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Cassini Discovers First River On Another World

timothy posted about a year ago | from the ok-now-find-some-rafts dept.

NASA 230

AbsoluteXyro writes "NASA's Cassini orbiter, which has been dutifully exploring the Saturn system since 2004, has captured images of the first river ever observed on another world — and it's a biggun. 200 miles of flowing hydrocarbons meandering down a valley in the north polar region of Saturn's moon Titan, emptying into the awesomely named Kraken Mare — itself a body of liquid roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea back on Earth. But don't think of going for an extraterrestrial skinny dip quite yet, temperatures on Titan average a brutally cold 290 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit)."

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230 comments

Fahrenheit? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42275887)

The reason for reporting temperatures in Fahrenheit is because they have intuitive meaning for us Merkins.
Minus two ninety doesn't fit that description; shoulda been Celsius.

Re:Fahrenheit? (2, Insightful)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about a year ago | (#42276093)

This is one of the few times that I'd rather see the temperature in the Rankine scale over Fahrenheit!

Essentially, they had 4 systems to choose from (Kelvin would be ideal), and they picked the very worst choice!

Re:Fahrenheit? (0)

readin (838620) | about a year ago | (#42276507)

This is one of the few times that I'd rather see the temperature in the Rankine scale over Fahrenheit!

Essentially, they had 4 systems to choose from (Kelvin would be ideal), and they picked the very worst choice!

Kelvin would have been better, but Fahrenheit wasn't the worst choice available. They could have chosen Celsius.

Re:Fahrenheit? (1)

Jesse_vd (821123) | about a year ago | (#42277339)

Ummm.... nope? Celsius is much more useful than Fahrenheit in virtually every application, and as far as I know only you USians still use it.

Re:Fahrenheit? (3, Insightful)

omnichad (1198475) | about a year ago | (#42277963)

It'll be hard to pry away from us, too. There's more integers between 32 and 212 than between 0 and 100. So if you don't use decimal points, Fahrenheit is of a higher precision. Even still, when you're talking about temperatures never seen on earth, Kelvin or Celsius still make far more sense.

Re:Fahrenheit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42278235)

FTFY:

Ummm.... nope? Celsius is much more useful than Fahrenheit in virtually every scientific and engineeringapplication, and as far as I know only you USians still use it.

Re:Fahrenheit? (2)

dubbreak (623656) | about a year ago | (#42276927)

Essentially, they had 4 systems to choose from (Kelvin would be ideal), and they picked the very worst choice!

Not to mention Kelvin is SI base unit. Kinda the norm when you are talking about scientific news to a bunch of nerds. Remember the whole "News for nerds, stuff that matters" motto? Or did the spirit of that die when CmdrTaco left?

Re:Fahrenheit? (-1, Troll)

durrr (1316311) | about a year ago | (#42277109)

Use kelvins you mongoloid fucking dickwads.

Re:Fahrenheit? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277303)

It's not "kelvins", it's "Kelvin".

If you're going to correct someone it's a lot easier to be forgiven for being wrong yourself if you don't sling personal insults... you prat.

Re:Fahrenheit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42278117)

Incorrect, and maybe you should take your own advice.

Like any other SI unit, you are supposed to treat it like a simple noun and use lower case (unless some other rule, like start of a sentence, overrides). The same goes for newtons, pascals, amperes, etc. The only odd point is it is possible to refer to the Kelvin scale, which uses an adjective form of the name, not an adjective form of the unit.

Re:Fahrenheit? (3, Funny)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#42278269)

No no, c'mon, don't be rude, he meant Kelvins, the rather underused temperature scale of lower Kyrgyzstan, first coined in 1552 by scientist and British transpat Sir Howie Rudestash Kelvins. 0 degrees Kelvins is defined as the freezing point of that congestion you get from too many fish and chips cooked in tallow, and 100 degrees is defined as the point where spotted dick catches fire.

Really, this should be well known. Personally, I blame public schools.

94 Kelvin (1)

darkonc (47285) | about a year ago | (#42277505)

At some point, you've got to stop complaining and just do the math. (or find a website to do it for you).

Re:94 Kelvin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42278201)

It is what the people at the lab I work at do... they just convert and move on.

I thought this was a website for nerds anyways. The conversion is easy enough to do in your head. Some people seem way too eager to memorize conversion factors for LoC units but not actually ones that might save them some time in the real world.

How could water be flowing (-1, Redundant)

dehole (1577363) | about a year ago | (#42275901)

if it's that cold? Or is the river a river of oil?

Re:How could water be flowing (5, Informative)

Excelsior (164338) | about a year ago | (#42275973)

I get that no one on Slashdot RTFA, but this time even the description says "200 miles of flowing hydrocarbons."

Re:How could water be flowing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277279)

I get that no one on Slashdot RTFA, but this time even the description says "200 miles of flowing hydrocarbons."

Sshhhhh!!!! You fool! The frackers don't want anyone else to know we could be sourcing methane from Saturn instead of threatening our water supplies, destabilizing seismically active geological formations and needlessly spewing terrestrial carbon back into the environment from the natural state of sequestration that Mother Nature created for the countless giga-tons organically generated metabolites. Not when we're in the process of commercializing the space travel and asteroid mining technologies that would be perfectly suitable for the task of bringing home all that free flowing, unclaimed wealth and energy that's just laying around waiting to be exploited by the visionary entrepreneurs of a potentially renascent space age! :-)

Re:How could water be flowing (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | about a year ago | (#42276129)

At least according to wikipedia it's most likely liquid methane and ethane. (I think oil and gasoline are longer hydrocarbon chains like octane, nonane, etc.)

Re:How could water be flowing (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276355)

So, instead of reading the article, you decided to search wikipedia instead? That's so messed up....

Re:How could water be flowing (2)

Sentrion (964745) | about a year ago | (#42276979)

More combustible fuel than all the Middle East combined! Good thing we didn't elect Romney, or we'd be drafted to fight for the liberation of Titan from whatever God-forsaken lifeform that would allow such a resource to be so underultilized.

Re:How could water be flowing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277017)

Obligatory Malachi Constant reference?

No running. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42275917)

No bombing.
Diving permitted at deep end only.
NO SMOKING.

Metric system, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42275933)

NASA does not use the metric system even for temperatures!?!?

Re:Metric system, please (1, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#42276317)

... are you stupid? Of course they use proper units.

This is a press release intended for the general public.

Re:Metric system, please (5, Funny)

jo_ham (604554) | about a year ago | (#42276529)

... are you stupid? Of course they use proper units.

This is a press release intended for the general public.

You'd think so, but tell that to the Mars Climate Orbiter which was expecting SI units but instead was given horses per submarine per twatwaffle or some other such ancient unit and took a steep dive into the atmosphere and burned up.

Re:Metric system, please (1)

oPless (63249) | about a year ago | (#42276671)

Horses per Submarine!

You have made my day. If I only had mod points this evening!

Re:Metric system, please (2)

Sentrion (964745) | about a year ago | (#42277019)

Yes. An error made by the contractor, who used His Majesty's standard, while NASA specs all of their requirements in metric.

Re:Metric system, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277293)

In my experience working with different national labs, including some collaboration with work by NASA, whatever temperature scale is most convenient is what gets used: C, F, K, eV. If you have a piece of equipment that reads out in Fahrenheit and only care about keeping some temperature constant, instructions and notes are probably going to be recorded in Fahrenheit. Stuff that involves communication with a wider audience of researchers will probably default in K, C, or eV depending on temperature range.

Re:Metric system, please (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#42276711)

I don't know many people who use the metric system for temperature. Each thermometer is different, if I told you that I have 4.5 cm in my room, you wouldn't be much wiser.

Re:Metric system, please (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#42276853)

Bzzt. Kelvin [wikipedia.org] is an SI unit.

Re:Metric system, please (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#42277755)

Bzzt. Kelvin [wikipedia.org] is an SI unit.

He could have said SI then. Or is it that in the US, these two things are synonymous? Where I live, temperatures sort of aren't a part of the definition of "metric system" (although naturally, they're a part of the SI extensions).

Re:Metric system, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276935)

And you think saying it's 1.75 inches would be better?

Re:Metric system, please (4, Funny)

Sentrion (964745) | about a year ago | (#42277079)

I couldn't even tell you how high the temperature is right now, as my thermometer is laying on its side. I can only give you its length.

Re:Metric system, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277803)

No wonder they're having trouble converting between unit systems, ftfa:

200 miles (400 kilometers)

I hope they can make more precise conversions when doing serious stuff :)

Conspiracy can begin (5, Insightful)

epSos-de (2741969) | about a year ago | (#42275963)

The white spots on the river banks look like population hot-spots on earth.

Let the conspiracy theorists begin making up stuff.
Surely they will claim something about extra-terrestrial cities and FBI secrets.

Re:Conspiracy can begin (1)

displague (4438) | about a year ago | (#42276097)

Flood regions, differing elevations, geological compositions, and sediment deposits (maybe phosphorous ones, that'd be cool)..
  or street lamps, apartment buildings, and neon lights.

Re:Conspiracy can begin (2)

babtras (629678) | about a year ago | (#42276195)

Considering this is radar and not visible spectrum, it isn't street lights. Clearly they pave their roads with something radar-reflective.

Re:Conspiracy can begin (2)

epSos-de (2741969) | about a year ago | (#42277235)

Thank you very much. You just gave an idea of how the aliens use geological compositions and sediment deposits to pave their roads with something radar-reflective.

With your help, we are going to give more credit to the conspiracy.

Re:Conspiracy can begin (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276391)

The white spots on the river banks look like population hot-spots on earth.

Let the conspiracy theorists begin making up stuff.

Surely they will claim something about extra-terrestrial cities and FBI secrets.

Lamest attempt at Karma whoring I've seen in 15 years here on /.

Re:Conspiracy can begin (2)

epSos-de (2741969) | about a year ago | (#42277175)

I can do lamer than that. How exactly is that karma whoring.

How do you personally define karma whoring ???

It's a Martian canal system! (0, Redundant)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#42275981)

I mean, it could be a river, or it could be something else. Let's plan on taking a closer look before deciding what this thing really is.

Re:It's a Martian canal system! (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a year ago | (#42277115)

Or maybe it's a road system, and what we pick up as hydrocarbons is just the exhaust emissions from their congested traffic.

A literal sea of hydrocarbons? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276011)

Next up on Fox News - Terrorists on Saturn's moon are out to destroy America! Support out troops! Praise the lord and pass the ammunition!

Re:A literal sea of hydrocarbons? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276345)

Next up on CNN: Are the Tea-Partiers responsible for the erosion damage on Saturn's largest moon?

Re:A literal sea of hydrocarbons? (3, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | about a year ago | (#42276909)

Don't forget: "Global warming responsible for receding icepack on Titan"

Re:A literal sea of hydrocarbons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276971)

CBSNEWS: Sarah Palin announces she can see Titan from the shore of Alaska.

Re:A literal sea of hydrocarbons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277555)

And in the Weekly World News, Bat-Boy announces his plans to visit Elvis on Titan.

Re:A literal sea of hydrocarbons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277883)

The joke doesn't work because the "liberal" media uses facts and truths, whereas conservative news just makes things up.

That's why OP's joke worked, because Fox has a rich history of deliberately lying and twisting the truth to make sensational news. That happens with liberal news sources too, but not nearly at the same scale.

So I appreciate what you are doing but I hope you understand why it didn't work.

Rivers & methane seas already known (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276079)

I don't get how this is new. Cassini has been detecting branching river systems and large lakes (Great Lakes size) filled with liquid methane since early in the mission. This latest release is adding to the mapped area, but isn't particularly new in that regard. However, if you read the original NASA press release on the Cassini web site [nasa.gov] , it makes more sense. This is not the first, but the longest river system that has been observed so far on Titan, at about 400km long.

Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (2)

nicoleb_x (1571029) | about a year ago | (#42276105)

Hmm, hydrocarbons and not a plant in sight? I'm thinking we might want to stop calling oil and natural gas fossil fuels.

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276421)

They're called fossil fuels because that's how they were formed on Earth.

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (5, Funny)

Sentrion (964745) | about a year ago | (#42277159)

That's not what my Bible says. Where are you getting your information?

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (0)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about a year ago | (#42276427)

The term "Natural Gas" is to indicate that it is not from plant or animal remains.

Even though crude oil does contain hydrocarbons, it is far from the most abundant source of them. Crude oil is a fossil fuel. Natural gas is not.

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (2)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about a year ago | (#42276511)

Actually, just after posting that, I looked it up. Wikipedia says:

Most natural gas was created over time by two mechanisms: biogenic and thermogenic.

And, it turns out, natural gas is generally considered a fossil fuel. So, I was pretty much wrong.

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276763)

I produce natural gas all the time...

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#42276625)

Where to begin....

"Fossil fuels' are mostly compressed algae and diatoms although the carbon sources doesn't really make any difference - it's just hydrogenated carbon chains squished under a lot of pressure, heat and time that flow into relatively impermeable areas and collect. It is NOT mostly bits of T. rex and friends. Coal is an early form of this process - less time and heat and pressure - so you can occasionally see the original (mostly plant) source material.

Natural gas refers to the various blends of short chain hydrocarbons that are created in the process and that tend to migrate to different places (but not always). "Oil" tends to be longer chains. Oil sands (oil rock) has long chains imbedded in an annoying matrix of one composition or another. Natural gas is a 'fossil fuel' although the term is not a very apt description of how the stuff was produced. All of those descriptions are arbitrary and the material is produced along a spectrum.

Hopefully, you are not trying to be an abiotic oil nutcase.

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276997)

The occurrence of non-biological hydrocarbons on Titan or on Earth does not negate the evidence that demonstrates the vast majority of hydrocarbons in the crust of the Earth are biogenic. Picking two random examples of evidence, look up the subject of biomarkers [wikipedia.org] or the optical activity of oils (related to chirality of the biological materials from which oil is derived). Non-biological processes can't easily explain these. Then there is the observation that rocks high in organic carbon (source rocks [wikipedia.org] ) can be chemically matched one-to-one with oils.

While non-biological hydrocarbons certainly exist on Earth and are scientifically interesting (e.g., methane is expelled from some volcanoes), they are commercially insignificant as fuels. The only hydrocarbons in the Earth that are used as fuels are indeed fossil-derived. Although some methane is also derived from shallower/younger biogenic decay too, this is only significant in a few deposits and is still biological in origin even if it isn't "fossil".

Re:Oil may not be a fossil fuel then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277517)

On earth, they are fossil fuels. On Titan, they are not.

Celsius or Kelvin please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276111)

IMHO
Using the Fahrenheit scale for low temperatures in the popular press is bad.
It leads PHBs to insist on using non-standard scientific measurements for designs.

Even Rankine would be better.

If someone doesn't know something they shouldn't be coddled.

They can get off FaceBook/Twitter and google the temperature and learn something.

Re:Celsius or Kelvin please (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276289)

I doubt the writer is trying to coddle the reader. Chances are, the writer doesn't know anything other than Fahrenheit.

Re:Celsius or Kelvin please (1)

readin (838620) | about a year ago | (#42276481)

Highly unlikely. Americans have been learning Celsius since the 1970s. AFAIK every other country has succumbed to using Celsius only. So anyone using Fahrenheit is likely to be American and is therefor likely to know Celsius. This is especially true for NASA which uses metric for pretty much everything.
For some reason the writer didn't feel bound to use the government mandated system and therefore chose the more convenient Fahrenheit system.

Re:Celsius or Kelvin please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276761)

NASA uses SI, not Metric.
Yes, there is a difference.
Much like Americans use US Customary, not Imperial.
Because, again, there is a difference.

Re:Celsius or Kelvin please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277933)

NASA uses SI, not Metric.

Yes, there is a difference... and in the more general sense NASA uses metric, as I know quite a few people there that still prefer the cgs system over SI. NASA seems to use more SI than anything else, but they do use quite a bit else.

Re:Celsius or Kelvin please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277193)

It leads PHBs to insist on using non-standard scientific measurements for designs.

What does that matter though? If you need to compare it to a temperature from elsewhere in Celsius or need to switch to an absolute scale, you convert and move on. As long as the original design contains the correct temperature and has a clearly defined scale, the rest is a matter of convenience.

If someone doesn't know something they shouldn't be coddled.

And conversion isn't that difficult...

It's not so cold. (4, Informative)

danomac (1032160) | about a year ago | (#42276173)

It's only -179 C. Not exactly shorts weather, mind you.

Re:It's not so cold. (0)

aliquis (678370) | about a year ago | (#42276601)

Thank you. I was coming here to complain about the Fahrenheits.

Kelvin may make the most sense and if nothing else use celsius since that's what most (?) of the world use (I know Slashdot is home of Americans and ran in the U.S.)

The rather obvious comparision for me would be water ice since I find ice hard to take a dip or swim in. And it's convenient to compare against 0 degrees with a negative number. But the Fahrenheit number didn't mean much to me.

I did got that it was likely cold and as such and compared to some really cool Kelvin works to.

Re:It's not so cold. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42278093)

At that temperature, Oxygen is nearly a liquid (it boils at -182.95 C at 1 bar - Titan is 1.5 bar, so it may be liquid).
Maybe going to Titan isn't such a bad idea after all.
It sounds like the moon is made of rocket fuel that's already in cryogenic storage.

I'm lost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276305)

I'm quite ignorant of organic chemistry, but I thought hydrocarbons were fossils. How can there be hydrocarbons without life?
Or am I WAY off in my ASSumptions?

Re:I'm lost (5, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | about a year ago | (#42276607)

I'm quite ignorant of organic chemistry, but I thought hydrocarbons were fossils. How can there be hydrocarbons without life?
Or am I WAY off in my ASSumptions?

There are plenty of organic molecules out in space. All organic means is "contains carbon".

Organic compounds form anywhere there is carbon, which is made in stars and spread around by supernovae. Given that hydrogen makes up 99.8% of the stuff out there most of the carbon compounds you find in space are simple hydrocarbons, either aliphatic stuff like methane and ethane or aromatics like naphthalene and other poly-aromatic systems.

Re:I'm lost (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#42276707)

I'm quite ignorant of organic chemistry, but I thought hydrocarbons were fossils. How can there be hydrocarbons without life?
Or am I WAY off in my ASSumptions?

Organic chemistry is a misnomer. Most of the hydrocarbon molecules formed in the universe have been created without life. Just a byproduct of carbon, oxygen (mostly as Carbon Monoxide), hydrogen and a few other random chemicals along with a bit of fusion and a lot of time.

It would still burn OK (if there was any oxygen around). You could still make hydrogen and power fusion reactions (if we knew how). Lots of potential energy in the universe, more than we could ever use. Just hard to get to.

If you think drilling on the northern end of Siberia is hard, try a Jovian moon. Makes for nice science fiction reading, but as far as it being an instructional video, we have a ways to go.

Re:I'm lost (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about a year ago | (#42276999)

Jesus fucking Christ. Over the last ten years there have been numerous articles all over the place reporting amino acids, sugars, alcohols and other organic compounds even in deep fucking space. Christ, pal, Titan is packed full of hydrocarbons.

Waves (1)

babtras (629678) | about a year ago | (#42276319)

Coooool. You can see vague horizontal lines on the sea. Waves perhaps?

Re:Waves (1)

babtras (629678) | about a year ago | (#42276375)

Never mind. Those lines are even more difficult to see over the land but are present. Must just be an artefact of the method used to acquire the image or stitch it together.

Re:Waves (1)

JWW (79176) | about a year ago | (#42278099)

Yeah, those are artifacts of the scanning device. A common remote sensing issue.

200 miles or 400 km? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276563)

So, just out of curiosity, does anyone know which it is? (200 miles is about 320 km)

Re:200 miles or 400 km? (1)

hakey (1227664) | about a year ago | (#42278263)

Beware of false precision [wikipedia.org] . If the instrument is only precise to 100 km and they measured 400 km, then it would be correct to report 200 miles and not 249 miles.

Fahrenheit (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42276655)

Does anyone have a decent browser plugin that converts the fucking imperial units on web pages to the metric system automagically?

No one blaming BP? (4, Funny)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about a year ago | (#42276851)

River of hydrocarbons and no one is blaming BP for the spill?

Re:No one blaming BP? (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a year ago | (#42277815)

Hold on now! BP isn't getting out of this one that quickly mister! I'm sure they or one of their contractors were involved somehow.

Slashdot.txt (2, Insightful)

crypticedge (1335931) | about a year ago | (#42277091)

Awesome science stuff happens, queue 300 posts of retards bitching about the unit of measurement a writer chose to use so the public he writes to can relate easier.

If you have an issue with the measurement don't bitch and moan, do the conversion and move on. That's what those of us raised on the imperial scales do when we see metric stuff posted (unless we were those fortunate to have grown up learning both)

Could someone translate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277301)

What are miles? What is Fahrenheit?

I don't speak doofus.

Fahrenheit??? Seriously? WTF. (-1, Flamebait)

neeraj_of_borg (2741463) | about a year ago | (#42277651)

Please use a freaking metric scale. Celcius or Kelvin. This old-school English measuring system has to stop. What is with you Americans and Burmese and Liberians?

My god, it's a fractal! (2)

haaz (3346) | about a year ago | (#42277711)

Looking at the image on the NASA page, it jumps out at you: it's a fractal. To quote Marathon 1, "They're eveywhere!"

Okay... Who farted? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42277715)

Open a window will yah?

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