Water on Nearby Worlds

So, we’ve covered the far distant worlds which might house adequate enough water sources to sustain life, but what about the ones which we’re actually sure about, the ones we’re a little bit closer to? There are a few different, confirmed sources of water within our own solar system. It might not necessarily be water as we know it, but it’s still liquid, and it still has the potential to sustain life in some sense or another. 


We are, supposedly, on the cusp of developing the technology to render distance between worlds almost a non-issue, but for the time being, our next door neighbours are our best hope. So which ones are worthy of consideration? Well, these ones…


Enceladus

Probably the least well known sphere on this list, Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of Saturn, with a diameter of about 500km. From a distance, it looks a bit like the wrinkles you find on the underside of your leg when you’ve been sat in the same place for too long. Said wrinkles are actually huge rifts and craters in the moon’s icy surface. Yes, icy. Enceladus is basically a big ball of ice, occasionally permeated by awesome sounding cryovolcanoes which blast water vapour, sodium chloride crystals and chunks of ice out into space. As a result, it actually snows on Enceladus, but the matter which doesn’t come back down drifts out to form part of Saturn’s E ring.


In 2010, NASA found evidence to suggest that there’s a subsurface ocean beneath the ice on the South Pole, which could go some way to explaining the hydrothermal activity. That’s what we know for sure, but theories suggest that the entire inner layer is ocean, and the reason this is theorised is because Enceladus ‘wobbles’ at it orbits Saturn, which would suggest that the entire icy surface is actually moving freely and independently of the core, there’s nothing to anchor it. 

In terms of sustaining life, it’s obviously worth taking into account that Enceladus is very, very cold, but the presence of salty water, a porous rocky core and a possible hydrothermic energy source all suggest that there might already be life beneath the ice. Several missions to investigate further have been proposed, including one which would involve landing on the surface and melting through the ice to collect biological samples.


Ganymede

Ganymede is big; it’s 2% larger than Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system, and a full 8% larger than Mercury. It’s largely made up of silicate rock, but there is a lot of evidence of tectonic activity on the surface which could have been caused by tidal heating. It also has a thin atmosphere of oxygen across the surface, including O, O2, and possibly O3 (ozone). Most importantly though, there is evidence to suggest that, like Enceladus, it has a subterranean ocean.


As a matter of fact, it is theorised that Ganymede’s salty ocean may contain more water, cumulatively, than Earth. The deepest the ocean ever gets on Earth is just under 11km (that would be the Mariana Trench) but estimates suggest that the oceans on Ganymede could be as deep as 100km. Think about that for a second, that’s the distance from London to Brighton, straight down. There’s some evidence of flooding in the lower reaches as well, suggesting that water has at some stage come up through faults in the surface. 

The catch, however, is this: that ocean is likely over 100 miles underground, so even with the help of a robot, actually exploring them for signs of life would present almost insurmountable obstacles. For this reason, it’s not really a candidate for supporting human life, but if we could ever actually access the water flowing beneath the rock, we could utilise it for other ends. A mission sometime in the 2020s will explore Ganymede, along with Europa and Callisto, both of which are also thought to have water sources.


Ceres

Ceres is a fascinating little sphere. The dwarf planet sits nestled in the asteroid belt which forms a perimeter between Mars and Jupiter. It is, in fact, the largest body residing in the belt, with a 945km diameter, which makes it the 33rd largest body in the solar system. It’s comprised of rock and ice, as many of the other dwarf planets are (their size necessitates it to some extent), and there’s been talk of a past ocean existing there for years, but then in 2014 some new evidence came to light.


The Herschel space observatory caught a glimpse of several huge plumes of water vapour erupting from the planet’s surface. This phenomenon is well documented as far as comets go, but unheard of on dwarf planets. Just over a year later, NASA’s Dawn probe arrived in orbit around Ceres, having set off back in 2007. It had already photographed two ‘bright spots’ thought to be evidence of cryo-volcanic activity, but once it drew closer still, more spots were found. Evidence now suggests that the spots were formed due to a build-up of salty brine, and the presence of ammonia-rich clay.

Whether or not Ceres has ever sustained life is still up for debate, but there can be almost no doubt that a layer of watery ice exists beneath the surface. It’s been hypothesised that the vapour eruptions might have even propelled microorganisms all the way to Earth. Fully liquid water may even still exist further down, as evidenced by the presence of volatile materials in the interior.


Mars

You all saw this coming. Mars remains our best option for beginning the process of interplanetary colonisation, which some have argued is our race’s only chance of survival, in the long term. It’s just unfortunate that it’s a big red rocky ball of boring, at least by comparison to Earth. The thing is, though, it wasn’t always thus. Today, there’s ice on the surface and water vapour in the air, but around 3.8 billion years ago, the atmosphere would have allowed for standing water to exist, and what’s more, it probably covered most of the planet.

5 million cubic kilometres of ice have been logged across the surface of the planet, and as such, if the climate shifted to support liquid water again, the entire planet would be coated in around 35 metres of it, on average, and that’s without taking into account the ice trapped beneath the rocky surface. Numerous outflow channels, lakebeds and deltas have been observed, as well as mineral deposits which could only have formed in water. There is even some evidence to suggest that flowing water may still exist in certain areas, welling up from somewhere below.

It might seem like we know a lot about Mars at this stage, but imagine trying to scour the entire surface of Earth with a team of small robots, it would take centuries. Admittedly Mars doesn’t have quite the abundance of features that Earth does, but even at this point it’s fairly self-evident that it once supported some form of life, and likely could again if the need arose.




Callum Davies


Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

 

Office Water Coolers – Do They Increase Productivity?

We’ve all heard the term ‘water cooler talk’, referring to office natter, and the installation of water coolers in office buildings or any other kind of commercial building is a logical undertaking, people need to drink. There’s a secondary benefit to it though – supposedly having a watercooler in your office can actually boost staff productivity.

Img source: BorgandOverstrom.com
That might seem like a contradiction in terms, given that if people are getting up to get water, or standing talking around the source of it, they are categorically not working, but as many studies have shown, short regular breaks during the day are highly beneficial for motivation. A trip to make a coffee or use the vending machine might serve the same purpose in that sense, but staffers pumped full of additives and coffee-flavoured caffeine granules aren’t going to be as reliable as the ones keeping a healthy intake of H2O. 
We are supposedly meant to drink 1.2 litres of water a day, which isn’t all that much, it boils down to somewhere between 5 or 6 glasses a day (depending on the volume of the glass, obviously), which is far easier to maintain if you have a source of cooled water within easy reach. A recent study carried out by the University of East London found that regular intake of drinking water actually improves focus, as the brain isn’t constantly reminding the body that it needs to be hydrated. 
They tested this by splitting 34 people into two groups – one which ate a breakfast and another which did the same, only with a glass of water afterwards. Performance tasks were then carried out and the results were consistently better in the hydrated group. In this way, having a nearby supply of water in a working environment can increase productivity significantly. One source said 14% but I have no earthly idea how you would go about quantifying that.
It’s not just staff either, having one of these in your waiting area makes a far better impression on clients, interviewees and other visitors who might come knocking, even if they don’t actually make use of it, it shows that you’ve taken their comfort and well-being into consideration. While there might be other water sources in the building, many people do not trust tap water, and many more still will hardly ever take the time to buy a bottle on the way in or fill one up at home. In this sense, without a water cooler, staff members may actually be less hydrated at work than they are at home. 
Most of the offices I’ve ever worked at have had watercoolers, and I noticed a measurable difference in my work output when I started making regular use of them. Better hydration is scientifically proven not only to increase energy levels but also to elevate mood, raise metabolism and generally turn people into more motivated, energised workers. 
In an office environment, it grants the added benefit of allowing staff to take mini-breaks from their desks and screens each time they want a refill. It might not sound like much, but once again it’s been deduced that getting up and moving around frequently can vastly improve productivity for desk-bound workers. In sum, yes, water coolers do increase productivity, significantly. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

 

The Gulf Stream – What it is and How it Affects Britain

Brits love to complain about the weather, and one of the most tired, excruciatingly stereotypical jokes about our fair nation is how dismal it tends to be. The fact is though, it should be a hell of a lot colder, given our northerly position and latitude relative to Newfoundland, but instead we enjoy a climate comparable to New England and parts of Canada. We have the Gulf Stream to thank for this.

The Gulf Stream is one of the most powerful currents in the Atlantic Ocean. All the most powerful currents and winds in the oceans of our planet are broken down into the 5 gyres: the Indian Ocean Gyre, the North Atlantic Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre, the North Pacific Gyre and the South Pacific Gyre. The Gulf Stream is part of the North Atlantic.
All gyres are characterised by a central high pressure zone, within which the currents will move in a wide circle, either clockwise if they’re above the equator or anti-clockwise if below. You know that bogus story about toilets flushing in different directions depending on whether you’re above or below the equator? This stems from the same basis, but it’s actually true. 
Polar forces guiding towards the equator and the poles then create a boundary current, and in the case of the Northern Atlantic Gyre, this is the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream’s current is initially directed by trade winds coming from Africa, until it smashes into the North American coastline and gets forced northward
This action is what brings the warmer currents up into Europe. It affects all of Britain in this way, but Cornwall is a particularly prominent example. The latitude of Cornwall means that it catches a warmer part of the Gulf Stream than the rest of the UK, which is why it is far and away the warmest region, and has a markedly different range of flora and fauna, including palm trees. At the most extreme south-westerly point (and the Isles of Scilly), Cornwall’s climate actually becomes sub-tropical
In a more historical context, the Gulf Stream actually played an instrumental role in the colonisation of the Americas. Once it had been discovered (but as yet unnamed), shipping routes from Europe to North and South America were planned in a such a way that they could take advantage of the strong currents, despite needing to take a 2000-3000 mile longer route to do so. 
It was actually Benjamin Franklin who finally put a name to the Gulf Stream when he mapped it in 1770. He had noticed that it took postal ships longer to reach New York from England than it took merchant ships to reach Rhode Island, and was told that those merchant ships cross the current, whereas the postal ships ran against it. Knowing this, Franklin worked with a group of whalers (including his cousin, Timothy Folger) to chart and map the Gulf Stream.
Has climate change had any impact on the Gulf Stream though? Sadly, it has. In 2011 alone, the core point of the Gulf Stream moved 125 miles north. More significantly, the cold water flow that helps drive the Gulf Steam has been steadily decreasing for the past 60 years or so, and if this keeps up, the stream will more than likely start to slow. This will likely lead a temperature increase across much of Europe and elsewhere.


Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.

The Best Diving Spots: Europe Edition

There’s no better way to experience the aquatic world than diving. The relaxing comfort of being able to breathe underwater, the beautiful silence, the feeling of being carried by the current and the uncanny insight into a world which humans can’t usually venture into. The ocean covers more than 70% of the planet, and bearing that in mind, your options for diving locations are nothing if not broad.

Opinions on what makes a great diving spot will always be mixed, different people look for different things, but ultimately everyone’s just out to have an amazing subaquatic experience, and we think these 5 spots all scratch that itch.
Eddystone Reef – England

You would think that finding an amazing, vibrant coral to explore would take you far outside of the British Isles, or at least away from England, but you’d be wrong. The Eddystone is only 12 miles out of Plymouth, marked by the lighthouse which towers above its infamously perilous territory. Even before it was haunted by U boats during the Second World War, this little stretch of the English Channel was a notorious ship killer, and that’s part of what makes it such a memorable dive.

From 7 metres to around 60 the reef is absolutely teeming with life, particularly crustaceans, as well as various species of urchins and anemones. Pollack and wrasse are also in abundance. As long you’re careful to avoid the areas savaged by the strong currents, this is an essential trip for divers at any level.
Madierense – Portugal
For all the allure of the Algarve, Lisbon and Porto, the Portuguese island of Madeira is often overlooked, but it most certainly shouldn’t be, especially as far as diving is concerned. In 2000, the retired Madierense cruise liner was sunk about a mile off the coast and some 34 meters below the surface to provide a framework for a reef to develop. Now, 16 years later, it’s paid off and then some. 
The new reef has become a fertile hunting ground, playing host to barracuda, tuna, jacks, bream and although it’s unclear if he’s still there, there was at one point a massive grouper nicknamed Beiçolas (Big Lips) who would happily follow divers around the wreck. Arrive at the right time though, and you’ll be treated to a display unlike any other. Massive manta rays and devil rays frequent the site from time to time, and seeing them perform their majestic dances across the water is nothing short of life-changing.
Blue Hole – Gozo

This is, as the name suggests, a big blue hole. You start in water too shallow to even swim in, and then drop through a huge hollow into the depths, before going through another giant archway which leads out into the open sea. If you stick to the reef wall there are a number of different swim-throughs to explore where you can see spiny lobster, octopi, moray eels and grouper.
Head further out though and the life is even more abundant, all the way down to about 40 meters. The visibility is typically excellent; it feels like being on the edge of the world. If you’re lucky you might even catch sight of some of the cuttlefish which live in the area, one of the most intelligent molluscs on the planet, and if they catch sight of you they may well provide a demonstration of their incredible colour changing abilities.
Strýtan – Iceland
The Eyjafjörður is the longest fjord in Iceland, and is reputed to be one of the most incredible sights in the country even before you get beneath the water. Right in the middle, at around 70 meters deep, there’s a geothermal spring that’s been belching hot water up from below for more than 11,000 years. A 55 meter tall limestone chimney has formed around it, creating the beacon which guides divers to this amazing spot.
There are two main areas to dive here, the big Strýtan and the little Strýtan. The latter is shallower, and riddled with smaller chimneys, meaning it has a remarkably high density of marine life, like rays and wolf fish. During the summer some dive groups take guillemot eggs down with them and boil them over the chimneys to eat back up at the surface.
Turtle Island – Greece
If you’re happy to do a bit of boating to get to this magical island at a very particular time of year, you’ll be in for one of the most amazing displays that Greek diving has to offer. The reef is bustling with life all year round, but at certain points in the year loggerhead turtles return to the island to spawn. You can sit on the beach and watch them drag themselves ashore to lay, or jump in the water with them.
The reef cuts a wide perimeter around the area, and the calm water and relatively shallow depth make it a good dive for beginners. The water is best from May to September, 20 degrees or just above is the typical average. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Water on Faraway Worlds

Water is a fundamental ingredient needed to create life on Earth. Without it, it would be another arid, lifeless planet, hurtling around its native star devoid of trees, birds, beasts or Taco Bells. As such, it stands to reason that when we look outward, trying to figure out which planets are the most likely to be able to support life, water is one of the first things we search for. As yet, there are 4 worlds which we know for a fact have water, all of them within our solar system, and then there are more, far further off, that we’re at least reasonably sure have it. In this article, we’ll be looking at them.
Gliese 667 Cc – Distance from the Sun: 23.6 Light Years
Artist’s Impression
 Discovered in 2011 in the Scorpius constellation, Gliese 667 Cc runs a narrow 28 day orbit around its parent star – Gliese 667 C, which makes up one third of a triple star solar system. It is thought that Cc receives around 90% of the sunlight that Earth gets, but as most of this is infrared, a huge amount of the energy is likely stored by the planet. In this sense, it has a high potential to have a very similar atmospheric makeup to Earth, if a little bit warmer. Three other planets in the Gliese system are thought to be in the habitable zone.
Tau Ceti f – Distance from the Sun: 11.9 Light Years
Artist’s Impression
 Tau Ceti holds the distinction of being the nearest system to ours thought to harbour habitable worlds. It was originally though that Tau Ceti e was the front runner, but recent data has suggested that it’s just barely in the habitable zone. F, however, seems more promising, even if it’s only been within the right orbit distance for less than 1 billion years. This means that if there’s any pre-existing life on Tau Ceti f, it probably still exists on a very simplistic level, but what will it likely reside in? You guessed it, water.
Gliese 1214 b – Distance from the Sun: 42 Light Years
Artist’s Impression – Souce: pics-about-space.com
1214 b is a super-Earth, meaning that it’s larger than Earth, but not large enough to be a gas giant. It’s one of only a handful of such known worlds, and it is in many other respects unique. It’s 2.3 times the size of Earth in diameter and almost 7 times heavier. Most significantly though, a huge contingent of its mass appears to be water; it may well be almost entirely coated with ocean, giving it the nickname ‘The Waterworld’. Is it habitable though? Well, maybe, but some pretty major living adjustments would need to be made, especially considering that the equilibrium temperature is thought to be between 120 and 282 °C. We don’t really make sunblock that strong yet.
The Kepler 62 Twins – Distance from the Sun: 1,200 Light Years
Artist’s Impression – Source: misanthropester.com
Since the Kepler probe was launched in 2009, it has verified 1,284 new planets. Of those, 550 could be rocky, Earth-like planets. Two particular points of interest have been Kepler 62e and 62f. Both of them seem to be within the habitable zone, e takes 122 days to orbit and f takes 267. Both of them are super-Earths, but there’s an outside chance that e might actually have a gaseous surface. F, on the other hand, is one of the best hopes for habitability we’ve yet found, and may be at least partially coated with ice, given that it’s the farthest planet from its parent star.
Kepler 186f – Distance from the Sun: 420 Light Years
Artist’s Impression: Source: YouTube
At first glance, Kepler 186 might not seem like an ideal system to support life or water at all, being that its parent star is a red dwarf, and the first 5 orbiting planets are all too close to support liquid water, but f might just be the ideal exception. Red dwarf exoplanets aren’t necessarily uninhabitable, although the probability of tidal locking (one side of the planet facing the star constantly) is high, but this can in turn create a far higher rate of cloud formation, which can balance out the temperature across the whole planet. F is too far away to properly analyse to check the atmospheric composition, but supposing its atmosphere has a primarily nitrogen/oxygen composition (which is likely), the surface temperature would be right for liquid water to form.

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.