Life On Icy Moons?

Jupiter's Moon Europa

“I think pretty much everyone can agree that finding life anywhere else in the solar system would be the scientific discovery of the millennium.”

In a presentation to the American Geophysical Union on December 15, Professor Francis Nimmo of the University of California at Santa Cruz discussed the habitability and prospects for finding life on the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, in particular on Europa and Enceladus. For a quick synopsis of his remarks, see Icy Moons of Saturn and Jupiter May Have Conditions Needed for Life in Science Daily:

“Enceladus is so small and its ice so thin that scientists expect its oceans to freeze periodically, making habitability less likely, Nimmo said. Europa, however, is the perfect size to heat its oceans efficiently. It is larger than Enceladus but smaller than moons such as Ganymede, which has thick ice surrounding its core and blocking communication with the exterior. If liquid water exists on Ganymede, it may be trapped between layers of ice that separate it from both the core and the surface.

“The core and the surface of these moons are both potential sources of the chemical building blocks needed for life. Solar radiation and comet impacts leave a chemical film on the surfaces. To sustain living organisms, these chemicals would have to migrate to the subsurface oceans, and this can occur periodically around ice fissures on moons with relatively thin ice shells like Europa and Enceladus. Organic molecules and minerals may also stream out of their cores, Nimmo said. These nutrients could support communities like those seen around hydrothermal vents on Earth.”

For further details, see the original UC Santa Cruz press release, and a related UCSC press release on the mechanism of Enceladus’ plumes, Frictional Heating Explains Plumes On Saturn’s Moon Enceladus, from May 2007.

Saturn's Moon Enceladus South Pole (NASA Cassini-Huygens)

Enceladus Surface (NASA -- Cassini)

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 10:58 pm  Comments (1)  

Imagine A City With No Bookstore

Imagine a city nearly half the size of the Wichita metropolitan area without a single bookstore.

The Laredo Public Library serves 400,000 visitors annually, and the city library system is planning to open two new branches. But according to the Associated Press, Laredo will soon be the largest city in the United States without a bookstore.

If the local B. Dalton closes as planned next month, the nearest bookstore will be 150 miles away in San Antonio. And this in Webb County, Texas, where nearly half the population “lacks basic literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”


Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Yellowstone Supervolcano, 3

Yellowstone Hot Spot Map (U of Utah)

For more than a dozen different very interesting (but perhaps challenging) technical studies of the Yellowstone Mantle Plume and related phenomena, see Yellowstone Plume, Hotspot, and Wasatch Front Earthquake Research from the University of Utah’s Seismology and Active Tectonics Research Group You’ll find much collateral information there as well, including a movie of the tilted plume, maps, charts, and more.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 4:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Yellowstone Supervolcano, 2

Geyser Erupts in Yellowstone (

Yesterday, in Yellowstone Supervolcano, we mentioned the latest geological evidence concerning the enormous mantle plume that underlies the Yellowstone supervolcano. In Yellowstone’s Plumbing Exposed e! Science News provides more detail. It’s a fascinating read.

Yellowstone Mantle Plume (University of Utah)

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm  Comments (3)  

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reports that “when given the option of hearing ‘Merry Christmas’ or a less religious greeting — like ‘Happy Holidays’ — in stores and businesses, Americans choose Merry Christmas by a 60%-to-23% margin. When specifically given ‘doesn’t matter’ as an option, however, a 45%-plurality have no preference for how they are greeted during the holiday season — 42% want Merry Christmas and 12% prefer the less religious greeting. Seniors (those ages 65 and older) strongly prefer Merry Christmas (64%) but the youngest Americans (18-29) are much more likely to say it does not matter (59%). Politically, Republicans are the biggest advocates of Merry Christmas (62%), while nearly half (49%) of Democrats and a small majority (52%) of independents are unconcerned by stores’ choice of holiday greetings.”

For more details on the survey and for related survey results on Christmas displays on public property, holiday concerns and other matters see this post from the Pew Center.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 3:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

California Library Closes

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries, because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

— Ray Bradbury

Despite an appearance at a fundraiser by writer Ray Bradbury last June, and efforts by the San Buenaventura Friends of the Library, the H. P. Wright Library in Ventura, California closed on the last day of November – a victim of the steep recession, California budget woes, and failure to pass a critical bond issue.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment