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Pop science media still suffers from space (alien) deprivation


Many here know that Creation-Evolution Headlines is written by the Cassini project mission specialist who was fired by JPL for giving ID DVDs to fellow employees (here)

Anyway, here he punctures some hype about claims that there might be a lake on Saturn’s moon Titan (“Titan Lake News: Throwing Caution to the Wind,” June 15, 2012). A cautious story first aired in Nature (486, 14 June 2012, pp. 237–239, doi:10.1038/nature11165) Griffith et al., “Possible tropical lakes on Titan from observations of dark terrain”). “Tropical” refers to latitude only; Titan is minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit. Coppedge notes

In short, if the scientists interpret the color bands correctly, within the margin of error, a dark oval patch about the size of Great Salt Lake might be a lake of liquid methane. But other options are possible from the data – for instance, it could be a mudflat, a rain puddle, or a patch of dry hydrocarbon-coated sand. Cautiously, the scientists could only state that the data are consistent with it being a liquid methane lake as the best explanation – but even that hypothesis raises new problems, because lakes in tropical regions on Titan are thought to be unstable due to prevailing winds that pile up grains into giant dunes. So if it is a lake, the scientists surmised that the methane would have to come from below, like groundwater in marshes or oases on Earth, instead of from the atmosphere. But they can’t tell (if it is a lake) how deep it is, or how long it has been there, other than to note it has been observed since 2004 (eight years).

And then he looks at how the pop science mags went nuts with it, for example,

National Geographic: “Saturn Moon Has Tropical “Great Salt Lake,” Methane Marshes” (Andrew Fazekas). This one even had artwork.

CNN: “A moon of Saturn may have ‘tropical’ lakes.”

Nature News: “Tropical lakes on Saturn moon could expand options for life” (Maggie McKee)

And it went downhill from there in terms of adding more and more science fiction to the science.

Basically, the pop science media generally talked about building blocks for life, not suggested by they science. They need space aliens, even if they have to make them up. More. For another good illustration of that, see the “Dinosaurs rule alien worlds” flap.

See also: Dave Coppedge is back to keeping score on planet theories


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