Skip to comments.Saturn's largest moon has dramatic weather, geological activity (Titan)
Posted on 11/30/2005 10:08:05 AM PST by NormsRevenge
PARIS - Saturn's planet-size moon Titan has dramatic weather, with freezing temperatures, carbon- and nitrogen-rich clouds and possibly lightning, scientists said Wednesday, describing a world that may have looked like Earth before life developed.
The European Space Agency's probe landed on Titan in January, uncovering some mysteries of the methane-rich globe - the only moon in the solar system known to have a thick atmosphere. Scientists presented detailed results of months of study in the journal Nature and at a news conference in Paris.
Titan has long intrigued researchers because it is surrounded by a thick blanket of nitrogen and methane. Until recently, scientists believed the most likely explanation for the methane was the presence of a methane-rich sea of hydrocarbons.
The Huygens probe and its mother ship, Cassini, have offered evidence against that theory. The $3.3 billion Cassini-Huygens mission to explore Saturn and its moons was launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral, a joint effort involving NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency.
Cassini is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Titan's clouds are made from molecules that include carbon and nitrogen - compounds generated in photochemical smog and circulated by rain and the atmosphere, the researchers reported in Nature.
They said there was no reason to believe Titan's methane is a product of biological activity.
Yet more methane is appearing constantly and may burst from ice volcanos or fall as rain, researchers said, describing riverbed and drainage channels spotted during the craft's descent Jan. 14.
Scientists described the moon's freezing temperatures: 290 degrees below zero on the surface. The atmosphere has distinct layers and may offer evidence of lightning.
Titan's smoggy atmosphere may be similar to that of the primordial Earth, and scientists believe that studying it could provide clues to how life began.
The first results from the Huygens probe were released in January: Black-and-white photos showed a rugged terrain of ridges, peaks, vein-like channels and apparently dry lakebeds on the moon 740 million miles away.
ON THE NET
European Space Agency: http://www.esa.int
30 November 2005
Images from the DISR Side-Looking Imager and from the Medium Resolution Imager, acquired after landing, were merged to produce this image. The horizons position implies a pitch of the DISR, nose-upward, by 1-2° with no measurable roll. Stones in the foreground are 10-15 cm in size, presumably made of water ice, and these lie on a darker, finer-grained substrate.
A region with a relatively low number of rocks lies between clusters of rocks in the foreground and the background and matches the general orientation of channel-like features in the panorama view from 1.2 km (3rd image in article). The scene evokes the possibility of a dry lakebed.
Credits: ESA/NASA/University of Arizona
Well, at least we'll be able to make small talk with the aliens when we meet. lol
What a fantastic thing to ponder. We are indeed living in marvelous times. Thanks for the post!
Maybe we could get all the leftists and French (but I'm being redundant) to move there?
Well, that would rule out my 3-alarm chili.
(sorry, couldn't resist) :0)
"The scene evokes the possibility of a dry lakebed."
Actually, in the photo, it looks like the rocks are emersed in about 1" of liquid water, with several inches in the foreground. You can even see ripples in the "water." Of course, they don't have liquid water on Titan. Maybe liquid methane, or maybe just the poor graphics.
Great info ... I love science, that is real science ... I imagine Bush will be somehow blamed for this too :)
Me: Mornin Zxaxnor.
Zxaxnor: Mornin Creek.
Me: beautiful day in'it?
Zxaxnor: Yep, only supposed to get up around -298 today.
Me: Sounds like a great day for you, the missus and 10 or 15 thousand of the larva to hit the beach down to methane lake.
Yeah, of course Bush is to blame. He's even affected the weather patterns on Titan.
I don't mean to complain, but if you're going to bother sending a camera 800,000,000 miles from earth, couldn't you send a camera that takes really excellent color photographs?
Interesting implications vis a vis possible origins of hydrocarbons here on Earth.
The Huygens probe and its mother ship, Cassini are equipped with about a dozen optical cameras, not to mention various filtered radio cameras. The optical camera on Cassini is capable of 12,000,000pix resolution. 12 million.
Looks more like sort of gravel to me. And note the apparent wind scouring of this possible sediment around the one "rock." If indeed it's gravel and not sand, that is one heck of a wind that made such scouring.
The optical camera on Cassini is capable of 12,000,000pix resolution. 12 million.
I wasnt referring to the Cassini craft. That has produced stunning images.
I was wondering why we only get Zapruderish images from the surface of Titan:
The rocks are rounded. It seems unlikely to me that with such extreme weather, there is no liquid.
"Scientists described the moon's freezing temperatures: 290 degrees below zero on the surface."
Without free oxygen, all you get are some life precursors: tar, black sticky stuff.
Well then, I would suggest inventing a high-quality low temperature camera before making the 800,000,000 trip.
Maybe, maybe not. I don't know what the atmospheric density is on the surface, but with temps that low it could be very high. If the atmospheric density is higher than Earths, heavy scouring could take place with a much smaller amount of wind than you would expect on Earth.
The rounding of the rocks may be caused by spalling because of temperature extremes. Erosion may or may not be a factor.
Also, keep in mind that Saturns rings may be the result of a planetary breakup, and that there's a LOT of loose rock flying around in that system. This "gravel" may not be terrestrial to the moon at all, and could have been rounded by heating as they entered the atmosphere.
This moon is a whole lot more interesting to me than Mars. It's a shame they did not have a more complex lander.
Looks like the camera is looking thru a keyhole.
Not neccesarily. It could cause some fierce reactions, but the low temperature of the atmosphere is going to limit the spread of any open flame by quickly robbing it of energy. I just looked it up, and Titan has an atmosphere 60% denser than the one on Earth. That dense atmosphere would also slow the spread of any flame, allowing the fire to burn out all of its own oxygen...it would effectively self-extinguish.
Of course, this assumes that the methane density is high enough to maintain a sustained burn anyway. I haven't found anything on the actual relative densities of the gasses sampled by the probe, so I'm not sure if there's even enough fuel there to ignite.
That's why they compare Titan to early earth: before free oxygen. First fix all the combustables out of the air, methane, etc., then start liberating oxygen. Do it the other way and you'll end up with a nice fireworks show and a burnt-out cinder.
Wouldn't that be a trip if Titan were made of oil?
Liquid Methane rain. What a bit o' weirdness!
It is. If we can get to the point of moving significant quantities of materials among the various planets and moons, there are plenty of resources to make it possible to develop the moon, for starters, and Mars, and maybe later on, Venus.
Not a nice place!
Interesting thoughts. Indeed, there seems to be some similarity between what we think the the ring material looks like and this apparent gravel.
I blame Bush...