Saturday, January 15, 2005

Titan and Rat-Attack Bombs

First, my apologies for not updating more frequently but that is what comes from trying to keep too high a tone to the blog. So on a lighter note...
Today we are priveliged to see the first pictures of the surface of Titan, and they are amazing.

Composite image of Titan's surface from an altitude of around 8km (5 miles)
This one, from the BBC news website, shows an image taken while the Huygens probe was 5 miles above the surface. One has to remember that before this it was not even known whether Titan even had any land, it was suggested that its composition may have been liquid. So that these pictures show land was perhaps the most interesting outcome that could have been hoped for. One very interesting aspect of this discovery and the rapid dissemination of these pictures was that for a few hours astronomers and the layperson were levelled in their knowledge of Titan. For example, early analysis from "experts" of pictures like the one above was that the flat, dark, featureless area was probably a liquid ocean and that the dark lines were a river delta. Which is, of course, as much as any non-expert would have assumed. The probe was fortunate enough to land on a solid surface, and some of its final images were of very flat smooth objects, many of which were almost spherical. These were interpreted as rocks, the deductions then probably run that the smooth upper parts of the rocks could be explained as weathering from Titan's atmosphere. However, the curvature at the base could not be explained in the same way, instead the next most likely hypothesis is that the rocks are as they are due to fluid wearing, hence the deduction that the lucky Huygens probe not only landed on dry land but on a flood plain, when the flood was out. It's an exciting and rare thing for us laypeople to be able to think about cutting edge discoveries, perhaps this is how it will be when the LHC starts producing results, but I doubt it will be tangible enough for the evening news, no matter the import.
Also in the news today is the unveling of some incredible US military chemical warfare proposals from 1994 and earlier. Suggestions for development included a bomb to deploy an aphrodisiac that would turn the massed ranks of the enemy into a raging homosexual orgy: brothers in arms indeed. It is most incredible that these weapons, although not developed, are possibilities. There were also proposals for chemicals that would cause wasps to sting and angry rats to attack; can you imagine being the person who decides when this weapon has been most effective: "are the rats angry enough yet?". Even more unfortunate, for fans of slapstick at least, was that another weapon to make the enemy flatulent was suggested, but, ahem, there was no follow through :)

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