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Cassini 'Tastes' Organic Material at Enceladus

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the why-does-saturn's-icy-moon-taste-like-ecto-cooler-hi-c dept.

Space 70

Riding with Robots writes "As previously reported, the robotic spacecraft Cassini recently flew through the mysterious geyser plumes at Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. Today, NASA released the preliminary results of the flyby, including some intriguing findings, such as organic materials 20 times denser than expected and relatively high temperatures along the fissures where the geysers emanate. 'These spectacular new data will really help us understand what powers the geysers. The surprisingly high temperatures make it more likely that there's liquid water not far below the surface,' said one mission scientist."

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Wasn't it a bust? (1)

SoupGuru (723634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888064)

I thought the "tasting" was a bust...

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/03/14/1535236 [slashdot.org]

Re:Wasn't it a bust? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22888272)

Didn't you see this was posted by Zonk? He likes to be contrary to other folks.

Re:Wasn't it a bust? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22888278)

How dare you point out a flaw in slashdot's article handling! You are hereby excommunicated from the Church of Slashdot. Turn in your E-Meter [cmu.edu] and get out, you treasonous traitor.

Re:Wasn't it a bust? (3, Informative)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889980)

I thought the "tasting" was a bust...

Only one instrument had problems. The others worked.
     

5-day return policy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22888090)

If it gives it back after only 5 days does it get a refund?

Are those Earth days, Saturn days, or Enceladusian days?

Re:5-day return policy (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888144)

Slashdottian days.

Organic? (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888118)

Does someone want to tell me what definition of "organic" they are using, which can be found in comets and moon geysers?

Re:Organic? (4, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888162)

Does someone want to tell me what definition of "organic" they are using, which can be found in comets and moon geysers?

"Compounds containing carbon".

That's all it means, really. Methane is a common one.

Re:Organic? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22888222)

or to be more precise by citing wikipedia:

Organic chemistry is a specific discipline within chemistry which involves the scientific study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation (by synthesis or by other means) of chemical compounds consisting primarily of carbon and hydrogen, which may contain any number of other elements, including nitrogen, oxygen, the halogens as well as phosphorus, silicon and sulfur.

Re:Organic? (3, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888260)

it should be noted however that otherwise "organic" compounds containing boron or silicon are often not characterized as being organic, usually they are referred to as being part of organometallic chemistry. th is even though boron and silicon are not strictly metallic, they are in fact semiconductors.

Re:Organic? (1)

$0.02 (618911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22890072)

Is CO2 organic?

Re:Organic? (2, Funny)

Urkki (668283) | more than 6 years ago | (#22891302)

Nope. You need both carbon and hydrogen, and CO2 has no H. I believe the simplest organic molecule is methane, CH4. It's also hydrocarbon, which means it contains only carbon and hydrogen. Alternatively formaldehyde, CH2O, could be considered simplest, depending on how you define "simple". Then you get more complex stuff by adding more carbon (and hydrogen as much as that new carbon needs), and by adding other elements, like replacing an H in a hydrocarbon with an OH gives alcohols, most importantly from C2H6 to C2H5OH.

And now we get to the real problem with extraterrestial organic molecules. There's usually so much methanol (CH3OH), that drinking the stuff would be rather lethal. So you still need to do distillation to get pure enough ethanol. So there's no point sending people out there, because it's as easy to just make the ethanol here on earth using traditional methods. That's why it's better to send robots.

Re:Organic? (2, Informative)

at0mjack (953726) | more than 6 years ago | (#22891996)

Just to be picky, you don't actually need hydrogen. I reckon most chemists would count hexafluorobenzene as organic. Even with just carbon and oxygen, benzene-1,2,3,4,5,6-hexacarboxylic acid trianhydride (C12O9) would be classed as organic.

A better definition might be, "Contains carbon, does not contain metals (inc. semimetals)", with carbon dioxide and carbonate excluded for historical reasons" :).

Re:Organic? (3, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888204)

traditionally organic meant that it was produced by life and not synthetic- then we figured out how to synthesize a lot of these chemicals and now it pretty much means contains carbon and usually hydrogen. carbon dioxide for example contains carbon but isn't considered organic and neither is pure carbon. water is a vital component of life as we know it and is almost always associated with organic compounds at least in vivo although it too is not considered organic because it doesn't contain carbon, it does however contain hydrogen and oxygen which are very common in organic compounds.

not quote; better definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22896610)

traditionally organic meant that it was produced by life and not synthetic-
If by "traditionally" you mean "colloquially", then that's true. But technically as used in chemistry and physics, "organic" indicates a compound of carbon. The exception that you listed, carbon dioxide, is one of a tiny number of exceptions that prove the rule; the other exceptions I know of are carbon monoxide and "inorganic" salts that nevertheless contain carbon.

It is the variety of bonds carbon can form that make it such an interesting molecule, that makes organic chemistry such an enormous branch of chemistry (dealing with chemical properties of a single element!), and that, as some have claimed, make life possible (or a stronger claim: probable). Sorry I can't find the quote at the moment; I think it was quoted in Sagan & Shklovsky's "Intelligent Life In The Universe", something like "It is the versatility of the carbon atom that makes life possible in this universe."

Then we figured out how to synthesize a lot of these chemicals and now it pretty much means contains carbon...
I think you're referring to artificial hydrocarbons. In any case, the artificial synthesis of organic compounds had no bearing on the terminology. There are *way* more organic compounds than we have even named. They are common in stellar nebulae. The Miller-Urey experiment produced (IIRC) several novel as well as several familiar organic compounds. We haven't studied all the organic compounds to which we have access, and we don't have access to all the organic compounds we've observed (interstellar distances and such...). There are organic compounds we know only through spectroscopy. It is true that hydrocarbons are extremely common in the universe, but they are only a subset of organic compounds which are necessarily even more widespread.

water is a vital component of life as we know it and is almost always associated with organic compounds at least in vivo although it too is not considered organic because it doesn't contain carbon
Red herring or straw man. Of course water is inorganic; as you said, it contains no carbon! Nobody ever claimed it was or should be called "organic".

it does however contain hydrogen and oxygen which are very common in organic compounds.
More of the same. Hydrogen is common in the universe, as are carbon and oxygen ("common" once we get bored with ~3/4 hydrogen, ~1/4 helium, ~0% everythingofinterest). Hydrocarbons and oxides (including the very CO and CO2 mentioned earlier) are also common.

So yeah, carbon, then hydrogen and oxygen are probably the most useful elements for life (and for "life as we know it", the most important). But there are plenty of organic compounds that are (as far as we know) entirely unassociated with known extant biology. "Bio-organic" is a very small subset of "organic", and "biological" is not strictly a subset of "organic" because inorganic compounds (such as water and various salts) are vital to life as we know it.

Re:Organic? (1)

orionop (1139819) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888206)

Organic molecules are typically defined as any carbon compound that is not CO2.
Things such as methane (CH4) are organic molecules.

Re:Organic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22888212)

It means that the compounds found contain substances that have covalently bonded carbon and hydrogen. The simplest case would be methane.

The other definition of organic having to do with growing food without pesticides probably doesn't apply. I suppose it would satisfy the first requirement if they were to find such food, so perhaps it isn't too important to worry about the exact definition.

Re:Organic? (1)

Idimmu Xul (204345) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888478)

Does someone want to tell me what definition of "organic" they are using, which can be found in comets and moon geysers?

aliens!

Re:Organic? (2, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889288)

They were produced without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or unnatural additives of any kind.

Re:Organic? (3, Funny)

ross.w (87751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889498)

...but they don't contain real girl scouts

Re:Organic? (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889852)

...but they don't contain real girl scouts
If they did, the next question would be "how did they get out there?" When all the other boy scouts wanted to organize pantie raids across the lake, I knew we should have been hunting bigger game.

Re:Organic? (1)

metlin (258108) | more than 6 years ago | (#22890890)

Hah.

I had a friend do that once - some kids came by asking him if he wanted girl scout cookies. He asked them if the cookies had real girl scouts in them, and one of the little girls burst out crying.

Of course, these days the man is married with a kid, and meekly buys as many packs as his wife orders him to. Funny nevertheless.

Re:Organic? (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 6 years ago | (#22891840)

In real-world terms: The spacecraft smelt a small fart. Followed the fart and tasted the shit poo accompanying it and Lo! here we have news.

Re:Organic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22900152)

They've found the aliens and the aliens are gaysirs. You don't want to know the definition of "organic" but parts of the movie industry are ecstatic.

In other news the panspermia theory has been validated.

Captcha: biceps (somehow fitting).

suspicions confirmed (5, Funny)

spacefiddle (620205) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888182)

> "Enceladus' brew is like carbonated water with an essence of natural gas," said Waite.

Gawd, i knew it. The primordial hell-brew of the universe is Mountain Dew.

Re:suspicions confirmed (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888382)

That would explain why Cassini is so hyperactive lately.

Re:suspicions confirmed (1)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889672)

A sea of Mountain Dew? I think I hear the sound of Slashdotters calling for massive NASA funding boosts...

oblig (1)

ionix5891 (1228718) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888248)

"its life Jim but not as we know it"

welcome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22888256)

I, for one, welcome our gourmet space probe overlords.

I am with Jack Handy... (2, Funny)

netsavior (627338) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888270)

Whether they find life there or not, I think Jupiter should be considered an enemy planet

Re:I am with Jack Handy... (1)

netsavior (627338) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888292)

and Saturn is just his bastard cousin... obviously they are in league with each other.

nasa should wisen up (2, Funny)

wwmedia (950346) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888326)

if they spin it the right way, that they literally found moons made of petrochemicals in the outer solar system their budget would triple overnight ;)

Re:nasa should wisen up (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889152)

if they spin it the right way, that they literally found moons made of petrochemicals in the outer solar system their budget would triple overnight ;)

Yeah thats an old joke. There is so much methane in the solar system that the real question is where would you find enough oxygen to be able to burn it?

Its right there, free for the taking, but too expensive to extract and transport.

Re:nasa should wisen up (4, Funny)

lusiphur69 (455824) | more than 6 years ago | (#22890798)

In other news, the oil industry announced a 100-billion dollar research grant into carbon nanotubes.

Oli G. Archy, head of Chevron says "We believe a giant straw-like tube would significantly advance our knowledge of the known universe and help our neighbours in the solar system acheive democracy."

What interests me... (4, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888366)

...is that Enceladus has a chemical makeup far and away closer to a comet than to a Saturnian body, but cannot be a captured comet. The speculation I've read suggests it may have been bombarded by so many comets that the overall chemistry may have changed, but we've a name for objects like that -- dust. Being smashed into by objects that must have been many times the mass of the original moon, for there to have been a significant effect, would have reduced the proto-Enceladus into puree-of-moon.

I'm wondering if that, in fact, happened - that there was one almighty pulverization and the modern Enceladus is the result of the lighter material condensing around a surviving fragment of sufficient size to act as a nucleus. In that case, though, there should be another moon formed from the heavier material condensing around another fragment, showing an abnormally high density, in much the same way that the Earth and its moon unevenly divide the material of the original planet.

So far, I've not seen anything that suggests that is the case, but since so little is actually known, I guess it's well within the realms of possible at this point.

Re:What interests me... (1)

NoPantsJim (1149003) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888900)

I really hope I live long enough to find out what "puree-of-moon" tastes like.

Re:What interests me... (1)

daniel23 (605413) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889018)

> far and away closer to a comet than to a Saturnian body, but cannot be a captured comet.

Why not?

Re:What interests me... (3, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889172)

far and away closer to a comet than to a Saturnian body, but cannot be a captured comet.
Why not?

It is too close to Saturn and in too stable an orbit.

Re:What interests me... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889190)

But saturn and its moons formed from the same basic stuff as comets, and the materials being found here would not necesssarily have been baked off during the formation of saturn. I actually don't see why Eceladus could not have substancial amounts of comet-like materials in its crust.

Uhh, organic? (1)

Kelz (611260) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888418)

Doesn't the word organic mean something living (or at one point was living)? Or are we talking about organic compounds?

Re:Uhh, organic? (2, Informative)

junner518 (1235322) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888532)

According to wiktionary, both definitions are correct. As for this article, they are referring to carbon based material. Or so we hope.

Re:Uhh, organic? (1)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889106)

Why do we hope that?

Re:Uhh, organic? (1)

junner518 (1235322) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889194)

Well I think this should be a much bigger deal if biological material was found on another moon. I would hope a story like that would make mainstream news and not just a tech/science oriented site.

Re:Uhh, organic? (1)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889664)

I misunderstood you to mean that hopefully it was not organic as in living.

Re:Uhh, organic? (1)

junner518 (1235322) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889752)

Clearly you understood me perfectly. I would hope a bigger deal would have been made if "organic as in living" material was found on a moon of Saturn.

No, no, no... (2, Funny)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22890548)

No, what they mean is that no man made pesticides have been used on the moon.

Not in the chemistry world (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888594)

where it just means "containing carbon". This is very confusing for the average USA Today reader who thinks that organic == life.

Re:Not in the chemistry world (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22889668)

This is very confusing for the average USA Today reader who thinks that organic == life
Honestly, I don't think the average USA Today reader would make it past ==.

Re:Uhh, organic? (1)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 6 years ago | (#22892240)

Doesn't the word organic mean something living (or at one point was living)? Or are we talking about organic compounds?
And why are we spending so much money on organic enchaladas? At Taco Bell, they're like a buck.

Proposition (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888462)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft tasted and sampled a surprising organic brew erupting in geyser-like fashion from Saturn's moon Enceladus during a close flyby on March 12. Scientists are amazed that this tiny moon is so active, "hot" and brimming with water vapor and organic chemicals.

I hereby propose that Enceladus be renamed Tubgirlus in light of this discovery.

Mmmmmmm... (1)

Attila (23211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888542)

Enchiladas

Re:Mmmmmmm... (1)

ross.w (87751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889472)

spicy moon enchiladas. Or did I read that wrong?

Well, with a little persuasion (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888582)

you get your significant other to taste a little organic matter right here on Earth.

Lets play god (4, Interesting)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888790)

Organic material, eh... We should seed the planet with microbes, come back in a million years and see what evolves there. Would that prove evolution or the god theory?

Re:Lets play god (1)

Stoutlimb (143245) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889714)

That could show evidence for both, depending on how well the new life forms compete with the ones that are already there.

Re:Lets play god (1)

SockPuppet_9_5 (645235) | more than 6 years ago | (#22890404)

We should seed the planet with microbes, come back in a million years and see what evolves there. Would that prove evolution or the god theory?

Well, we'd at least get the answer sooner than when the SPORE game gets finally released.

Re:Lets play god (1)

genner (694963) | more than 6 years ago | (#22897112)

Niether the inhabitants would call it the theory semu-intelligent design and would believe a superior race of morons was responsible for their existance.

...and it tastes like (2, Funny)

Attila the Bun (952109) | more than 6 years ago | (#22888876)

chicken.

Re:...and it tastes like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22890426)

Sure, this is Hefner's Law, under which everything in the universe tastes like chicken, except for pussy, which tastes like fish.

Re:...and it tastes like (1)

lazy genes (741633) | more than 6 years ago | (#22890494)

Kinda like Uranus but much closer.

Chariots of the gods (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889346)

Evidently the engine of the chariot of the god Saturn failed and now he cannot get to Enceladus to refuel.

Yum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22890286)

And after Cassini tasted Enchiladas, it burped and asked for microseconds.

Is this really a good idea? (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 6 years ago | (#22890988)

I'm a little wary of letting passing spacecraft come by and "taste" the atmospheres of our moons. Once these evil robot satellites get a taste of organic material they're going to want more, more, more... and when they're finished devouring the atmospheres of their home worlds in the outer solar system they'll come back to Earth to sap our precious bodily fluids!

User Friendly knows what they found.... (2, Funny)

wwphx (225607) | more than 6 years ago | (#22892616)

Re:User Friendly knows what they found.... (1)

Sonri (900181) | more than 6 years ago | (#22894592)

Mod parent as funny, please. This was the first thing that came to mind when I read the headline.

Mmmm.... (1)

Squiffy (242681) | more than 6 years ago | (#22897090)

Homer Simpson: Mmmmm, encheladus.
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