviewed in the film aren't onto something [perhaps you'll say they're ON something] -- aren't in fact on the verge of some big paradigm shift. Their views aren't conventional, and they tend to be pooh-poohed by most other scientists out there (and not all the "Bleep" scientists agree with each other, either) -- but they're still scientists, and they went to graduate school, etc., and they conduct scientific experiments just like other scientists. And when you think about it, weren't most of the scientists who made major discoveries in the past ridiculed by their contemporaries?

I just like to keep an open mind. But yes, I'm probably dreamin'. The views in the film just happen to coincide with some of the Buddhist philosophies, etc., that appeal to me, and it would be very nice if the world was the way the scientists in "Bleep" are saying it might be. But maybe it's just wishful thinking. What the bleep would I know . . .

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 1:13 PM | Report abuse

The scientists weren't "onto something", they were quoted badly out of context. It's a recruiting film for a cult. Please don't start recruiting here.


David Albert, a professor at the Columbia University physics department, has accused the filmmakers of warping his ideas to fit a spiritual agenda. "I don't think it's quite right to say I was 'tricked' into appearing," he said in a statement reposted by a critic on "What the Bleep's" Internet forum, "but it is certainly the case that I was edited in such a way as to completely suppress my actual views about the matters the movie discusses. I am, indeed, profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness. Moreover, I explained all that, at great length, on camera, to the producers of the film ... Had I known that I would have been so radically misrepresented in the movie, I would certainly not have agreed to be filmed."

"I certainly do not subscribe to the 'Ramtha School on Enlightenment,' whatever that is!" he finished. Albert provided Salon with an excerpt from a piece he's writing on the subject, in which he says, in part, "I'm unwittingly made to sound as if (maybe) I endorse its thesis."

http://salon.com/ent/feature/2004/09/16/bleep/index.html

Posted by: mizerock | December 1, 2005 1:17 PM | Report abuse

[OK, I promise this is the last thing I'll post about "Bleep" for today]

In response to the link mizerock posted:

"Almost from the beginning, we started reading that the movie had been financed by the Ramtha School, and it was a recruitment video for them. It was so bizarre for me to read this because I knew they didn't finance it -- I did. I wish they had -- I'd have a lot more money left!

"Then in the San Francisco Chronicle this woman wrote a review in which she referred to the people we interviewed as 'so-called experts.' Now here's a journalist . . . who has decided that the people we interviewed were 'so-called experts.' I mean, if you don't like the movie, if you think it's silly, if you think that *artistically*, fine. But to pick on the scientists who have spent years of their lives coming up with these discoveries? In our minds, they're the real heroes. Not the guys who hit balls with baseball bats. These people who have done the research, they're the heroes."

-- William Arntz, one of the directors of "What the Bleep Do We Know!?"

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Thenk yew, thenk yew ver' much. The hardest part was getting the metric scheme down (I used limbic pentathalon, which was used a lot by Shakespeare and Rod McKuen in "Stanyan Street").

Plus making it, you know, rhyme, and stuff.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Changing the subject, I'm not normally much of a fan of Tina Brown, but her column on Bob Woodward that the WaPo just posted a while ago is really, really good.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Gadzooks, I wish I didn't have so many meetings today. This is great stuff.

I think we all know that there's more to Everything than meets our Observing eyes.

Dreamer, somewhere down river of time there will be a Grand Unification between human science, consciousness, and spirituality, and that it will all end up being aspects of the same thing. I'd add that you stand a pretty good chance of getting there before most of us.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 1:50 PM | Report abuse

OK, it's late in the discussion, but to get back to the weather thing. I disagree with "dynamics but not weather" statement from ScienceTim. It's not technically correct to say Titan is the only extraterrestrial body with weather. Mars has CO2 that sublimates and condenses every year, so that's a phase change of an atmospheric constituent. Plus it has the winds and dust storms, etc. Venus has massive cloud decks, and Jupiter's red spot is a remarkable example of a persistent anticyclone, a circulation feature also found in our own atmosphere. What you can say is that Titan's atmosphere is the only one whose methane cycle resembles our own hydrological cycle, as far as we can tell so far. Or, Titan is the only terrestrial body whose atmosphere is interesting enough to merit silly songs and cow fart jokes.

Posted by: slothrop | December 1, 2005 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, bc! I think that's the nicest thing anybody's said to me all day -- possibly ever.

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Silly? SILLY! Well, I never...

No song for you, Slothrop.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 1:57 PM | Report abuse

No offense, curmudgeon. BTW, Archie Bell and the Drells called, and they want their song back.

Posted by: slothrop | December 1, 2005 2:05 PM | Report abuse

And, he (Curmudgeon) does Elvis impressions!! "Thank yew, thank yew ver much"

Posted by: Nani | December 1, 2005 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Re: Tintinabulating Tina's take on BW:

This is the "fact-free ethical anarchy of the blogosphere"???

I thought we were an autonomous collective...

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 2:23 PM | Report abuse

In a world of cool science and captivating discovery, ScienceTim brings science and a moon alive to the average joe.

"- a cool and flavorful hydrocarbon cycle on top, a crunchy layer of ice, then a refreshing layer of delicious salt water, all layered over a small and rocky nougat core."

Even 10 year olds will see this picture. I hope some of your presentations are strictly for kids, Tim.

Posted by: dr | December 1, 2005 2:24 PM | Report abuse

You're welcome, Dreamer.

Me, I'm too mentally disorganized to focus on spiritual enlightenment. The worldly distractions of poop jokes and cleavage are simply too much for me to ignore.

Look for me hanging on to the caboose of the Evolutionary Enlightenment Train, wondering how I can get to the bar car.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 2:27 PM | Report abuse

bc: "Look for me hanging on to the caboose of the Evolutionary Enlightenment Train, wondering how I can get to the bar car."

That's a country and western lyric (if not an entire title) just dyin' to be done.

Concur, dr--I liked that line a lot, too.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Baggy turtleneck for Porching Hour: Check.

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 2:34 PM | Report abuse

From Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut:

"Saturn has nine moons, the greatest of which is Titan.

Titan is only slightly smaller than Mars.

Titan is the only moon in the Solar System that has an atmosphere. There is plenty of oxygen to breathe.

The atmosphere of Titan is like the atmosphere outside the back door of an Earthling bakery on a spring morning.

Titan has a natural chemical furnace at its core that maintains a uniform air temperature of sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit.

There are three seas on Titan, each the size of Earthling Lake Michigan. The waters of all three are fresh and emerald clear. The names of the three are the Winston Sea, the Niles Sea, and the Rumfoord Sea."

And so on.


========
There was some reason Vonnegut chose this particular chunk of rock as a setting for his book--one reader on Amazon.com says Sirens of Titan is "The Greatest Book Ever Written." It's certainly in my top ten list, and I think the only reason it hasn't been mentioned yet in today's kit is because yellojkt hasn't made an appearance.

Anyway, I'm always happy to have a chance to promote the Sirens of Titan: it's a great book AND it EXPLAINS EVERYTHING (contains The Secret of the Universe), for those too busy or cynical to watch that "Bleepin'" movie.

Posted by: Reader | December 1, 2005 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I do presentations for K-12 and beyond. Obviously, not all the same material. It's really hard in elementary schools where they want you to speak to an assembly of the whole student body. The brains of kindergartners work in a fundamentally different way from 3rd-6th graders. When I talk with K, I mainly concentrate on things like whether you can see the Moon in the daytime and why.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 2:39 PM | Report abuse

scc, of course I meant, in today's kaboodle. What's happening to my mind when I can't tell my kit from my kaboodle! Multitasking overload, I guess.

Posted by: Reader | December 1, 2005 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Say Tim, we were having a lunar eclipse some time back and I was using small pumpkins to try and explain to my then-pre-K kids what was going on.

Then I feared they thought there were giant pumpkins in the air.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 1, 2005 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Nice piece by Achenblog, and I enjoy the diverse response. The link works very well, and the picture is the story. You described it nicely, though, for those who don't care to take the trip to the ESA.

I particularly enjoyed the Sirens of Titan references posted by a reader. Vonnegut had it pretty close.

Posted by: chinshihtang | December 1, 2005 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Dreamer, please.

The burka.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 3:07 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim, thanks for taking the handoff and rambling 95 yards for the TD today. It's really cool to have smart people hanging around the boodle. I think maybe I should call over to dot.com and tell them to post the blog (when I write a short kit like this one I don't even bother to tell the dot.com folks). Or maybe -- now here's using the old noodle -- I'll update the item with some of ScienceTim's comments.

About the "Bleep" stuff and what we don't know, that's worthy of a separate kit. You know my list of the 5 biggest scientific unknowns:
1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
2. What is the fundamental source of matter and energy?
3. How did life originate?
4. How does consciousness emerge from the brain?
5. Is there intelligent life on other worlds?

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 3:10 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim,
out of curiosity, what do you think of string theory? I read that article on slate recently and have become quite hooked on reading about it. Thoughts?

Posted by: LP | December 1, 2005 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Mmmm, string theory. Brian Greene -- I think *he* might be onto something, too.

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I tried to think of good smart-ass answers to Joel's questions, but came up short. I can be funny in person, not so good in print (at least, I THINK I'm being funny. Maybe I'm just being tiresome).

The fact is, these are good ultimate questions. Trying to answer them now is like asking Australopithecus how to fly. The answer is there, but the language and mental horsepower to consider it and to express it does not yet exist. Humanity still has a long road to walk. Although I have a fatalistic feeling that the answer to questions 1-3 is probably "why the hell not?"

You can always tell which questions are the really good ultimate questions, because they are questions asked by 3rd-graders. Before 2nd grade, kids ask questions like "do you know how to whistle?" Along about 5th grade, kids refuse to ask big questions because they think that adults are holding out on them with the answers. In between, you find that kids ask the great philosophical questions, the ones that you really could structure the entire remainder of your life about pondering.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I am Not At All subscribing to the Native Americans couldn't see the ships (clipper or otherwise) theory, but I wonder if the seed for that idea didn't come from the Aborigines response to seeing the Endeavour in Botany Bay. In "In a Sunburned Country" Bryson quotes one of the Endeavour crew as recording that the Aborigines "scarce lifted their eyes from their employment" upon the Endeavour's arrival. In Bryson's words, "The creaking Endeavour was clearly the largest and most extraordinary structure that could ever have come before them, yet most of the natives merely glanced up and looked at it as if at a passing cloud and returned to their tasks." Bryson does not posit that they couldn't see the ship, just that for whatever reason, they weren't too interested. Anyone here an anthropologist with a theory about this?

Posted by: ABJunkie | December 1, 2005 3:27 PM | Report abuse

ABJunkie:
I recall reading something similar about the animals on the Galapagos Islands when Darwin et al. first went there -- a person could go right up to these animals and observe them and they weren't afraid, even though they wouldn't have seen humans before; it was as though they didn't even notice the people were there.

ScienceTim:
Another thing about little kids, apart from the fact that they ask the big questions, is that they believe in magic -- that's another thing that goes away when they get older.
[Ducks to avoid rotten-fruit-throwing and other forms of minor Raj Rage.]

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 3:36 PM | Report abuse

BTW, Scottynuke, you've Dennis Millered me: who's Maceo? For a minute I thought you meant Maish, the character from Requiem for a Heavyweight, but had to look it up and saw that wasn't it. Googled it, but didn't see anything that looked like it explained the reference.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 3:37 PM | Report abuse

OK, I did it, updated the kit, added ScienceTim and also one of the Curmudgeonly songs.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 3:39 PM | Report abuse

"The last thing you'd want to find out is that the most powerful organism in the universe is a guy who somehow wound up president of the United States and couldn't find Saturn, much less the Andromeda Galaxy, if you let him spend an ENTIRE DAY fiddling with Mapquest."

Ha!

Say, did anyone read that article in the Post (approx. a week ago?) about the lengths to which Bush will go to avoid absorbing foreign cultures when he's traveling? Sheesh. I'm quickly approaching the point where I can't even stand to read or watch anything that has him as the subject.

[I know, it wasn't very nice of me to say that, but this sort of thing scares the bejeepers out of me.]

Posted by: Achenfan | December 1, 2005 3:46 PM | Report abuse

On the Dreamer/Bleep stuff, although the movie does sound mighty squishy, I have been wanting to write something for Nat Geo (where I moonlight) about the Piraha people of South America who use the "one-two-many" form of counting, and whether (as one report claims) they not only don't have words for large numbers but have a hard time discerning the differences between, say, four objects and five objects. According to an abstract I have on my desk, "This addresses the classic Whorfian question about whether language can determine thought."
You have to love the "Whorfian," no?

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon;

*jaw drops* I am unworthy, sir...

There was a James Brown reference, so I followed by reaching sorta deep into the memory banks to call up one of his longtime sidemen, saxaphonist Maceo Parker...

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 3:47 PM | Report abuse

On an early methane comment:
"The stink in gas stoves and furnaces, when they leak, is put there on purpose to make it harder to accidentally kill yourself."

Hmmm- I've heard this many a time, but know firsthand that at least on the 2-3 gas wells I did the manual labor bit around, the stuff coming out of the ground smelled right when they first hit it. And it smelled- to my not-so-sensative nose- just like it smells coming out of the stove before it gets lit. Maybe they refine out the oil fumes from the ground (gas & oil always occur together, at least in that field) and then put back in a similar smell at the distribution center?

I have that "bleep" DVD finally, maybe I'll get around to seeing what all this is about.

Regarding the Chromatics, I keep hearing them recommended.... Then when I go to their web page I see Anne Raugh's name, who I haven't run across in years. But the local music scene just ain't that big. (I was in line behind a guy recently who I recognized from a MAD production, coincidentally of "Singin' in the Rain"...)

Posted by: Les | December 1, 2005 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I'll try to answer Joel's Dumb Questions:

1. 'because I said so.
2. The human race is in the Dark about this. Think about it. You can't have Light without Dark.
3. Billions of years ago, complex molecules got bored and decided to play a Prank on Creation, to pass the Time. The Joke went along swimmingly until genitalia came along. Then, The Trouble started.
4. The complex molecules, realizing that their Joke was getting out of hand (this was about 6 Billion years ago), added Consciousness to Life, thinking that they would cancel each other out. Interestingly, the result of Life with Consciousness was not Nothing. It was...Stupidity, the Fabric of the Universe, and the real answer(s) to #2.
5. Yes, but they know better than to come here.

That's the best I can do in 5 minutes.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm not an anthropologist, but I've been married to one for 35 years. There are all sorts of reasons for the behavior described- they were afraid to make direct eye contact and anger the monster, they wanted to avoid confrontation, staring is impolite, they were testing the reality of the vision to see if it persisted, etc. Bottom line: non-Europeans failed to behave as Europeans would have in similar circs. Big whoop. Why are we so quick to assume that our responses are the universal norm? Goes right along with the notion that because the Caribs were damn near naked when they met Chris Columbus they must have been savages. Today we take a cruise to the islands, get damn near naked, and congratulate ourselves on how civilized we are!

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, on Mars ...

Nov. 30, 2005, 10:30PM
Radar uncovers ice a mile below Mars' surface

No liquid found, and some scientists say maybe planet wasn't as warm or wet as believed

By JOHN JOHNSON JR.
Los Angeles Times

Using sophisticated radar aboard the European Mars Express spacecraft, scientists have for the first time peered into the heart of Mars, uncovering ancient geological structures and reservoirs of ice more than a mile beneath the arid surface.

"We're looking at the third dimension on Mars, something no other mission has done before," Agustin Chicarro, project scientist for the European Space Agency, said during a news conference Wednesday from ESA's Paris headquarters.

Chicarro said instruments aboard the spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since December 2003, have revealed what looks like an ancient impact basin in the temperate region and fresh stores of ice near the north pole.

The craft's on-board radar, known as the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding, did not, however, uncover any evidence of liquid water underground.

"We certainly can say we observed a significant amount of subsurface water in the form of ice," said team member Jeffrey Plaut of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "But there's no current evidence yet for subsurface liquid water."

The question of liquid water on Mars is key to determining whether some form of rudimentary life could have, or still might, exist on Mars. Although the Martian surface is too inhospitable to support life as we know it, scientists have speculated that rudimentary life forms could exist in relatively warm, subsurface pools.

In the north pole scan, scientists penetrated about a mile of ice to subsurface soils, the boundary where a pool might form. But polar temperatures plunge to minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit, too cold for any melting, even at great depths, and much too cold for any kind of life similar to that on Earth.

But in the more temperate mid-latitudes, "you don't have to go too deep to have temperatures that would allow liquid," Plaut said.

The team's findings were presented in series of papers released this week by the journals Science and Nature.

Plaut emphasized that Mars Express is just beginning to scout the interior of Mars. In the next year, controllers on Earth will be looking for the radar signature of liquid water in the temperate areas, where the air temperature can occasionally rise to 32 degrees.

Other instruments on the craft, sent into space aboard a Soyuz launcher from Kazakhstan, in June 2003, filled in the portrait of the ancient Mars, depicting a planet that now appears much less friendly to life than previously thought. The conventional wisdom has been that Mars in ancient times was warmer and wetter, and that some climate change caused the planet to lose its surface water.

"We may have to revise some of our early views," said Gerhard Neukem, the investigator on the craft's high-resolution stereo camera. "It wasn't so warm, and it wasn't so wet."

Early on, water did flow on the surface. It even plunged over gigantic waterfalls into deep basins, he said. But, according to the scientific team, the planet fell dry about 3.5 billion years ago.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 1, 2005 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Achenbach:
I suppose you could say the movie is "mighty squishy," but I see it as a major achievement in that it's pretty much the first of its kind -- hopefully there'll be more of them, and they'll be more sophisticated. I think the directors did a pretty good job of including a lot of information about some pretty complicated, controversial topics in a way that a person without much scientific training could understand and be entertained by. Those who want more can read the books by the various scientists who appear in the film -- and other books as well. For me, the movie was a good starting point. And the viewer doesn't have to accept everything in the film -- as one of the directors has said, it's like a "Chinese buffet." And as Jeffrey Satinover, one of the scientists, says at the end of the film, "Don't just take it at face value -- test it out and see whether it's true."

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 3:56 PM | Report abuse

why...I've never been kit-updated before...I'm getting verklempt...boodle amongst yourselves...

Scottynuke: *lightbulb lights up* Ahhhh. I confess to some ignorance of names of sidemen, etc.--there are gaps in my omniscience. Clarence Clemens I can handle, though.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Dreamer, Chinese food is squishy, too. So I'm right again!! I stand by "squishy."

But I haven't seen the film, so retract any and all opinions, however provisionally offered.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon:

I'm happy to see the trivia-rich morass betwixt my ears is of use.

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 1, 2005 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Okay, somebody mentioned the Endeavour, and whenever that happens I have to plug the book, Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz. This is a wonderful book, entertaining and educational, anybody would enjoy it, really. He makes a point at the beginning that made me think, I'm so stupid for never noticing this. The other people on this blog are smart and observant; I wonder if it will be news to any of them...if it is, well, it's news you need, so you won't feel dumb if someone brings it up at a party or something.

Here it is, from Page 5:

"Like most Americans I grew up knowing almost nothing of Captain Cook, except what I learned in fifth-grade geography class. Though I didn't realize it at the time, I also absorbed his adventures through episodes of Star Trek. A suburban kid, growing up in a decade when even the moon had been conquered, I never ceased to feel a thrill at the TV show's opening words: 'These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!'

It wasn't until years later that I realized how much Star Trek echoed a true story. Captain James Cook; Captain James Kirk. The Endeavour; the Enterprise. Cook, the Yorkshire farm boy, writing in his journal that he'd sailed 'farther than any other man has been before.' Kirk, the Iowa farm boy, keeping his own log about boldly going 'where no man has gone before!' Cook rowed jolly boats ashore, accompanied by his naturalist, his surgeon, and musket-toting, red-jacketed marines. Kirk 'beamed down' to planets with the science officer Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and phaser-wielding, red-jerseyed 'expendables.' both captains also set out--at least in theory--to discover and describe new lands rather than to conquer or convert."

Posted by: Reader | December 1, 2005 4:06 PM | Report abuse

kurosawaguy writes, "they were testing the reality of the vision to see if it persisted, etc."

That reminds me of another thing I've heard about Aboriginals, Native Americans, and other tribal groups pre-European settlement: Apparently (but who can really know for sure?) their dream life was just as important to them -- if not more important than -- their waking life. They may have made less of a distinction between the two worlds than we do; they didn't wake up from a dream and think, "Whew, that was just a dream." So yeah, maybe these weird-looking ships were just something they took in their stride, much as we take all sorts of weird visions for granted in our dreams at night.

And it's possible that in this approach to life, they had a better grasp of "reality" than we do.

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 4:07 PM | Report abuse

C-mudge, you may be verklempt, but I'm feeling the onset of Torschlusspanik. I saw this today and, well, widdershinns...

Torschlusspanik, a German word meaning "the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older."

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Achenbach:
Of course you're right. You always *are* right, right? And I'm not being facetious -- much. I know what it's like -- I'm always right too. :) ;)

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Whoa, K-guy, I'm not assuming "that our responses are the universal norm." As a person with a curious mind, I want to know what it is about their culture that makes their response so different. Isn't that what science is about, trying to understand stuff? Should I just say that their response is just non-European and leave it at that without any attempt at further understanding?

Posted by: ABJunkie | December 1, 2005 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Joel writes: "The last thing you'd want to find out is that the most powerful organism in the universe is a guy who somehow wound up president of the United States and couldn't find Saturn, much less the Andromeda Galaxy, if you let him spend an ENTIRE DAY fiddling with Mapquest."

I don't know about that. I think it's pretty cool that in the bottom of my heart I know I could clobber the most powerful organism in the Universe at Scrabble.

Just don't ask him to find Uranus.

'cmon, someone had to say it.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Oh, boy -- what a day o' boodling. Looks like I'll be taking work home with me tonight. Or not . . .

Posted by: Dreamer | December 1, 2005 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Joel! A friend just e-mailed me this. Harks back (or hearks back, or hearkens back...whatever) to the Carbucks kit:

Coffee's effects revealed in brain scans

10:56 01 December 2005

NewScientist.com news service

By Gaia Vince

Coffee improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times by acting
on the brain's prefrontal cortex, according to a new study.
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to
determine how coffee activates different areas of the brain in 15
volunteers.
"Caffeine modulates a higher brain function through its effects on
distinct areas of the brain," explains Florian Koppelstätter, who
carried out the research with colleagues at the Medical University at
Innsbruck, Austria.
Prior to testing, the group fasted for 4 to 6 hours, and abstained from
caffeine and nicotine for at least 24 hours. Then they were then given
either a cup of strong coffee - containing 100 milligrams of caffeine -
or a caffeine-free placebo drink. After 20 minutes all participants
underwent fMRI scans while carrying out a memory and concentration test.
A few days afterwards the experiment was repeated under the same
conditions but each received the other drink.
Executive memory
During the memory tests, participants were shown a fast sequence of
capital letters, then flashed a single letter on a screen and told to
decide quickly whether this letter was the same as the one which
appeared second-to-last in the earlier sequence. They had to respond by
pressing a "Y" for yes or "N" for no button.
"The group all showed activation of the working memory part of the
brain," Koppelstätter explains. "But those who received caffeine had
significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe, known
as the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas
are involved in 'executive memory', attention, concentration, planning
and monitoring."
"This type of memory is used when, for example, you look up a telephone
number in a book and then mentally store it before dialling," he adds.
Pick-me-up
Koppelstätter stresses that the study is preliminary and that he has yet
to discover how long the memory effects last or what other effects
coffee has on brain function. He adds that the long-term impact of
caffeine use is also an important consideration.
But he says the study shows that coffee has an effect on specific brain
regions involved in memory and concentration that tallies with anecdotal
evidence of the drink's "pick-me-up" effect.
Caffeine is known to influence adenosine receptors which are found
throughout the brain on nerve cells and blood vessels. It is thought
that the drug inhibits these receptors and that this excites the nerve
cells in the brain. "This may be the mechanism involved," suggests
Koppelstätter.
The research was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological
Society of North America.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Methane is odorless.

Posted by: Thad | December 1, 2005 4:41 PM | Report abuse

We know, Thad, we know. But we can either face these unpleasant facts, or continue to make flatulance jokes. Sometimes there is a "higher truth" that goes beyond mere facts.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 4:51 PM | Report abuse

ABJ, in the book you quoted both the author and the early explorer were quoted as believing that the Aborigines were not interested, not that they seemed not to be interested or that they did not show interest. That is the attitude I deplore, not yours.

"In "In a Sunburned Country" Bryson quotes one of the Endeavour crew as recording that the Aborigines "scarce lifted their eyes from their employment" upon the Endeavour's arrival. In Bryson's words, "The creaking Endeavour was clearly the largest and most extraordinary structure that could ever have come before them, yet most of the natives merely glanced up and looked at it as if at a passing cloud and returned to their tasks." Bryson does not posit that they couldn't see the ship, just that for whatever reason, they weren't too interested."

I am in no way an expert on Oceania or Australian Abo customs, but from my (somewhat) informed perspective I posited several possible explanations off the top of my head. (Professional Positer on closed course. Do not attempt.)

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 1, 2005 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I wish I had something intelligent to add to the boodle today, just know that as I 'long time lurk' I have been giggling, learning, and in general not getting my work done... Y'all are just fascinating!

Posted by: LTL | December 1, 2005 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to email Horwitz and see what he has to offer on the Endeavour.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 1, 2005 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I have a big question, although it's more of an engineering question than an ultimate question: how will we get smarter?

The fund of human knowledge is getting to the point that you have to make choices about which areas of life you will choose to totally ignore, so that you have time to learn the narrow subjects that you favor and still have enough life left to make a contribution. We need to figure out better ways to teach content so that we can cram it into our heads faster, or we need to get smarter so we can learn faster, or both. Perhaps we must forget about classical physics and arithmetic and teach calculus, quantum theory and relativistic physics from the word go?

Biological evolution is no longer working on us -- or if it is, it's probably working in a negative direction. Smartness does not affect reproductive success, may even work against it in American society (my opinion was formed in high school, when I didn't date much). Meanwhile, society makes it more and more possible for everybody to survive and reproduce. Are we increasing the prevalence of undesirable genes? Probably not to a noticeable extent. Even if we are, genes related to intelligence probably are of neutral value. Breeding for intelligence seems unlikely to be successful; forcible breeding is evil, and voluntary breeding is unlikely to affect enough of the population to make a difference. If China were to make reproductive success a consequence of intellectual performance (they're evil enough), that could have a major impact on global gene frequencies. Right now, however, they are mainly breeding for resistance to pollution.

Will we technologically modify our own genes to make ourselves smarter? Who, exactly, would be willing to experiment on crafting their own child into super-baby? Talk about evil! Plus, if it worked, the preceding generation would be instantly transformed from people into something comparatively like monkeys. Unlikely to be popular.

Would we modify the brains of the already-living? It could conceivably work, but who could make informed consent for having you stir their gray matter, and probably kill them 9 times out of 10 during development? With a successful method, every generation would require intervention to maintain the new level of 'human' intelligence.

Is intelligence a matter of perception and intellectual rigor? Condi Rice and many of the other neo-cons seem to be very smart people, who mistakenly believe that because they are smart, their ideas inherently are good. They fail to follow simple intellectual precepts that could have kept them from making stupid mistakes. The most basic is to always assume that you probably are wrong, and try to figure out where you must have gone wrong, even if you haven't yet been proven to be wrong. It doesn't make you smarter, but may keep you from being more stupid. Anyway, could there be some procedure of mental conditioning for the very young that could make them inherently better able to use their brains? Would it be evil to do so?

Would we add superchargers, in the form of augmented computing power, either hardware or biologically-based? Once again, 'human' intelligence would become something that could be maintained only by social intervention. Newborn humans would be comparatively stupid, and stay that way until they get improved. Would super-smart parents be able to tolerate having their comparatively semi-human progeny hanging about until their brains are sufficiently developed to accept augmentation. Then again, it could make for carefree childhood -- if augmentation makes you instantly three times as smart, and probably loads your brain with lots of informatin at the same time, why waste your time learning as a child? Go out and play! You can cover an entire education through current high school level in a couple months, at most, once you get your augments.

Or will we simply construct our intellectual replacements, who will clear us off the scene and solve the whole problem?

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 5:19 PM | Report abuse

...And yet no one seems to care about string theory........

Posted by: LP | December 1, 2005 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Tim writes: "Is intelligence a matter of perception and intellectual rigor? Condi Rice and many of the other neo-cons seem to be very smart people, who mistakenly believe that because they are smart, their ideas inherently are good. They fail to follow simple intellectual precepts that could have kept them from making stupid mistakes."

I'm getting deja vu all over again, thinking of Halberstam's terrific book, "The Best and the Brightest." Having lived through those dark days (years), I am still constantly amazed amazed amazed that we have learned nothing nothing nothing from Vietnam. Not one *&%$#@ thing.

It's 5:34. I need a drink.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 1, 2005 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Gosh, I am so long-winded. But at least I made the Kit, for the second time! (You have to look way back, to the True Believers Rough Draft, to find the first time).

In a college anthropology class, we were introduced to an African people who were reported at first to be the only people who didn't understand the concept of sperm in paternity. Turns out that it's a convenient social fiction -- social paternity and genetic paternity were not considered to be terribly relevant to each other, and also not something that you would discuss with casual acquaintances, through a translator.

Posted by: Tim | December 1, 2005 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to get back to string theory.

I don't understand it. At all. Heck, I never got gauge theory. Much less, "And God said 'Let the universe be gauge-invariant.' And there was light."

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 5:40 PM | Report abuse

darn. I was hoping someone understood string theory. thanks, though, I feel better for not understanding it myself.

Posted by: LP | December 1, 2005 5:42 PM | Report abuse

I, however, am an expert on silly string. What do you want to know?

Posted by: CowTown | December 1, 2005 5:52 PM | Report abuse

"Do the Titan up" Brillant!

Posted by: IL-logical | December 1, 2005 6:34 PM | Report abuse

So, I looked at the WaPo front page, and was startled to see my handle on the title of the Achenblog! I suggested that my office-mates have a look, so they could see why I am so unproductive with my real work. They got a different headline. Is this a bug, or a feature? Am I experiencing a subtly different reality from my fellow geeks? Is this proof that I am crrraaaaazzzzyyyy?

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 1, 2005 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Since its late in the day, and I was sitting here all caught up to the current boodle, my mind wandered. It does that a lot. Occasionally I lose it. On to old business.

To go back in time to the boodle about who sounds presidential. It has bugged me for weeks, nay months. Who did I leave off my list. It occurred to me today.

David Mcullough, Pulitzer prize winning writer and narrator extraordinaire. Yes siree, this is a gentelman I am ashamed to have left off the list. His voice is pure velvet.

I'm sorry. I have to go home to watch 'Seabiscuit'. I may even have to go buy 'The Civil War' just to listen to this man speak.

Posted by: dr | December 1, 2005 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Landing a probe on Titan should rank as one of the most amazing technical accomplishments of the last 100 years, but few people seem to really appreciate it. Go outside and try to find Saturn, and imagine Titan circling it. Stand outside for a minute and try to imagine building a machine to land on the satellite all by itself. Not too shabby.

Posted by: RD Padouk | December 1, 2005 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Methane is an odorless gas

Posted by: Smartboot | December 1, 2005 7:54 PM | Report abuse

dr, I concur with David McCullough as a wonderful narrator. As for presidential, I'd settle for someone who can talk in complete, coherent sentences. Clinton was great in that regard - perhaps I should add concise to my requirements.

As for dreamy voices - I love to listen to Wade Goodwin of NPR, and Charlie Rose.

Posted by: mostlylurking | December 1, 2005 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Will there be a comment on the Panda's proposals being circulated on the WP?

Posted by: MxWPFan | December 1, 2005 8:31 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim,

The Post has two different homepages. One is for the DC area and the other for the rest of the world. I don't know where you are, but your homepage may be set for the DC one and if your co-workers, if they went to the Post's Web site for the first time, may default to the other homepage. That page lists the Rumsfeld kit under Achenblog. Mebbe that is the cause of the confusion.

Of course, you may *still* be crazy.... (The Christmas tree was lit on the Ellipse tonight, so I don't feel bad about using ellipses.....)

Posted by: pj | December 1, 2005 8:38 PM | Report abuse

cool and flavorful hydrocarbon cycles

and sabre-tooth methane frogs

the imagination soars ...

Posted by: kp | December 1, 2005 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I hate to spoil your party, folks.....but methane is ODORLESS. We humans put sulpher dioxide in the stuff to make it detectable so we don't blow things up any more than normal.
I am, of course, assuming that Titans don't heat their houses with the stuff....maybe they make it stink, too....!!

Posted by: MrScience | December 1, 2005 9:40 PM | Report abuse

LP,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_theory

This covers things in brief as well as anything I'm aware of. Ultimately, string theory as I understand it posits the idea that the smallest building blocks of everything are represented as vibrating strings.

I don't know if you remember (or were around for) the discussions of Calabi-Yau space, the sock-eating aliens that have an interdimensional portal in my laundry chute, Observerism, surfing the Higgs Ocean, ekpyrotic Branestorms (the Big Kerrang!), and other silliness in the 'boodle last spring/summer that may or may not have erupted from one of Tom's Dumb Questions (I wish I could remember precisely). I'm tempted to look through there to see what we said.

I'd add that Joel had a neat inverview with Brian Greene a couple of years ago, IIRC. Maybe someone knows of a link to it somewhere?

bc

Posted by: bc | December 1, 2005 9:51 PM | Report abuse

One of my favorite voices belongs to Eleanor Beardsley, who covers stories in France for NPR. She has the perfect combination of southern twang and... well, I guess "radio voice."

I think this has been one of the most interesting 'boodles in a long time. It's taken me most of the evening to catch up. ScienceTim, you are on my Post homepage and I am very impressed. You have a good way of explaining things. I'm glad you do school presentations--I'm sure the kids love it. Your analogy of the cakes is great.

My daughter has just presented me this question: Why is America not called Vespuccia? What's with the first name?

Posted by: TBG | December 1, 2005 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm. North Vespuccia. The United States of Vespuccia.

Not to belittle the family name and all, but boy did they pick the right one.

Posted by: dr | December 1, 2005 10:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm just wondering about something and I hope somebody can help me with this.

Is methane odorless?

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 1, 2005 10:12 PM | Report abuse

> Why hasn't all the methane been used up and left to sit on the surface in the form of other hydrocarbons? It has to be getting transported back to the upper atmosphere, but there's no evidence for how it happens.

Is this not evidence for Intelligent Design? After all, how could those CH4 molecules be reconstitued and uplifted if not by the hand of Someone? If science doesn't have an explanation for the methane, then surely Yahweh must be the answer.

Posted by: Hombre Rojo | December 1, 2005 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Bayou Self, I'm not sure if methane smells or not; I think it may be the stuff what yuns got down there in the bayou known as swamp gas. Perhaps we could ask somebody smart about this. If swamp gas is made out of methane participles, as I suspect, such as C and H4 (meaning it is one of the carbohydron family), then yes, it probably has stinky odor, like most other carbohydrons. Otherwise, why would they call it swamp gas if it didn't smell that way? BTW, carbohydrons make up the bulk of orgasmic chemistry (as opposed to non-orgasmic chemistry), and include molecubes such as bourbon, corn likker, polyvinyl chlorides, peptides, SUVs, fused dilithium crystals, and those expensive health food energy bars made out of cardboard and cask-aged Soylent Green.

Hope this has been helpful.

Posted by: Mr. Wizard (a.k.a. Curmudgeon) | December 1, 2005 10:44 PM | Report abuse

LTL "...I second that emotion..."

Posted by: elominr | December 1, 2005 10:54 PM | Report abuse

I have missed much of the Boodle of late, but just reviewing the last comments--specially the one from dr about who has a stentorian, presidential voice and her vote for David McCullough--although his voice is more velvety.

I met McCullough twice--on my birthday in May 2001. First, he was doing a radio show for NPR Louisville. Later that evening, my husband and I attended his lecture on John Adams, one of his earliest stops on his book tour. Since he recognized me from the morning radio show and since he was standing alone, I was able to chat with him for several minutes while the auditorium was filling up.

Several years later, I learned that the Bissells were among the five families, including the Loomises, who arrived in Windsor together in August 1638. Robin Bissell, who was one of the executive editors of the film "Seabiscuit," worked closely with McCullough, since McCullough did the voice-over for the film. They dined at least once after the film, to my knowledge.

Robin Bissell is descended from both Maj. Gen. Artemus Ward (from whom George Washington took command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775) and Rev. Increase Mather.

At the time I met McCullough, I knew nothing of the Loomis-Bissell connection, or that several of my antecedents were prominent Puritan pastors. McCullough is a friendly, warm, remarkable gentleman.

Historically, I had quite a run of days. I recall that I/we saw McCullough on a Thursday. Friday, we pushed off for St. Charles, Missouri for a weekend trip. On Saturday night, quite by accident, I ended up dancing on the platform of the old train station, under the moonlight, paired for a less than a minute with Charlie Galt Clark, distant great-grandson of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame--caught up in the lively, exuberant steps of a long-ago folk dance. I met Charlie the next day at the re-enactment site for a long chat, and later that afternoon, he explained his family tree in the town's Lewis and Clark museum.

I know I found McCullough fascinating at the NPR event because of his explanation of his narration, some years ago, of the Donner Party tragedy.

Posted by: Loomis | December 2, 2005 12:46 AM | Report abuse

dr,
In reviewing your post, I didn't realize that David McCullough narrated Ken Burns' documentary "Civil War." Burns' daughter just graduated Loomis-Chaffee this past June and Burns spoke at the graduation ceremony. Talk about six degrees of separation...

Posted by: Loomis | December 2, 2005 12:52 AM | Report abuse

Bayou Self... I rarely actually LOL, but I did at your question of 10:12:33 PM. Thanks for making my morning--and confusing my teenage son at this early hour. That's always worth something.

Posted by: TBG | December 2, 2005 6:48 AM | Report abuse

The Washington Post link to the Brian Greene interview was not useful, so here's an alternate source:

http://www.faithless.org/community/lofiversion/index.php/t683.html

Posted by: Reader | December 2, 2005 8:00 AM | Report abuse

The only thing that stinks worse than Titan is this Blog.

B.O.

Posted by: The Lonemule | December 2, 2005 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Reader.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 2, 2005 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Wiz;

Don't forget all those hydrocarbons floating around in boodlers.

"We are stardust, we are golden..."

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 2, 2005 8:29 AM | Report abuse

To put investment in space in perspective, we waste about $18 billion on NASA yearly. It is all a waste, from the incredibly shrinking space station to the foam-chipped shuttle. It is part of the wasteful mil-ind complex.
It is no more worthy than Iraq.

Upon review of yesterday's comments, I have suggested that we call in a battalion of SUDs to pub a stop to the shameless self-aggrandizement and lipping of things brown and slippery.

and yes, Snotty, let's not forget all those hydrocarbons.

Posted by: mostlyjerking | December 2, 2005 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Lonemule: Titan is oderless. Haven't you been paying attention? Calliope--now there is one fragrant moon.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 2, 2005 9:05 AM | Report abuse

of course Titan is oderless, no one's nose functions at -180°C

Posted by: LB | December 2, 2005 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/01/AR2005120101798.html

bc

Posted by: bc | December 2, 2005 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I thought it was quite a coincidence that that article should appear today, bc. Unfortunately, Lynch was portrayed as somewhat of a nitwit -- as is often the case in these sorts of articles. Too bad.

Posted by: Dreamer | December 2, 2005 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Dreamer, I'm not following the "coincidence" part. Coincident to what?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 2, 2005 10:06 AM | Report abuse

bc, thanks for the link. I'm very pleased that Mr. Lynch is building peace factories. I have soem mundane questions: (a) Will they be unionized? (b)Will they comply with EPA cerebral emission limits? (c) Will they allow tours?

Posted by: CowTown | December 2, 2005 10:11 AM | Report abuse

SCC "soem" should be "some"

Thank you for your continued cooperation.

Posted by: CowTown | December 2, 2005 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Oh sweet heavens. That link is... unbelievable is just not a strong enough word. Its a very 'Friday' article isn't it?

Loomis, good to see you. That's two for this week. Achenbach knowing Phil Currie and you having met David Mcullough. Having always lived in a non cable areas, I saw 'The Civil War' for the first time in a day long broadcast on the History channel. I admit that I followed that lovely voice to 'Seabiscuit'.

Posted by: dr | December 2, 2005 10:20 AM | Report abuse

CT;

If they unionized (FYF -- Federated Yogic Flyers??), just imagine the panic if they decided to strike after a couple of years.

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 2, 2005 10:35 AM | Report abuse

You miss a day and you miss a lot around here. I want to thank Reader for filling in for me with the obligatory Vonnegut reference. When I took the high school AP English test, the final big make-or-break question was something along the lines of:

Write about a book where a single act of violence affects the protaganist. Use examples, etc.,

My English teacher asked which book I used. I told her I wrote about Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan, since it was the perfect book for the question. After she recovered I explained that I really wrote about Camus' The Stranger, and she felt better.

I really should have written about Crime and Punishment, which would be the perfect book for this question, but I didn't finish it until my freshman year in college.

Posted by: yellojkt | December 2, 2005 10:35 AM | Report abuse

At this point, it looks like all Lynch, et. al. can afford are Peace sweatshops in third world countries.

I look forward to reading their EnvironMental Impact Statements.

Seriously though, there's got to be something to meditiation/Yoga. All those placebo experiments can't be wrong (and how many parents out there have employed them in practice?). There is more than meets the Observing Eye to Everything.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 2, 2005 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon - Thank you for your fascinating science lesson. I learned a great deal. And it really cleared things up for me.

TBG - I'm here to serve. And I only use my powers for good, not evil.

bc - In that story you linked, it looks at first blush as though Mr. Lynch is sporting some rather interesting headgear. A closer examination reveals that it was only a passing cloud of methane.

Posted by: Bayou Self | December 2, 2005 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I think we need to keep this boodle going until we find out if methane has an odor.

I am going to post something new in a minute but it's just going to be a short, generic Cry For Help.

Today I'm trying to write a Rough Draft that will run on Christmas Day. Also trying to sort through an incident last night in which a pedestrian was struck by a car on Connecticut Ave., and thrown through the air, just as I was walking a few paces away on the sidewalk. I am checking on the status of the man who was hit; I believe he survived but I don't know yet. The incident may have no deeper meaning in the grand cosmic scheme of things other than don't jaywalk. But it was one of those vivid moments when you realize your world could change in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Achenbach | December 2, 2005 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I do beleive in the personal benefits of meditation, though perhaps not as deeply as these devotees do it. Going to a quiet mental place for contemplation and restoration cannot be bad.

They lose me at the yogic flying though.

The other thing that struck me instantly was the reference to world peace. It just felt like shades of 'Miss Congeniality' for a moment. While I believe that world peace is a noble goal, these souls will be human souls. The skeptic in me asks how long it will be before some one of the factory workers feels he is meditating more peacefully than the guy who sits next to him/her, and 'gee, you could sure keep to your own space while you meditate'.

Posted by: dr | December 2, 2005 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Fearless Leader;

Many thanks to the FSM that you were where you should have been and still ARE, as it were. And do not our worlds change with every heartbeat?

Posted by: Scottynuke | December 2, 2005 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Rough Draft Suggestion for Christmas Day:

The corrugated cardboard box was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame this year.

http://www.strongmuseum.org/NTHoF/boxframeset.html

Again, that's just off the top 'o me' 'ead.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 2, 2005 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Joel, while you're at it, you might pass on a request to the metro desk that when somebody writes up the article about Bush lighting the Christmas tree last evening, they might include details on just how badly it messed up traffic in town (as it does every year), how bus commuters (fair disclosure: me) had to wait 80 MINUTES 9all-caps justified) in the freezing cold because the buses couldn't get around the blocked streets, etc.

It ties in to the article about three trees and one star. Why don't they hold the &^%$# ceremony on a Saturday, when traffic is so much lighter? (Specifically, the Saturday following Thanksgiving.) Among other things, this would give parents an opportunity to bring their kids to the ceremony, rather than depriving kids of their dinners because their WORKING PARENTS WERE STILL TRYING UNSUCCESSFULLY TO GET HOME, GEORGE.

Don't mean to sound like a Grinch, but I remain:

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 2, 2005 11:16 AM | Report abuse

On a related note, I grew up just a block from Conn Ave., and I've seen far too many fatal pedestrian incidents on it, and as a young idiot, I was hit a few times myself (yes, that may explain a few things).

I really try to respect the ped crossing marks, but your experience will make me more vigilant, Joel.

That, and the pair of deer who gave me an ABS test on a country road last night.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 2, 2005 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I don't trust scientists to tell me if something has an odor or not. My dad is a chemical engineer and he has had plenty of experience dealing with a wide variety of chemicals, hydrocarbons and otherwise. He insists that sulfur is odorless.

Posted by: Reader | December 2, 2005 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Here's hoping that one day, soon, that human beings on earth learn to understand the folly of killing their own kind and go all out to explore our solar system.

Thank you for the news on Titan. It's a favorite first distant moon for many new astronomers when Jupiter is out of the night sky.

Posted by: Bling Bling | December 2, 2005 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I googled 'methane odor' last night, just to verify the chemical that gives the stink to natural gas (mercaptans, a class of sulfur-containing molecule, it turns out). All the gas companies agree that methane is intrinsically odorless. Also, an intentional leak of natural gas into a room was the McGuffin in a Sherlock Holmes story I saw recently, in which the victim was unable to perceive she was being asphyxiated. Actually, it was one of the revisionist stories about Arthur Conan Doyle as a fictionalized character, so it wasn't written based on period knowledge about CH4. Still, the weight of people willing to claim expertise on the web favors a lack of odor for CH4. Surely that counts for something? I have not done the experiment myself, nor do I intend to do it, to test for an aroma in pure CH4. I have smelled C2H6 and C2H4. They have an unpleasant aroma, but not very strong. But I didn't vent enough of it to kill myself.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 2, 2005 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Re: cosmic meditations

Joel:

Okay, when you related the traffic accident, I immediately thought, oh my God, that could have been Joel! That would have been horrible! And then: Wait a minute, though, it was *somebody* and it was horrible.

There is some deep truth here. If pursued far enough, it will tell us why there are wars. Us vs. them. Friend/family/associate vs. stranger. Humans vs. aliens. Humans vs. animals.

Why when the airliner crashes, the news reports tell us how many Americans died. As if that matters, somehow.

I know this sounds muddled; it's because "the tao that can be told is not the true tao." Or because I am, relatively speaking, a moron.

Joel, I'm glad you got home safely yesterday. Be careful out there.

Posted by: Reader | December 2, 2005 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Reader:
Good points.
Some would say that all the problems of the world are due to our perception of ourselves as being separate from everyone and everything else. It is this idea of separateness that breeds fear, which -- as pointed out in that article about David Lynch this morning -- breeds hate, which in turn breeds anger and violence.

Posted by: Dreamer | December 2, 2005 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Washington, DC rivals Titan for smell, any day! Malodorous gassy clouds waft from Capitol Hill, K Street & the White House, esp. Karl Rove's office. The "corpse flower" which recently bloomed near the Capitol has a stench like rotting flesh.
Maybe we should rename the nation's capitol "Titan". Either that or maybe "Uranus". Either better fit the idiots who hold the reins of power.
Can you hear me, Major Tong?

Posted by: pollyanna | December 11, 2005 7:32 AM | Report abuse

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