Astrobiology pioneers in Wales make Titan-ic leap

Today in The Western Mail an article appeared on page 4 about Glamorgan and CASE’s plans to launch Europe’s first degree in Astrobiology in October. The story was tied in to the arrival of the Huygens probe at Titan on the morning of Friday the 14th.

It is believed Titan’s atmosphere, rich in Nitrogen and hydrocarbons, could be similar to the Earth’s primordial atmosphere before water and photosynthesis changed it’s composition. As such, studying Titan may give us clues to how life originated on Earth 3.8 billion years ago.

Additionally, Titan is the only other body in the Solar System with a nitrogen rich atmosphere. In about 4.5 billion years’ time the Sun will undergo changes and become a Red Giant, and when it does this the Earth will become too hot for habitation. Titan may become habitable, and so it is possible that our decendents may have to leave Earth and decamp to Titan in the far future.

Of the two stories, the Western Mail obviously found the idea of decamping to Titan far more interesting than the origins of life on Earth, as most of the story they ran focused on this second issue, with some space travel discussion thrown in for good measure.

It is usually difficult to know what angle a newspaper reporter will take on a story. After talking to the reporter for over 30 minutes, only a small part of the conversation was used, but hopefully it will grab readers’ attentions and lead to enquiries about our innovative Astrobiology degree.



One comment


    Mark Brake

    January 10, 2005

    The Huygens probe’s main aim, agreed by “Nasa”:http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/main/index.html and “ESA”:http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Cassini-Huygens/, include measurement of atmospheric elements, wind, global temperature, lightning, and topography, and to find out whether Titan has oceans!

    Some of the Titan ocean models (and imaginative interpretation of “observations”:http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA01465) suggest that there could be methane-rich or ethane-rich seas on the moon. In fact, the models suggest Titan’s oceanic waves would be higher than those on planet Earth, conjuring up the future possibility of surfing on Titan!

    This compares well with another potential for extreme sports in the solar system. Uranus’ moon Miranda, though only 472km in diameter, possesses the “highest cliffs”:http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/content_pages/record.asp?recordid=54819 in the system at 20km (that’s 12 miles for those of you, like me, who still think in miles!) 10 times higher than the walls of the Grand Canyon on Earth. What’s more, some anorak has worked out that given the low surface gravity on Miranda, its possible to bungee (without a bungee) off the cliffs without killing yourself in the name of extreme sports!

    The prize of a Ruffle Bar to the first contributor who proves
    mathematically whether this is true or not.

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