Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Natural satellites that are striking a cord

There are some fairly interesting happenings in our universe these days. For now, I'm going to take a look at our own solar system, but I definitely will return to talk about other aspects of the universe.

Just in our solar system, there are purportedly several moons with liquid water oceans.
This is surprising given we normally assume any object closer than Earth to the sun does not have water and any object further away has ice but not liquid water.

Europa is a moon of Jupiter's which has the highest likelihood of having a liquid ocean underneath its surface. Most planetary scientists believe that a layer of liquid water exists beneath Europa's surface, kept warm by tidally generated heat due to gravitational/magnetic influences from Jupiter itself. Unusual features on Europa's surface also hint at a hidden ocean.

Europa has emerged as one of the top locations in the Solar System in terms of potential habitability and possibly, hosting extraterrestrial life. Life could exist in its under-ice ocean, perhaps subsisting in an environment similar to Earth's deep-ocean hydrothermal vents or the Antarctic Lake Vostok. If life were to exist on Europa, it would not only prove that life exists beyond Earth but that life is likely to be common throughout the Universe.

Other moons of Jupiter, namely Callisto and Ganymede, as well as Neptune's largest moon, Triton, are also hypothesised to have liquid oceans for similar reasons to Europa, although there is less certainty about them.

Titan is Saturn's largest moon and the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds and a dense atmosphere. On the surface, water behaves like rock and hydrocarbons behave like liquids such as water. It has a dense atmosphere and the surface is rocky, similar to rocky planes on Earth. Titan has rivers and lakes populated by hydrocarbons. It is also thought to likely have a subterranean water ocean under the mix of ice and hydrocarbons that forms its outer crust.

Scientists believe that the atmosphere of early Earth was similar in composition to the current atmosphere on Titan, with the important exception of the lack of water vapor on Titan. Many hypotheses have developed that attempt to bridge the step from chemical to biological evolution.

Enceladus is one of the hottest places in the Solar System to look for life due to pure accessibility. This tiny moon has geyser-like jets of water bursting from the surface. There are a number of potential explanations, such as the source of the water being supplied from a liquid ocean underneath the crust, heated by Saturn's gravitional/magnetic influence. The presence of liquid water under the crust means there has to be an internal heat source. Scientists now believe it is a combination of radioactive decay and tidal heating, as tidal heating alone is not enough to explain the heat.


Articles on "Europa, Callisto, Ganymede, Titan and Enceladus." Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

Briggs, Helen. "Saturn Moon May Have Hidden Ocean." BBC News - Home. 20 Mar. 2008. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. .


Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Life is Really About

Trying to weigh my priorities recently has left me pondering what life is truly about. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with a distorted view of what a good life should be - flashy cars, large mansions and madly following anything else that is trending. While these things are not inherently bad, the image that they represent is a materially-obsessed, shallow, artificial and, above all, selfish life.

The respected entrepreneur and speaker Richard Koch once quoted a study exploring the correlation between money and happiness. At the start of the graph, as money goes up, happiness also moves up. This is logical because we need a certain amount of money to stay out of poverty. However, Koch notes that at a "surprisingly low level" of income, as the the scale of money goes up, happiness will tend to level off. What this study shows is that more money does not equate to more happiness, unless you are living in poverty. This is readily seen in the world's wealthiest celebrities, many of whom are not happy.

Tim Soutphommasane, a philosophy writer for The Age Melbourne, asserts that when all our material needs and obsessions are met, “life is bound to be disenchanting”. There are certain aspects of the ‘human condition’ that are directly at odds with the ‘pursuit of happiness’. My personal opinion is that a person can live happily if they recognise the clash between happiness and money, and accept that “there is a certain point beyond which material wealth stops adding to happiness”.

Clearly, life is not about the mindless pursuit of money or judging someone solely from their outward appearance, as the media would like to lead us to believe. So what should we aim for in life? The following points are pretty obvious, but I thought I should remind myself.

What life is about:
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Generosity
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Love
  • Harmony
  • Morality
  • Compassion
  • Health
  • Happiness
  • Good humour
  • Doing what you enjoy and having fun
In my opinion, these things are what make life special. They are meant to reflect the 'measures of success', which I discussed in an earlier blog post. These are the aspects of our lives we should develop and carefully look after.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Balance of Conformity

The classic argument against conformity is that it constricts individuality and uniqueness. What would be the point of living if someone else could take our place and do just as good a job? However, we all must conform to some extent, so it is rash to condemn conformity from the outset. After all, wearing clothes, drinking water and even breathing are forms of conformity. Of course, those are bare essentials, but even something like going to school is a concept that today's first-world society cannot live without.

On the other side of the spectrum, people conform heavily because they are afraid of standing out. If they stand out, others will readily notice that they are 'different' and may judge them negatively. In order to enjoy life to the fullest, we need to strike a balance between conformity and non-conformity. It is smart to conform in areas that will ensure our safety. For example, a person wears non-offensive clothing to avoid provoking other people into attacking him or her. However, in my opinion, we conform way too much in areas not related to safety and health. In my previous post, I have already noted some areas which I consider 'misconceptions of measures of success'.

Conforming without a strong scientific basis can lead to major problems. In the early 1900s, a stock market craze evolved. It seemed like easy money; but the investors' enthusiasm drove the stock prices up too high. The prices no longer represented to true value of the stocks. This lead to the Great Depression of 1929 in which a large proportion of average investors got owned. If you were a typical person back then and you had followed your enthusiastic friends into the stock market game, you would have lost a large chunk of your life savings.

We follow the crowd because it is easy. If everyone else does it, surely it must be a good thing, right? However, by mindlessly following others, we are failing to use our greatest asset - our brain. Every human being is born with endless potential, but if we do not exercise and develop our brain, we cannot harness the potential. The classic book by Napoleon Hill was called Think and Grow Rich; it is the 'thinking' part that is the most important.

In conclusion, conformity is a tricky issue to tackle. It is intelligent to conform in areas of safety and health. However, other areas give people much more leeway. We must strike our own unique balance between conformity and non-conformity. Conformity is essential, but there are areas where it is better to make our own independent decisions. As the celebrated poet Robert Frost said in his poem The Road Not Taken, "I took the [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Measuring Success

I have recently pondered how a person measures success. Assessing my own priorities, I have narrowed my personal definition of success down to a collection of dot points.

Measures of success

  • Ability to help and inspire others less fortunate than you.
  • Ability to contribute to society.
  • Ability to help and inspire those around you, especially in long-term ways.
  • Number of very high quality friendships

Misconceptions of measures of success

  • Net worth
  • Salary, or how much money one makes
  • Material possessions
  • Academic test scores (e.g. VCE scores)
If you believe I have missed anything critically important, please leave a comment. I have not conferred with many people about my views, so I have no idea if they would be considered 'radical' or not.

Of course, there are some basic things I have not listed because I felt that they were too obvious, such as keeping healthy and being able to survive financially.
I contemplated listing 'level of academic education' somewhere, but I decided that it would vary from person to person according to their chosen career, e.g. a medical researcher would obviously need a high level of specialised academic education compared to a professional chess player.

I feel that I am being rather hypocritical because I find myself mindlessly working towards some of the dot points in the latter list. This is frightening because I can recognise that they are only superficially important. I feel this is because such pursuits have been drummed into me through media, and sometimes even friends and family. I have no direct solution to such a problem, except to keep an open mind and to keep my options open where possible.

There is one quality I am undecided about. It is the 'ability to immortalise oneself in a positive way – i.e. to establish one’s name in history'. When I asked this of a friend, he also agreed that this point is difficult to categorise. I think the reason I am reluctant to place this in the former list is because all the points there are relatively selfless, but there are clear selfish motivations in trying to put your own name in the history books.

Overall, priorities differ from person to person. There are many people I know who would have 'net worth' listed in the initial list. Nevertheless, I believe the vast majority of people would agree with the selfless qualities listed at the top.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Longest-Living Organisms Part I

This edition of the Longest-living Organisms concerns the longest-living conifer, the bristlecone pine. Bristlecone pines are a small group of pine trees, one species of which, the Great Basin bristlecone pine, lives longer than any other type of tree. They occur only in high altitudes in the Western United States. The trees grow very slowly due to cold temperatures, dry soils, high winds and short growing seasons. The areas they grow in rarely harbour diseases that harm them. Their wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi and other potential pests. They range from approximately 5 to 18.5 metres tall. By measuring the rings in wood from the older bristlecone pines, scientists can determine what the climate was like thousands of years ago.

The oldest documented living tree is a Great Basin bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of eastern California. It is more than 4,700 years old. A collection of bristlecone pines on Wheeler Peak in eastern Nevada is known to contain several trees over 3,000 years old, with one thought to be about 5,000 years old.


"bristlecone pine." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2010 <>.

Sprugel, Douglas G. "Bristlecone pine." World Book Student. World Book, 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2010.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Funny Kitty on TAYG

Here is a scene of a Funny Kitty on Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation. Please watch the full scene.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Saturn's Two Amazing Moons

Saturn has at least two stand-out moons as I have recently been informed about.

Titan - on this moon, which is Saturn's largest, water behaves like rock and hydrocarbons behave like water or liquid; it has a dense atmosphere and the surface is rocky (similar to rocky places on earth); Titan has hydrocarbon rivers and lakes

Enceladus - this is the hottest place in the Solar System to look for life due to pure accessibility; it beats Mars and the supposed liquid ocean underneath Europa's icy crust; this tiny moon has geyser-like jets of water bursting from the surface; there are a number of potential explanations, such as the source of the water being supplied from a liquid ocean underneath the crust, heated by Saturn's magnetic/gravitional influence

For more information, search the NASA website.