Daily Orbit – Tiered River on Titan

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 11,224
    12-13-12: On this episode of the Daily Orbit, a Nile-like river is discovered on Saturn’s largest moon, scientists are drilling in Antarctica for half-million year old microbes, and Sauropod dinos were big for a reason.

    Emerald Robinson: What do Egypt and Saturn's moon Titan have in common? Digging through the ice, and honoring 50 years of space exploration! It's time to celebrate on today's Daily Orbit.

    Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I'm Emerald Robinson.

    Walk like an Egyptian, on Saturn! Scientists have discovered a mini-Nile river on Saturn's moon Titan. This is the first image of a tier system this vast discovered on any other planet than Earth. Because of the straightness of the river, scientists believe that it is the result of a fault, although they are not suggesting that Titan has the same plate tectonic system as the Earth. But it's not water running through this Nile, Titan's stable surface liquid consists of hydrocarbons like methane. Titan's Nile is considerably smaller than the African Nile stretching only 200 miles compared to 4,100. Scientists say, this picture gives us a snapshot of a world in motion. I guess there's no "de-nile-ing" that! Okay, I crack myself up.

    And what could possibly live under two miles of ice? Well scientists are about to find out a team of researchers have begun drilling on Lake Ellsworth, discovered in 1996. This lake is one of 387 known subglacial bodies of water in Antarctica and experts believe it is the best candidate for the search for microbial life. Scientists say that any life that would have evolved here would have been isolated for the last half-million years.

    The $12 million operation includes a high-pressure hose with sterilized water near the boiling point to blast through more than two miles of ice. It will take about 5 days to bore a hole through the ice, so researchers can start their work. They say they having to wait on this like expectant fathers. Only instead of a cute baby, they get some barely evolved microbes or nothing at all. Well, I guess, they don't have to worry about college tuition.

    A theory that was thrown out the door has made its way back, the sauropod dinosaurs reached their massive sizes due to the plants they ate. The long-necked sauropod was the largest land animal to ever walk the Earth, and researchers have been trying to figure out why they were so large. They now believe their massive size allowed them to get enough nitrogen to have a metabolism like modern mammals.

    Researchers believe the amount of nitrogen in the plants was important to the dino's digestion. Why be so fascinated with these odd creatures with huge bodies and little heads? Researcher David Wilkinson says, because they're so weird! Good answer.

    Researchers say that it's epigenetics, not genetics that underlies homosexuality. A new study found that epi-marks constitute an extra layer of information attached to our genes' backbones that regulates expression. The genes hold the instructions, but epi-marks direct how these instructions are carried out.

    According to the study, sex-specific epi-marks, which are normally erased and not passed between generations, can lead to homosexuality when they are transferred from father to daughter or mother to son. Researchers say this explanation looks really good, but more verification is needed.

    And we'd like to take this time to honor space exploration. This week marks the 50th anniversary of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft's exploration of Venus. This was the first spacecraft to successfully make a close-up study of another planet. Launched on August 27, 1962 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the little spacecraft encountered many close calls before finally making it to the 2nd planet from the sun.

    It was the first to confirm the existence of the solar wind, which is the stream of charged particles flowing outward from the sun. It also produced the first close-up measurement of the planet's surface temperature, and allows scientists to refine the value of the average distance between Earth and the Sun. Scientists say, there will be other missions to Venus, but there will never be another first mission to Venus. Congrats to a great 50 years of space exploration!

    And that's all for today's Daily Orbit, until tomorrow. Walk like Egyptian!