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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Methane /= Abiotic

Floridian ~DS~ live-probed an interesting narrative of the Huygen's descent into the atmosphere of Saturn's Titan on the Inscrutable site.

Of course, as the European Space Agency largely spearheaded this collaborative mission, it hasn't received the vast publicity in the states that a NASA-led project would have (insert American ego here). Considering the Old Europe source, I am not surprised to learn that the code on-board the Huygen's probe was actually software engineered. Not to imply that NASA is completely overrun by hackers (source to an amazingly well-structured open-source robotics library package by NASA/Goddard's Stephe Leake is here), just that ESA has historically had a good track record of sticking to sound software development and defensive programming practices1 . NASA, JPL, and their brethren have taken the route of fixing everything by debugging en-route, ala the Mars Pathfinder. Likely the result of the fallout from former NASA head Goldin's faster, cheaper, better initiative from several years ago, most of the recent NASA missions have been either outright disasters (here) or successes clouded by extremely embarrassing glitches (at least to real-time software types like yours truly).

But that's just the nuts and bolts. The ulterior motive for the missions remains to expand human knowledge. Or as the science marketing guys would cliche spew, "to do good science".

So we get some seriously puzzling news reporting from the event and subsequent data crunching. This article (Methane Rain, River Beds Found on Titan) makes little sense to me. Apparently it drove a poster at the peakoil.com news site to proclaim that the methane discovered may support the chestnut Abiotic Theory.
I know that the Abiotic theory is considered false by most Peakers, however:
 ...blah blah...
Why limit this to Peakers? Is a geologist a Peaker? Would a geologist care to pursue every wacky theory that comes down the pike?

The "aliens manufacture the Earth's twinkies" theory is also considered false by most sane people. However, it wouldn't be hard to convince at least a few rubes to its authenticity.

That article is a crock, let's parse it:

  Scientists believe methane gas breaks up in Titan's atmosphere, forming smog clouds that then rain methane down to the surface.

  "We've got a flammable world, and it's quite extraordinary," said Toby Owen, a scientist from Honolulu's Institute for Astronomy.


OK, so the article says the methane recirculates back to the surface.

  But unlike Earth, where water constantly circulates back into the atmosphere, Titan's methane never evaporates back into airborne smog.

OK, so the article says the methane does not recirculate back to the atmosphere.

  "There must be some source of methane inside Titan which is releasing the gas into the atmosphere. It has to be continually renewed, otherwise it would have all disappeared," said Owen.

OK, so the article says the methane does circulate to the atmosphere.

Logically contradicting itself TWICE in the span of 3 sentences.

The article does lead with Methane as being the carbon variation of Earth's water (H20), a covalent bonding with hydrogen. But with the ridiculously confusing argument put forth, one can ask: why doesn't all the water disappear from the earth? This is utter crap science reporting.

As to the reputation that methane gets as being solely an abiotic agent, these clueless idiots have been smelling their own flatulence for far too long. Remember that CO2 is also abiotic by that same logic. To the Abio-idiots, take a breath mint and some Beano© and stay the hell away from those of us interested in "good science".


1 ESA's Ariane-5 explosion notwithstanding

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3:34 AM  

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