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Saturn's largest moon Titan can bake its own atmosphere



  Saturn's Largest Moon Titan Can Bake Its Own Atmosphere

NASA's Cassini probe has captured this view of Saturn's largest moon Titan with Saturn's rings in the foreground.

Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

The dense atmosphere that reigns on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, can come from organic material baked inside the moon.

Titanium fascinates scientists because of its dense atmosphere ̵

1; which mainly consists of nitrogen gas – and its liquid methane and ethane oceans. Its atmosphere is thicker than Earth's, and it is the only other body of the solar system with large amounts of liquid on the surface.

The complex molecules on titanium, including organic matter – that is, substances that contain carbon – make it a promising place for life to develop. (And a great place to someday investigate with the help of robotic submarines.) [Titan Landing Pictures by Huygens Spacecraft]

"A lot of organic chemistry undoubtedly takes place on Titan and is therefore an indisputable source of curiosity." Kelly Miller, Researcher in the Southwest The Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the lead author of the new work, said in a statement.

"Because Titan is the only moon in our solar system with a sizable atmosphere, scientists have long wondered where they came from," said Miller. "The main theory was that ammonia ice was converted from comets into nitrogen by collisions or photochemistry to form titanium atmosphere, and while this may still be an important process, it neglects the effects of what we know today is a very significant part of it Comets: complex organic material. "

The composition of Titan's atmosphere did not quite fit with the types of nitrogen and other material of comets. The five percent of the atmosphere of titanium, which consists of methane, put another question: it reacts quickly to form organic substances that would fall to the surface, how is it replenished?

Miller's group looked at data collected by the Rosetta probe on comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which indicates that the comet was half ice, a quarter rock, and a quarter organic matter in the explanation. These materials, which were present in the early solar system, could also have been titanium.

"Comets and primal bodies in the outer solar system are really interesting because they are considered as leftover building blocks of the solar system," Miller said. "These small bodies could be incorporated into larger bodies like titanium, and the dense, organically rich rock material could be found in its core."

  Data from three of Cassini's Titan Flybys make up these mosaics of the object, showing the dense atmosphere of the moon obscuring its surface.

The data from three of Cassini's Titan Flybys form these mosaics of the object, showing that the dense atmosphere of the moon obscures its surface.

According to Miller's calculations, this type of organic material in comets, if at the core of titanium, could produce gases that resemble the current lunar atmosphere. Lunar interior warming models suggest a pleasant environment that could refresh or even boost Titan's atmosphere.

"When you cook something, gases are created," Miller said. About half of Titan's nitrogen atmosphere and all of its methane could be said to be derived from organic matter in the warm atmosphere of the moon.

The new work was detailed on January 22 in The Astrophysical Journal.

Send Sarah Lewin an e-mail to slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains . Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and on Facebook. Original article on Space.com


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