Aug
05
2005

Saturn's Barren Moon


Titan's lake that wasn't: Pockmarked surface with a large black area that might look like a lake. Courtesy NASA/JPLCourtesy NASA/ESA

After hopes that Saturn's moon, Titan,
might host rivers or oceans of methane and ethane, scientists have determined that its surface is "dry as a bone."

These chemicals abound in Titan's smoggy atmosphere, which is similar to the atmosphere of early Earth. Scientists have hoped the moon might provide clues as to how life began on our planet.

Early radar studies suggested that Titan was covered with pools of methane, a flammable gas on Earth but liquid on Titan because of intense atmospheric pressure and cold (atmospheric pressure near the surface is about 60 percent greater than Earth's!). Last year, the Cassini space craft arrived at Saturn's surface and also observed liquid-like features on its moon.

Why is Titan sending mixed messages? One researcher said: "At one time, maybe a liquid water and ammonia mix flowed onto the surface of froze. That could be smooth on the scale of radar but rough on the scale we see."

Another possibility is that Titan's rivers and lakes evaporated long ago and left flat plains of organic material. Organic particles from Titan's atmosphere might also have settled in low-lying areas, creating smooth lake-like surfaces.

The latest measurements of Titan (done with the Keck II telescope in Hawaii) focused on the southern hemisphere; scientists believe it's still possible that organic material exists in the north.

Titan is the largest of Saturn's 19 moons, and the second largest moon in the solar system. It's rivaled only by Jupiter's moon, Ganymede. Although Titan is classified as a moon, it's larger, too, than the planets Mercury and Pluto. Click here to view a movie of infra-red images (representing heat variations in the atmosphere) of Titan made with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this is very interesting. i found myself compelled to go and find this moon in the sky. however it didnt work out so. i found myself reading this over and over again trying to learn something. wonderful article i hope to see more from you and be able to follow your work on a constant basis.

posted on Fri, 09/16/2005 - 10:34am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I hope your work goes well if u find anything interesting be sure to post it.

posted on Sat, 08/04/2007 - 11:27am

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