A frozen ancient Earth

20 years of planning, and a 2billion-mile voyage lasting seven years. No, not our interminable journey, although it may seem like that at times, this one has come to an end, in part. The Cassini-Huygens mission has successfully landed a probe on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

“A triumph of cooperation” between the US space agency Nasa, the European space agency and the Italian space agency, Cassini is the largest interplanetary spacecraft ever built.

Data was successfullly collected and transmitted for longer than scientists had hoped and will be the subject of scrutiny for many months to come.

Meanwhile, photos taken by the Huygens probe are online, from a height of 8 miles and from the surface itself, showing clear evidence of the presence of liquid and possible cloud formations.

There’s also a sound files created from recordings taken during the descent through the atmosphere and radar soundings.

The importance of the mission to the scientific community is due to both the presence and the composition of the atmosphere. As David Southwood, “the director of science at the European Space Agency, who began work on the mission in 1982” told the Guardian, “Titan takes us back to the conditions that probably existed in our early Earth. All the ingredients are there for life except one: oxygen”

“The atmosphere of Titan is a cooking pot already. There is weather on Titan. We want to know if there’s lightning on Titan, not just out of curiosity about whether these things occur elsewhere, but because long ago that is how our Earth was; that’s how things got started. Maybe it all led to this point, where we go back to look at the beginning.”

A major difference, however, between the conditions of early Earth and those on Titan is the temperature – Titan’s surface is “a landscape dominated by frozen hydrocarbons and an ambient temperature of -180C (-292F).”

  • Davros

    OK, I’m a begrudger. I read of these Space missions and think of the money and resources that are tied up when thousands die from hunger and lack of clean water on planet Earth every day. As Jim Royle would say “Saturn my ar*e!”

    More refreshing, to my mind, is the story in today’s Irish News about a happy ending after the Carlisle floods.

    Miracle fish avoid fatal own goal ( subs req – ha ha!)

    By Staff Reporter

    CARLISLE United Football Club is searching for the owners of two pet goldfish which were washed on to its pitch in last weekend’s floods.

    Emma Story, daughter of club owner Fred Story, noticed the fish on Thursday afternoon while she was helping to clear up the waterlogged ground.

    One of the pair was in a puddle on the side of the pitch, while the other was swimming in a pool of water in a goalmouth.

    “I suddenly noticed them swimming about on the pitch. There were so many people walking around pumping out water, I’m amazed they weren’t stepped on,” Ms Story said.

    “I popped them in a mop bucket and now they’re living in bowls in reception, waiting for someone to claim them.

    “If nobody comes forward we’re going to keep them as mascots. We haven’t been doing so well lately, so maybe we could do with a bit of extra help.”

    Staff at the club have named one of the goldfish Billy, after a goalkeeper character in Viz magazine. They are still trying to come up with a name for the second.

    “They could have come from anyone’s house. The whole of Warwick Road was flooded,” Ms Story said.

    “I guess they could have come from a bowl or even an ornamental pond.

    “A nursery school phoned up this morning saying one of the fish might belong to them, but they haven’t been round yet so I don’t know.”

    The football club has been staging a mass clean-up this week after the pitch was flooded with about four feet of water last weekend.

    Workers from Story Construction, the owner’s construction company, have been helping by pumping floodwater away.

    “We’ve got all the water pumped off now, but the pitch is still very muddy. We’re just trying to clean up and get it sorted as soon as possible,” Ms Story said.

  • peteb

    Davros, that’s the attitude of someone who can’t look at the wider picture and see the benefits (in this case in terms of how we see ourselves in this solar system, and by extension the universe) of such scientific investigation.

    If you want to concentrate on the £s then I’d suggest there are other areas with greater expenditure and less long term impact.

  • Davros

    Long term benefits aren’t much use when our brothers and sisters are dying in their thousands for such easily provided basics as food and water Pete.

  • StrayToaster

    Davros: The money-spent-on-space-research is a specious (and spurious) argument. A classic misrepresentation. Such research is not only interesting but highly necessary if we want to advance ourselves.

    Cutting out this would not solve world poverty, feed the hungry or house the homeless. And in doing so we would be making ourselves the poorer. .

  • Davros

    That’s easy to say when you have a full belly ST.
    The biggest progress mankind could make would be to sort out the mess we are in now.

  • StrayToaster

    Davros: No, I don’t believe that. If it were true, we would still be in caves barking at the nightsky.

    You can tell them that if they can solve the world’s problems with an extra one-tenth of one percent of our $50 trillion global economy, then perhaps they can fund the space program afterwards.

    I have read better, but it is the first I found.

  • peteb

    That’s the ‘sticking plaster’ response, Davros. There is a case for greater focus on the issues you have highlighted but this research has benefits that affect how we view ourselves as a species. The impact, on the issues you describe, of the money that is spent on this over the time taken would be negligible.. and it is not a current area of high-level spending.

  • Davros

    For me the biggest factor in the equation, and I mean no slight to any poster here, I’m talking in general, is that those dying for lack of food, water and basic healthcare tend to be non-white and/or non-christian and/or non European.

    What’s the point of dicking around expanding science when we’re not using the advances we have already made to benefit mankind ? OK, because of the extra space technology somebody will probably end up inventing some wonderful new gadget. Big deal. I’m old enough to remember the promise that Nuclear research would have us paying peanuts for electricity and old people would never die of hypothermia in Britain again … and look where that got us!

  • maca

    I think the question we should be asking ourselves is why so much money is being spent killing people in places like Iraq rather than spending that same money on helping people.
    I’d prefer to take money from “”defence”” budgets rather than scientific research.

  • Davros

    You may call it sticking plaster pete, but if you are bleeding to death you need a tourniquet applied, you don’t need a better understanding of the universe or a different understanding of how we view ourselves as a species. How we view ourselves ? Sit with a Bible, or the Vedas or the Qur’an or any number of non-religious books and have a think.

  • peteb

    No, Davros, it’s not about the “extra space technology” (the technology is 10 years old by the time it gets there)… that’s not what this investigation is about.. it’s about how we view ourselves as human beings. That’s the point.. and the difference.

  • Davros

    Maca – there’s huge amounts of money to be made in Killing people and in research. There’s relatively little in helping the poor.

  • StrayToaster

    Yes, that may be true, but the money saved in stopping just research wouldn’t make an ounce of difference.

    Your replies Davros (and I ain’t slighting you here either) are a standard play at the emotions, a “won’t someone think of the children” argument.

    Why not attack the military budget? That far outweighs anything on research.

    We can’t tell what will come out of this, but we are better as a civilisation for doing it.

  • peteb

    The point, Davros, of the “sticking plaster” reference, if you read it again, is that there are other ways to make progress towards those same goals.. and this investigation is one of them.

  • Davros

    Why not attack the military budget?

    I Just did, because Maca raised that issue ST. Prior to that I was addressing Pete’s blog.

    the money saved in stopping just research wouldn’t make an ounce of difference.

    That’s the classic excuse for doing nothing ST.
    How much did this Saturn Jaunt cost ? How many thousands of People would that have provided AIDs drugs for , or clean water for ?

  • StrayToaster

    Davros (yeah, I saw your response to maca, I posted minor before his appeared, problem with the medium and all that. 🙂

    No, we *need* such research, as pete said better than me, it defines us as humans.

    The money saved would not have went to pay for clean water. You know that. If there was the politcal will, all the hungry would be fed. The amount of food on the planet isn’t the problem.

  • Davros

    Doesn’t work pete. Salving conscience with the balm that ‘what we are doing now will stop the problems 10 or 20 generations down the line’ isn’t good enough. Especially as we heard the same tosh 40 odd years ago when the space race started.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be offensive, this is something that I find deeply disturbing. But at least we aren’t discussing Sinn ….

  • peteb

    Davros, before you start counting up the cost.. and keeping in mind what maca actually said… this project was over 20 years in preparation.

  • peteb

    No Davros, I didn’t say that at all. Solving these problems is an issue that will take more than simply the re-understanding of where we actually are in the universe.. that will need the additional re-focus of the spending that you, rightly, are complaining about (in part).. but it’s a good beginning and, IMHO, money well spent.

  • Davros

    The how we view ourselves argument is also dubious pete.

  • StrayToaster

    How far would 26 million go to help? Better as Sinn…

  • Davros

    That was very Naughty ST LOL

  • peteb

    No, Davros, it’s the combination of those two efforts that could bring us to what you claim to want.

  • maca

    Cost of the Iraq war to the US alone $9 billion per month, or $144.4 billion up to Aug 2004.

    US Defence budjet 2004: $460.55 billion

    US 2004 budget for international assistance programs: $17 billion

  • Tom Griffin

    Cassini cost about $3.3 billion and will contribute to sciences like geology and oceanography that are relevant on earth. So far the war in Iraq has cost $103 billion, and has destroyed some of the world’s most precious archeological records.
    They are both ways of subsidising high technology industry, but its clear which is preferable.

  • maca

    Btw NASA Budget 2004 $15.4 billion, 2005 $16.4 billion

  • ShayPaul

    The fundamental advances that I hope will be made as a result of this project may lead to many breakthroughs in science. This is “extreme” unexplored territory, especially when we consider the atmosphere and temperatures concerned.

    It would be ridiculous to speculate on what we might find, including life-forms, but we may well be witnessing an historic breakthrough for mankind, time will tell. I personally am expecting a lot.

    Just to be controversial :

    As for those that do not understand the crucial importance for mankind, and the derisory cost involved, several centuries ago you would have been smashing the looms as well. The ultra-conservative mindset that exists in this place is frightening sometimes.

  • Davros

    Easy for you to write with a full belly Shay.

    A lot of the attitudes remind me of the stories one hears of people who spend money they should be using to buy food for themselves on scratchcards , on the grounds that “if it comes off” in the long run they’ll be better off.

    The ultra-conservative mindset that exists in this place is frightening sometimes.

    Ultraconservatism is driving this technological rat-race Shay. They are the ones making the billions.

  • ShayPaul


    I can smell ultra conservatives even down the internet.

    For once they are spending their dollars on something positive that will drive humanity forward – it should not be knocked.

    By the way the mission left before George W got into power !!!

    Back in the days of the looms there were a lot more hungry people around, but then they all went to church/chapel ….

    Don’t let nostalgia get the better of you.

    By the way, speak for you’re own belly, if you have too much too eat may I suggest a personal donation to an NGO to help with the digestion.


    Notice my smiley has a small belly.

  • martymc

    You know that big differences are made by small things, so why not sell your computer and cancel your net access. Then you can donate all the money and time you spend on it to helping the needy.

    That way, we’ll all be happier.

    Or is it easy to think about the hungry children, but actually doing something about it.. well that’s another story..

  • Donnie

    Davros is correct, all these projects are a waste of money which could be put to better use.

    It has been forecast that Africa needs an extra $19 billion dollars on top of the help it already receives, to eradicate poverty. The billions spent space programs would cover this and then some. Was there really any point in sending an expensive probe to a moon which we knew was not going to harbour any little green men.

    Scientists have probed about one billionth of the oceans on Earth so maybe they should think about working a little closer to home and on a smaller budget.

  • Davros

    Cheers Donnie.

    Martymac, you know zilch about what I do.

  • Donnie

    There was an interesting article in one of the papers last week that suggested the only way Africa could escape the cycle of poverty, famine and violence was to be recolonised by civilised, western nations like the USA, UK, Germany etc.

  • maca

    “Scientists have probed about one billionth of the oceans on Earth so maybe they should think about working a little closer to home and on a smaller budget.”

    Why? Surely that’s a waste of money too then?
    Exploring space is little different than exploring here on earth. Should Columbus have decided to explore closer to home or was he right to explore the unknown?

    Do you not think that the $19 billion needed for Africa should be taken from war budgets rather than science?

  • Davros

    “Science” is bollix as are scientists 🙂

  • maca

    You were a man of science youself, were you not? 😉

  • Davros

    Yes …and I know that a lot of research is bent!

  • Donnie

    “Should Columbus have decided to explore closer to home or was he right to explore the unknown?”

    Correct, Columbus was exploring the unknown. These scientists aren’t. Using the wide array of diagnostic tools at their disposal they are usually pretty certain that the big balls of gas and rock they send their probes to (at great expense) are indeed just big balls of gas and rock when they receive the results back!

    That is if the probes function when (or increasingly, IF) they get there!

  • maca

    Are you serious, space is known? To whom exactly? How is space known but our own oceans UNknown?
    Did they know there was water on Mars? They had to send rovers to confirm that. Did they know what was beneath the atmosphere of Titan? They had to send a probe to confirm that.
    There’s only so much you can tell through the lens of a telescope.

  • maca

    “That is if the probes function when (or increasingly, IF) they get there!”

    I’m not really up to date on the space missions. What probes haven’t reached their destination?

  • smcgiff

    ‘They had to send rovers to confirm that.’

    Ah, that might explain the fortunes of Mark Hughes’ lot, couldn’t they’ve used Utds instead? They’ve a far bigger squad!

  • James

    “Here we stand knee deep in garbage firin’ rockets at the moon”
    -Pete Seeger

    I’ve mostly been against Pete on this issue since it first surfaced in the late sixties. I’m a real stinker. I admit that my curiosity outweighs my compassion.

    It’s not that I don’t have company here since my amorality has been reinforced by the Chinese and Indian space programs as they pour sums into getting to the moon while sitting on populations in far more misery that the USA.

    Face it Sluggiepoos, our race’s strong suit is not with the angels.

    Is there a fine for littering on Titan?

  • Donnie

    “That is if the probes function when (or increasingly, IF) they get there!”

    Okay you got me there but there have been loads of missions where the outcome has been an expensive disaster.

    I am thinking recently of the capsule from the $260 million Genesis programme which failed to deploy its parachute and cracked open in the Utah desert. The Mars Climate Orbiter which burned up in the martian atmosphere in 1999 because the propulsion engineers miscalculated the trajectory. The Mars Polar Lander which crashed on Mars because the retro rockets cut out prematurely. Deep Space 2 which landed on Mars but did not transmit a signal thus rendering it as useful as a biscuit tin.

    Do you want me to go on? These things do not come cheap.

  • Beowulf

    Donnie, would you like a list of countries where money has been poured in to alleviate suffering only to have it spend on a new palace, a new missile system or having that annoying tribe in the hills wiped out?

    I don’t agree with either side of this argument, one side is exaggerating the bounty of space, the other over simplifies the human condition.

  • peteb


    Exaggerating the bounty of space? Hmmm.. I’d prefer to see my argument as – it isn’t the simplistic choice between one or t’other that some have portrayed it as – as in “it’s the combination of those two efforts”.

  • maca

    You can carry on if you have more examples. 😉
    There have also been tremendous successes over the history of space exploration, don’t forget those.
    And no they don’t come cheap. But i’ll highlight again, take the money from the massive defence budgets. How you can complain about money been used for exploration yet ignore the massive amounts of money spent (and wasted) on “defence” is beyond me. 😉

    Just reading an old report on a submarine dry dock in Devonport, estimated cost £933 million. Money well spent?

    “A 1998 study estimated that the United States spent $2 trillion in 1996 dollars (to account for inflation) on all strategic nuclear forces throughout the Cold War.”

  • Donnie


    There have been successes in space exploration but apart from furthering our knowledge of what is out there, what have we gained from it? What has been the return on the substantial investment?

    As for the defence budgets they are very much a necessary and expensive evil in the eyes of most countries, whereas throwing money at non-essential projects like space exploration is profligate.


    I used to pass the Indian Space Research Organisation in Bangalore every day on the way to work and I did indeed question the validity of spending billions on these facilities in India when people round the corner were living under plastic sheeting and begging for a living!

  • maca

    “but apart from furthering our knowledge of what is out there, what have we gained from it? What has been the return on the substantial investment?”

    What have we gained?? What’s the return???
    CAT scanners and MRI technology, kidney dialysis machines, programmable heart pacemakers, fetal heart monitors, surgical probes for treating brain tumors, infrared cameras and satellite communications have all been a result of the space programs.

    You think the oceans are worth probing, what has that given us so far, apart from furthering our knowledge of what is down there? 😉

    “As for the defence budgets they are very much a necessary and expensive evil in the eyes of most countries, whereas throwing money at non-essential projects like space exploration is profligate.”

    One months US defence budget would pay for the space program for over 10 years!!
    It is not necessary to spend that much on “defence”. How much “defence” money is wasted on stupid research projects, like the US chemical weapon designed to make the enemy have homosexual feelings (true!).

    If you ever need a kidney machine be sure to thank the space program! 😉

  • Beowulf

    er… CT scanning was invented by Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield, and it stemmed from his work in guided weapon systems and radar. As far as I know it had nothing to do with the space programme. The rest of that list looks suspicious to me too.

  • StrayToaster

    Beowulf: Sorry, in my mind it was more an argument against *any* scientific research, not specifically space. It seemed that it was spinning out that we should not be spending frivolously on quantum confinement to two dimensions (for example), and use the money think of the children. (Still, don’t start me on grants for those in the liberal arts. Now *that* is a waste of cash. Sure, we need another dissertation on the feminist viewpoint of coffee growing in the 14th century by lesbian single mothers in the Maldives.)

    ESAS Titanic views, although that is easy for me to link to with a full belly. 😛

  • Donnie

    As far as I know none of that list were found in a crater on Mars, Titan or the Moon. If all those items were invented by NASA or other space agencies I am sure they were byproducts of exploration into manned space flight.

    That is an entirely different argument to sending probes to far off moons and planets. I am very much for any space exploration within the Earths gravitational field as directly affects us. This type of space exploration in my opinion is entirely justified.

  • Beowulf

    To clarify my position, I am entirely for space research – I am entirely for research full stop. However this thread is full of falsehoods used to support the argument for exploration, and no matter how redundant or just plain stupid the argument used by Davros is, telling pork pies in defence isn’t exactly cricket.

  • maca

    Could be, I just copied and pasted. Though it’s Robert S. Ledley who carries the patent on CAT scanning.

  • Ringo

    Maca –
    You think the oceans are worth probing, what has that given us so far, apart from furthering our knowledge of what is down there? 😉

    Fish? 😉

  • maca

    “Fish? ;”

    Smart alec!

  • Beowulf

    “I am very much for any space exploration within the Earths gravitational field as directly affects us.”

    That would include Titan then.

  • Beowulf

    “Could be, I just copied and pasted.”

    I give up.

  • maca

    Each to his own Donnie. I think it is a field worth pursuing and i’d be happy to sacrifice a few Royal Navy subs to fund missions to the back end of Dagobah.

    p.s. so what will exploring the oceans give us?

  • peteb

    Beowulf.. try not to over-generalise, it weakens your, valid, argument. 🙂

    For those of us who do like to see pretty pictures of other worlds –

    While ESA slowly releases images from Huygens, full collections of Huygens imagery have already been processed and refined well beyond anything ESA has done – and you can download them yourself

  • maca

    “I give up”

    At least I went to the trouble of searching the web. I notice you didn’t bother your arse ;))

  • Beowulf

    so what will exploring the oceans give us?

    The theory of Sea Floor Spreading, for one. Upon which is based the knowledge used to model earthquakes in the Indian Ocean, as GeoAus did in November with uncanny accuracy it turned out.

  • Beowulf

    I should say ‘gave’, past tense. My coat is on.

  • maca

    “The theory of Sea Floor Spreading, for one.”

    There’s work on that decades old. What more do they need to study?

  • Beowulf

    This isn’t my argument, but I’d guess sea-levels, delta 18-O isotope studies, fish stocks, salinity especially in reference to conveyor systems like the Gulf Stream, particle densities, reefs, active plate boundaries, mineral reserves, new flora and their applicabiltiy to things like cancer cures, and so on.

    But I’m no expert, and like I said, I’m for all research that broadens the mind.

  • maca

    Copy and paste? 😉

  • Donnie

    so what will exploring the oceans give us?

    Everything Beowulf said. And more. Vague enough for you maca? 🙂

  • swmcc

    SWM here 🙂

    I don’t know what this discussion is about, I think the jist of it is that we shouldn’t spend so much money on exploring when there are thousands dying.

    We are explorers, we need to explore. That’s why we came out of the cave, over the hill, over the mountain and across oceans. We are explorers first and foremost. Why should we explore space? Simple answer, becuase it is next.

  • Davros

    From a site beloved of ATW’s David and Andrew:

    Titan probe reveals orange world

  • peteb


    “I don’t know what this discussion is about”

    ermm… did you read the initial blog, swm? 😉

  • StrayToaster

    swm can read now?

  • peteb

    Admittedly, Marc, that was an assumption on my part.