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November 17, 2004

I'll Miss You, Wily Ring Tuna

A prediction, since if I'm wrong no one will ever notice;

There is life in Saturn's rings.

Come to think of it, even if I'm right it's not like eternal fame and fortune will be mine. In any case I ought to say why I think such a thing is even a remote possibility.

Part of it is due to the our ever-expanding knowledge of the odd places life has managed to colonize on earth; black smokers at the bottom of the sea, the basalt of the earth's crust, inside glaciers and surrounded by frozen methane. Literally, life seems to arise in any area where it is given half a chance, and the environment of Saturn's rings seems to do just that.

First, there is water.

Saturn's rings are made primarily of water ice. Since pure water ice is white, it is believed that different colors in the rings reflect different amounts of contamination by other materials such as rock or carbon compounds.

Second, there is oxygen.

Another new set of observations shows an immense cloud of oxygen atoms surrounding Saturn.

Scientists think the cloud is replenished when moonlets within the ring system collide, shatter, and release ice particles. Radiation belts around the giant planet bathe the ice particles, which release the oxygen, said the University of Colorado's Larry Esposito, who heads up operation of Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer.

Third, though the rings are barely wisps of matter when compared to a planetary body, there is a still an existing matrix on which life could arise.

Saturn's rings are a lot dirtier than originally believed, according to new observations by the Cassini spacecraft that show that the inner regions are packed with rock and mud.
The ice in the rings is "like gunk in a skating rink," Esposito told . He described it also as being like mud.

Nobody knows what the gunk is made of, he explained, but it is likely silicates and organic material, the stuff of rocks and dirt on Earth. The ice is also thought to contain water mixed with other frozen substances such as ammonia.

Oxygen, water, ammonia, and organic materials--life doesn't need much more than that to arise. Saturn's rings won't support a complicated sort of life--there's no reason to think my descendants will match wits with the wily Ring Tuna in the future, but there's no reason the equivalent of the scum that grows on bathroom tiles couldn't arise.

It would look a lot like gunk, come to think of it.

Posted by Bigwig at November 17, 2004 02:04 PM | TrackBack
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Black Smokers at the bottom of the sea, eh?

Probably a nefarious plot involving J.R. Reynolds, the KKK and Jacques Cousteau.

Posted by: Blackavar at November 17, 2004 10:11 PM

Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty: if we "discover" life anywhere but here, will it be a mutated contaminate that we introduced in trying to find it in the first place? A universe filled with Bigwig's shower gunk is almost equivalent to spontaneous generation, or maybe phlogiston is needed.

Posted by: Rich at November 18, 2004 12:07 AM

Thing of it is, those little beasties are gonna be very cold. No body parts will move; nothing will move at the macro level. They won't have eyes because they'll have no use for them, being unable to move anyways. If they have brains, they'll be totally zenned out.

Posted by: Jim at November 18, 2004 08:18 AM
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