NASA's finds on Titan with another flyby coming up next week:https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cass ... 80213.htmlTitan's Surface Organics Surpass Oil Reserves on Earth
Saturn's orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes.
The new findings from the study led by Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar team member from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., are reported in the Jan. 29 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters.
"Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material -- it's a giant factory of organic chemicals," said Lorenz. "This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan."
At a balmy minus 179 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit), Titan is a far cry from Earth. Instead of water, liquid hydrocarbons in the form of methane and ethane are present on the moon's surface, and tholins probably make up its dunes. The term "tholins"was coined by Carl Sagan in 1979 to describe the complex organic molecules at the heart of prebiotic chemistry.
Cassini has mapped about 20 percent of Titan's surface with radar. Several hundred lakes and seas have been observed, with each of several dozen estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth's oil and gas reserves. The dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth's coal reserves.
Proven reserves of natural gas on Earth total 130 billion tons, enough to provide 300 times the amount of energy the entire United States uses annually for residential heating, cooling and lighting. Dozens of Titan's lakes individually have the equivalent of at least this much energy in the form of methane and ethane.
April 26, 2016Cassini Explores a Methane Sea on Titanhttps://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/cassin ... a-on-titan
Of the hundreds of moons in our solar system, Titan is the only one with a dense atmosphere and large liquid reservoirs on its surface, making it in some ways more like a terrestrial planet.
Both Earth and Titan have nitrogen-dominated atmospheres -- over 95 percent nitrogen in Titan's case. However, unlike Earth, Titan has very little oxygen; the rest of the atmosphere is mostly methane and trace amounts of other gases, including ethane. And at the frigid temperatures found at Saturn's great distance from the sun, the methane and ethane can exist on the surface in liquid form.
For this reason, scientists had long speculated about the possible existence of hydrocarbon lakes and seas on Titan, and data from the NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission does not disappoint. Since arriving in the Saturn system in 2004, the Cassini spacecraft has revealed that more than 620,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers) of Titan's surface -- almost two percent of the total -- are covered in liquid.
There are three large seas, all located close to the moon's north pole, surrounded by numerous of smaller lakes in the northern hemisphere. Just one large lake has been found in the southern hemisphere.
The exact composition of these liquid reservoirs remained elusive until 2014, when the Cassini radar instrument was first used to show that Ligeia Mare, the second largest sea on Titan and similar in size to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan combined, is methane-rich. A new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, which used the radar instrument in a different mode, independently confirms this result.
"Before Cassini, we expected to find that Ligeia Mare would be mostly made up of ethane, which is produced in abundance in the atmosphere when sunlight breaks methane molecules apart. Instead, this sea is predominantly made of pure methane," said Alice Le Gall, a Cassini radar team associate at the French research laboratory LATMOS, Paris, and lead author of the new study.
...https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/experi ... h-nitrogen
March 15, 2017Experiments Show Titan Lakes May Fizz with Nitrogen
While the thought of hydrocarbon lakes bubbling with nitrogen on an alien moon is dramatic, Malaska points out that the movement of nitrogen on Titan doesn't just move in one direction. Clearly, it has to get into the methane and ethane before it can get out.
"In effect, it's as though the lakes of Titan breathe nitrogen," Malaska said. "As they cool, they can absorb more of the gas, 'inhaling.' And as they warm, the liquid's capacity is reduced, so they 'exhale.'"
A similar phenomenon occurs on Earth with carbon dioxide absorption by our planet's oceans.
Results of the study were published online in February by the journal Icarus.Final Titan Flyby Nears
Cassini will make its final close flyby of Titan -- its 127th targeted encounter -- on April 22. During the flyby, Cassini will sweep its radar beam over Titan's northern seas one final time. The radar team designed the upcoming observation so that, if magic island features are present this time, their brightness may be useful for distinguishing between bubbles, waves and floating or suspended solids.
The flyby also will bend the spacecraft's course to begin its final series of 22 plunges through the gap between Saturn and its innermost rings, known as Cassini's Grand Finale. The 20-year mission will conclude with a dive into Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.
On the Windhexe: ''An engineer could not have invented this,'' Winsness says. ''As an engineer, you don't try anything that's theoretically impossible.''