Thursday, July 05, 2007

Spongy take on Hyperion misses out on life

There is an interesting story from NASA today as their Cassini spacecraft has beamed back some new details about the surface of Saturn's moon Hyperion (see the story Hydrocarbons, Necessary For Life, Found On Saturn's Moon Hyperion from Science Daily). The images and analysis NASA got from Cassini reveal craters that contain hydrocarbons, which are the basic building blocks for life.

Under the right conditions, when mixed with ice and ultraviolet light, these molecules can take on biological significance, so it's one more little scientific tease in the search for extraterrestrial life. It's very heady stuff, but it's not the angle that most of today's headlines are taking with the story. Instead, if you peruse the Google News links on the story, you'll see that most trumpet the odd appearance of the moon, which is described as resembling a large sponge (see Saturnian Moon Looks Like Giant Bath Sponge from FOX-News as one example). Due to its extreme porousness, the moon's surface preserves a permanent record of the impacts it's had with space debris, leading to this visual comparison.

Maybe it's my penchant for looking beyond surface details, but the life-forming space dust discovery seems like the much more interesting story. Then again, I can see why news outlets such as FOX-News have an equally stong attraction for avoiding anything that delves beneath appearances — science, facts and details can be a bit messy and lead people to do some critical thinking, which always gets in the way of a good daily dose of info-tainment.

Click here to get the full report on Cassini from the NASA site
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