Titan, one of Saturn's moons, is the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere — ten times denser than the atmosphere of Earth. Five years ago, the Cassini–Huygens mission to Saturn, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA, sent a probe through Titan's atmosphere, revealing that Titan is home to a landscape that includes hills, valleys and most notably lakes.
A researcher involved with the mission, Prof. Akiva Bar-Nun of Tel Aviv University&'s Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences, has now determined the composition of these lakes. Taking into account the chemical components of Titan's atmosphere, he has demonstrated that the lakes are not composed of water but contain liquid hydrocarbons like ethane and methane, which are also found in oil and gas wells on Earth.
His in-depth analysis of the chemical composition of Titan's atmosphere and lakes was recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets.
Gases turned to rain
"Titan's unique atmosphere does not include nitrogen and oxygen like Earth's, but rather nitrogen and methane," Prof. Bar-Nun says. Solar irradiation of the methane in Titan's atmosphere produces a variety of hydrocarbon gases, which condense in the atmosphere and fall to the surface of Saturn's moon.
"Upon reaching the cold surface, they liquefy, raining down, flowing through the gullies and accumulating into lakes — but you wouldn't want to jump into them on a summer holiday," he continues. Further solar irradiation of these hydrocarbons in the atmosphere also produces tiny globules of polymers, or aerosols, which give Titan its famed orange glow.
The chemical processes on Titan are different than those on Earth because there is no water vapor in Titan's air, leading to hydrocarbon-based lakes unlike those seen on our planet. Because of this, the frequent claims that Titan could be a laboratory for the investigation of life's emergence on Earth are unfounded, he says.
From Titan to Siberia?
Prof. Bar-Nun says that these recent findings confirm predictions that he made in 1979, when he first developed the theory that there were lakes on Titan. Upon falling to the moon's surface, he theorized, the hydrocarbons in the atmosphere would form lakes with a depth of approximately 43 meters had they been covering the entire surface of Titan. In addition, he hypothesized that the same elements would form aerosols in the atmosphere.
The Cassini-Huygens mission also confirmed a prediction that Prof. Bar-Nun and his fellow researchers made in 1999 regarding the height of mountains on Titan. Titan's water-ice crust, he explains, has similar properties to the permafrost found in Siberia. Being partly fluid, permafrost permits hills and mountains to rise no higher than 1,900 meters, or approximately 6,200 feet. And indeed, no hill or mountain on Titan's surface exceeds that height, the researchers found.
Keep up with the latest AFTAU news on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AFTAUnews
George Hunka | EurekAlert!
UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine
Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.10.2016 | Life Sciences