Saturn’s Fascinating Moon Titan Has Yet Another Thing in Common With Earth


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Saturn’s Fascinating Moon Titan Has Yet Another Thing in Common With Earth

Visualization of Titan’s largest sea, Kraken Mare, which stretches 680 miles. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS)

Titan—Saturn’s largest moon—is remarkable in that it features a dense atmosphere and stable liquid at the surface. The only other place in the solar system with these particular characteristics is, you guessed it, Earth. Thanks to a pair of new studies, we can add a third trait to this list of shared characteristics: a global sea level.

Two new studies published in Geophysical Research Letters are offering fresh insights into one of the solar system’s most intriguing objects, the Saturnian moon Titan. The first study provides the most detailed topographical map of Titan to date, while the second study piggybacks off this research, showing that Titan’s largest seas and lakes have a common equipotential surface, meaning they form a common sea level. Both studies were done by researchers from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Using data from multiple sources, including the late, great Cassini probe, a research team led by Alex Hayes was able to piece together the new topographical map. It’s not perfect (it still has some gaps and “hazy” areas of uncertainty), but it’s the most detailed yet.

The new topographical map of Titan. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS)

The exercise, which took a full year, revealed some new features, including new mountains (none higher than 2,290 feet (700 meters)) and depressions in equatorial regions that appear to be either ancient, dried seas or cryovolcanic flows (that is, flows produced by ice volcanoes). The Cornell scientists also learned that Titan is more oblate—or flatter—than we thought, which means it has a crust that’s highly variable.

In the second study, also led by Hayes, the researchers used the new topographical information to show that an average sea level exists across Titan’s seas and lakes. Unlike Earth’s oceans of liquid water, however, Titan features water bodies of oily hydrocarbons (e.g. liquid methane and ethane). Titan’s largest seas and lakes were shown to rest at a consistent elevation across the planet, similar to how the Atlantic and Pacific oceans sit at a common sea level on Earth.

Smaller lakes appeared at heights several hundred feet higher than Titan’s sea, again approximating something we see on our planet. As an extreme example, Lake Titicaca sits 12,507 feet high in the Andes Mountains.

“We’re measuring the elevation of a liquid surface on another body [930 million miles] away from the sun to an accuracy of roughly 40 centimeters [15.75 inches]. Because we have such amazing accuracy we were able to see that between these two seas the elevation varied smoothly about 11 meters [36 feet], relative to the center of mass of Titan, consistent with the expected change in the gravitational potential,” said Hayes in a statement.

By referring to Titan’s gravitational potential, Hayes is talking about differences in sea level elevation owing to the effects of gravity (gravity isn’t consistent across a large celestial body, due to differences in its mass and shape). The global differences in sea level variation, the new research shows, are within the expected bounds of the moon’s gravitational effects.

Ligeia Mare is the second-largest known body of liquid on Saturn’s moon Titan. (image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell)

This study shows that Titan’s large liquid bodies must be connected somehow. The most plausible explanation, say the researchers, is that they’re connected by underground aquifers, and not through channels or rivers on the surface.

“We don’t see any empty lakes that are below the local filled lakes because, if they did go below that level, they would be filled themselves. This suggests that there’s flow in the subsurface and that they are communicating with each other,” said Hayes. “It’s also telling us that there is liquid hydrocarbon stored on the subsurface of Titan.”

Titan’s hydrocarbons are likely flowing beneath the surface, similar to how water flows through underground porous rock or gravel on Earth—the result being that nearby lakes or seas share a common liquid level.

Much of this is pure speculation at this point; scientists will somehow have to prove that Titan’s subsurface features pools of interconnected reservoirs of hydrocarbons—a big ask, to say the least. But that simply means Titan is ripe for further investigation, and possibly a robotic mission.

[Geophysical Research Letters, Geophysical Research Letters]

Beneath Biblical Prophet’s Tomb, an Archaeological Surprise


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Beneath Biblical Prophet’s Tomb, an Archaeological Surprise

 Beneath Biblical Prophet's Tomb, an Archaeological Surprise
Seven inscriptions were found in looters’ tunnels dug beneath the destroyed tomb of Jonah (one of the tunnels is shown here).

Credit: Eleanor Robson

Deep inside looters’ tunnels dug beneath the Tomb of Jonah in the ancient Iraq city of Nineveh, archaeologists have uncovered 2,700-year-old inscriptions that describe the rule of an Assyrian king named Esarhaddon.

The seven inscriptions were discovered in four tunnels beneath the biblical prophet’s tomb, which is a shrine that’s sacred to both Christians and Muslims. The shrine was blown up by the Islamic State group (also called ISIS or Daesh) during its occupation of Nineveh from June 2014 until January 2017.

ISIS or ISIS-backed looters apparently dug the tunnels to look for archaeological treasures from the Assyrian kings in what is today Iraq, Ali Y. Al-Juboori, director of the Assyrian Studies Centre at the University of Mosul, wrote in a recent issue of the journal Iraq. [In Photos: Ancient City Discovered in Iraq]

One inscription, in translation, reads: “The palace of Esarhaddon, strong king, king of the world, king of Assyria, governor of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the kings of lower Egypt, upper Egypt and Kush [an ancient kingdom located south of Egypt in Nubia].”

This inscription was found during excavations at Nineveh on the back of a fallen "lamassu," a deity with a human's head and the body of a lion or bull. It reads (in translation): "The palace of Ashurbanipal, great king, mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria, son of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, descendant of Sennacherib, king of Assyria."

This inscription was found during excavations at Nineveh on the back of a fallen “lamassu,” a deity with a human’s head and the body of a lion or bull. It reads (in translation): “The palace of Ashurbanipal, great king, mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria, son of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, descendant of Sennacherib, king of Assyria.”

Credit: Stevan Beverly

Kush leaders at one point ruled Egypt, according to ancient inscriptions found at other archaeological sites. Those inscriptions also say that Esarhaddon defeated the Kush rulers and chose new rulers to govern Egypt.

Another inscription found under the Tomb of Jonah says that Esarhaddon “reconstructed the temple of the god Aššur [the chief god of the Assyrians],” rebuilt the ancient cities of Babylon and Esagil, and “renewed the statues of the great gods.”

The inscriptions also tell of Esarhaddon’s family history, saying that he is the son of Sennacherib [reign 704–681 B.C.] and a descendent of Sargon II (reign 721–705 B.C.), who was also “king of the world, king of Assyria.”

Al-Juboori also translated four other inscriptions found at Nineveh, near the Nergal Gate (Nergal was the Assyrian god of war), between 1987 and 1992 by an archaeological team from Iraq’s Inspectorate of Antiquities. Conflicts in the area made it difficult for the team to publish their discoveries at the time.

The inscriptions date to the reign of King Sennacherib, and they all say this king “had the inner wall and outer wall of Nineveh built anew and raised as high as mountains.”

Archaeologists found several inscriptions near the Tomb of Jonah during the 1987-1992 excavations. One of them was written on a prism-shaped clay object and discusses Esarhaddon’s many military conquests, including Cilicia (located on the southern coast of what is now Turkey). The transcribed inscription calls Esarhaddon “the one who treads on the necks of the people of Cilicia.”

Esarhaddon claims in the inscription that “I surrounded, conquered, plundered, demolished, destroyed and burned with fire twenty-one of their cities together with small cities in their environs. …” The inscription also discusses his conquest of Sidon (located in modern-day Lebanon), claiming that Esarhaddon’s army tore down the city’s walls and threw them into the Mediterranean Sea.

The remains of ancient inscriptions from other sites that ISIS tried to loot and destroy have also been found. After the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud was recaptured in November 2017, the surviving inscriptions include one describing a monkey colony that once flourished at Nimrud.

Originally published on Live Science.

Ancient Statue of Nubian King Found in Nile River Temple


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Ancient Statue of Nubian King Found in Nile River Temple

Ancient Statue of Nubian King Found in Nile River Temple

Parts of a 2,600-year-old statue engraved with an Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription were discovered recently at the site of Dangeil in Sudan.

Credit: J. Anderson/© Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project

Remains of a 2,600-year-old statue with an inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphics has been discovered in a temple at Dangeil, an archaeological site along the Nile River in Sudan.

Found in an ancient temple dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun, the statue depicts Aspelta, who was the ruler of the Kush kingdom between 593 B.C. and 568 B.C. Some of Aspelta’s predecessors had ruled Egypt, located to the north of Kush. Though Aspelta didn’t control Egypt, the inscription says (in translation) that he was “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” and was “Beloved of Re’-Harakhty” (a form of the Egyptian sun god “Re”) and that Aspelta was “given all life, stability and dominion forever.”

“Being ‘Beloved of a god’ confers legitimacy on a ruler,” wrote archaeologists Julie Anderson, Rihab Khidir el-Rasheed and Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, who co-direct excavations at Dangeil, in an article published recently in the journal Sudan and Nubia. The “Kushite kings were closely tied to Re,” they noted. [See Photos of the Newfound Statue with Hieroglyphics]

While Kush lost control of Egypt during the reign of a king named Tanwetamani (reign circa 664–653 B.C.), his successors, including Aspelta, still called themselves “King of Upper and Lower Egypt,” Anderson, an assistant keeper at the British Museum, told Live Science. The title “may be viewed as general assertions of authority using the traditional titles, and not a claim to Egypt,” Anderson said.

In 2008, archaeologists found parts of the Aspelta statue, including the head, along with statues depicting two other Kushite kings — Taharqa (reign ca. 690–664 B.C.) and Senkamanisken (reign ca. 643-623 B.C.).

The statue parts were found in a temple (main gate shown here) dedicated to the god Amun.
The statue parts were found in a temple (main gate shown here) dedicated to the god Amun.

Credit: M. Tohami/© Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project

However, those Aspelta statue parts held little of thehieroglyphic inscription, preventing archaeologists from firmly identifying the statue as depicting Aspelta. It wasn’t until new pieces of the statue that had the hieroglyphic inscription were discovered during fieldwork in 2016 and 2017 that archaeologists could identify the statue and begin the process of putting it back together.

Archaeologists won’t know the statue’s exact dimensions until more reconstruction work is done, but, based on what they have so far, they estimate that the statue of Aspelta is “approximately half life-size.”

The Amun temple, where the statues of Aspelta, Taharqa and Senkamanisken were discovered, dates back at least 2,000 years. The statues were likely constructed during the lifetimes of their respective kings and were displayed long after those kings died, Anderson said.

“Statues might be displayed in temples, particularly the forecourts of temples, after the reigns of the kings, as they may have served as intermediaries between the people and the gods in popular religion,” Anderson told Live Science.

People used the Amun Temple until the late third to early fourth century, when the temple ceased to function. The kingdom of Kush also collapsed during the fourth century.

Between the late 11th and early 13th centuries, long after the Amun temple had fallen into ruin, people were digging graves in the ruined temple, archaeologists found.

Eight tombs excavated during the 2016 and 2017 field seasons contained the remains of several adult women and at least one juvenile. Inside those tombs, the researchers found a trove of jewelry, including necklaces, beaded belts, rings, bracelets and anklets. Altogether, the eight tombs held about 18,500 beads and more than 70 copper bracelets, she noted, adding that it dates back to a time when Christianity was widely practiced in the area.

The vast amount of jewelry “suggest this is an elite group” Anderson said, but archaeologists aren’t sure about who these people were.

The excavations at Dangeil are a mission of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), Sudan. The mission is sponsored by the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project. Mahmoud Suliman Bashir and Rihab Khidir el-Rasheed are both archaeologists with NCAM.

Originally published on Live Science.

A Man’s Eye Floater Was Actually a Tapeworm — Plus Thousands of Its Eggs


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A Man’s Eye Floater Was Actually a Tapeworm — Plus Thousands of Its Eggs

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A Man's Eye Floater Was Actually a Tapeworm — Plus Thousands of Its Eggs

An image of the pork tapeworm Taenia solium.

Credit: CDC/ Dr. Mae Melvin

A tapeworm in your gut sounds horrifying enough, but imagine having a tapeworm in your eye.

That’s what happened to a man in Florida who initially thought he saw something moving across his vision, only to discover he had tapeworm living in his eye, according to news reports.

The man, Sam Cordero, recently went to the doctor after experiencing vision problems. “I see a little black dot and it’s only on the left eye. I see something moving from left to right,” Cordero told the news station WFTS in Tampa.

Cordero turned out to have an infection with Taenia solium, a porktapeworm. The parasite traveled from his intestines through his bloodstream and into his eye. By the time he saw a doctor, the worm was living in the fluid-filled area behind the eye’s lens, called the vitreous chamber, WFTS reported.

T. solium is a parasitic infection that people can get by eating raw or undercooked pork, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cordero said he believes he ate undercooked pork around Christmastime. [‘Eye’ Can’t Look: 9 Eyeball Injuries That Will Make You Squirm]

Most people infected with this tapeworm don’t experience any symptoms, the CDC says, although some people with intestinal infections may experience abdominal pain, loss of appetite and weight loss.

Eye infections with pork tapeworms are rare: Only about 20 such cases have been reported worldwide, according to WFTS. Despite its rarity, Cordero’s ophthalmologist, Dr. Don Perez, has now treated two patients with tapeworm eye infections. (Perez first treated a patient with the infection in 2012.)

“I’ve been hit with lightning because you seldom see this,” Perez told WFTS.

Pork tapeworms in the eye can cause blindness. The worm’s eggs can also infect the brain, where they grow into cysts. (A person does not need to have an eye infection with the parasite for it to infect the brain; it can infect the brain from elsewhere in the body.)

Cordero had an eye procedure to have the tapeworm removed. During the procedure, Perez suctioned out a 3-millimeter (0.1 inches) tapeworm, along with tens of thousands of eggs, WFTS said.

Cordero is now parasite-free and has no vision problems. He says he will make a change to his lifestyle after his medical ordeal: He will no longer eat pork.

Original article on Live Science.

The Best Space Photos Ever: Astronauts & Scientists Weigh in


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The Best Space Photos Ever: Astronauts & Scientists Weigh in

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The Best Space Photos Ever: Astronauts & Scientists Weigh in

Australian National University astrophysicist Brian Schmidt chose this Hubble photo of Supernova SN 1994D as his favorite space image, which he called “the poster child of a type Ia supernovae.” The supernova is the bright spot on the lower left, shown near the galaxy galaxy NGC 4526. Schmidt won the 2011 Nobel Physics prize for his studies of distant supernovas that helped reveal the existence of dark energy.

Credit: NASA/ESA, The Hubble Key Project Team and The High-Z Supernova Search Team

The wonder of the cosmos.The beauty of the heavens. Such phrases come easily to mind when contemplating space, which is just such a photogenic place.

Looking up at the night sky has inspired humanity for eons, and the first photographs taken of space changed our relationship with the sky forever. Then, the first photos taken from space, both of distant galaxies and of our own planet, revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos again.

Many seminal images stand out in the history of astrophotography, with some pictures universally adored and others special to individuals for personal reasons.

We asked scientists, photographers, authors and historians for their favorite space photographs and found a diversity of choices, as well as some popular recurring favorites. [Gallery: Experts’ Favorite Space Photos]

Seeing Earth from lunar orbit

The most-nominated photo we received was without a doubt “Earthrise,” the first picture taken of planet Earth bypeople orbiting the moon. This shot was captured by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, as his spacecraft became the first to fly around the moon.

"Earthrise," the first picture taken of planet Earth by people orbiting the moon. This shot was captured by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, as his spacecraft became the first to fly around the moon.

“Earthrise,” the first picture taken of planet Earth by people orbiting the moon. This shot was captured by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, as his spacecraft became the first to fly around the moon.

Credit: NASA

“It was iconic for the environmental movement,” said astronomer Jill Tarter, co-founder of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “It allowed us to see ourselves as Earthlings living on a single, fragile, beautiful planet. This perspective is even more important today. Many of the challenges we face require long-term thinking and global cooperation; they do not respect national boundaries.”

Tarter called her selection of this picture as her favorite a “no-brainer,” and she wasn’t alone. Former astronaut Pamela Melroy, one of only two women to command the space shuttle, selected “Earthrise,” too.

“In space, new vantage points always result in striking images — we saw that all the time as the space station was assembled, and cameras and windows opened up new views of the space shuttle and International Space Station in ways that always surprised us,” Melroy told SPACE.com. “But the first view on Apollo 8 of Earthrise had to have been the biggest surprise ever —a new view of spaceship Earth!”

Deep fields and lunar vistas

More votes for “Earthrise” came from John Mather, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, and writer Dava Sobel, author of space- and science-themed books “The Planets,” “Galileo’s Daughter” and “Longitude.”

Sobel called out the picture of Earth, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope’s famous “Hubble Deep Field” photo, which offered the deepest view yet of the universe when it was taken in 1995, by combining light gathered over many hours to reveal thousands of distant galaxies.

“Both [photos] set the mind ajar, spring surprises on the senses,” Sobel said.

This seminal 1995 image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Called the Hubble Deep Field, it collected light over many hours to reveal the deepest view of the universe yet, which included thousands of distant galaxies.

This seminal 1995 image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Called the Hubble Deep Field, it collected light over many hours to reveal the deepest view of the universe yet, which included thousands of distant galaxies.

Credit: R. Williams (STScI), the Hubble Deep Field Team and NASA

These two pictures were called “familiar classics” by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek of MIT.

“To break the tie with something fresher, I’ll mention a recent one, that’s actually far from beautiful, but that I find meaningful and deeply moving,” Wilczek said. The photo he picked is called “Earth From Mars,” which was taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on March 8, 2004. It was the first image of Earth seen from the surface of a planet beyond the moon.

This photo, called "Earth From Mars," was taken by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on March 8, 2004. It was the first image of Earth seen from the surface of a planet beyond the moon.

This photo, called “Earth From Mars,” was taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on March 8, 2004. It was the first image of Earth seen from the surface of a planet beyond the moon.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M

Astronomer Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz nominated an image of the crescent planet Neptune and its crescent moon Triton taken by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989.

“There’s no false color, no artifice, no agenda,” Laughlin said.”This photograph is calming, mysterious and aesthetically perfect.”

The crescent planet Neptune and its crescent moon Triton, as seen by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989.

The crescent planet Neptune and its crescent moon Triton, as seen by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989.

Credit: Voyager 2, NASA

In some cases, the meaning behind a photo eclipses its aesthetic qualities. That may be the case for a photo of helmets and spacesuits covered in lunar dust after the last manned moonwalk, from the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

“It symbolizes NASA at its best, and our exploration aspirations for the future,” said Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist Alan Stern, who chose the photo.

This photo shows helmets and spacesuits covered in lunar dust after the last manned moonwalk, from the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

This photo shows helmets and spacesuits covered in lunar dust after the last manned moonwalk, from the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

Credit: NASA

Solar scientist Phillip Chamberlin’s pick can be appreciated by anyone for its pure beauty, but this photo of the sun has special meaning to the researcher, who is deputy project scientist for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) at theGoddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“When we first started getting data, after years of work on building the SDO instruments and spacecraft, launching SDO, and early ops, we took our first images and this is what we saw with AIA, [SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument],” Chamberlin said. “Absolutely amazing.”

This photo was among the first images taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite.

This photo was among the first images taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite.

Credit: NASA/SDO

For more photo picks, see our complete gallery of experts’ favorite space images.

Saturn’s Rings Seen by Cassini Probe

Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

This story was provided by SPACE.com, a sister site to Live Science. Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.