Daily Archives: 01/23/2005

The Hobbit War

Reading Carl Zimmer’s excellent web log, The Loom, I came across an interesting post about the controversy surrounding Homo floresiensis, the diminutive “hobbit” hominid described by a group of Australian paleontologists last October. Seems a prominent Indonesian anthropologist received the fossils in his lab and the Australians are now accusing him of locking the bones away to prevent further study.

Professor Teuku Jacob wrote a response to his Australian critics, citing his belief that the fossils are not a new species, but actually an unfortunate victim of microencephaly and retardation. In his essay, Dr. Jacob accuses the Australians of being ‘conquistadors’ pillaging South East Asia for archaeological treasures. This is certain to touch off all sorts of simmering issues in the often contentious world of paleoanthropology.

Huygens Data Lifting Veil on Titan

Scientists are releasing more data from the Cassini-Huygens mission, including data gathered during last week’s plunge to Titan’s surface. The moon shows eerily familiar similarities with Earth, including river channels, lakes, and springs. Only it is liquid methane that flows on the frozen surface of Titan, running downstream to lakes of the chilly stuff. The temperature on Titan is below -170° C, far too cold for life to develop. The atmosphere and surface of Titan would be extremely volatile if it wasn’t for the complete lack of oxygen on the moon.

…while many of Earth’s familiar geophysical processes occur on Titan, the chemistry involved is quite different. Instead of liquid water, Titan has liquid methane. Instead of silicate rocks, Titan has frozen water ice. Instead of dirt, Titan has hydrocarbon particles settling out of the atmosphere, and instead of lava, Titanian volcanoes spew very cold ice.

In related news, the second data channel from the probe, which was feared lost because of human error, is being reconstructed almost entirely using telemetry received from ground based radio telescopes on Earth. It will take time, but eventually the extra data lost during the descent will be replaced.