Titan's "Tropical Lake" Excites Scientists

Hevva

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Titan's "Tropical Lake" Excites Scientists



New observations suggest that Saturn's biggest moon might have a hidden secret.

Titan, the largest of Saturn's 62 moons, is known as being the only object in our solar system other than Earth to possess a hydrological system that revolves around a cycle of rain and evaporation. This means that while seas and other large bodies of liquid are expected to form around the moon's poles, its arid equatorial belt should remain nice and dry as liquid evaporates from its surface and heads back to the poles.

However, as scientists investigated information captured by the Cassini spacecraft between 2004 and 2008, they discovered that this supposedly "dry" desert area is positively festooned with what look like puddles, ponds, marshy areas, and even a suspected lake. In this week's Nature, one group has put forward a promising theory to explain how these potential bodies of liquid have managed to sustain themselves, and it contains all kinds of interesting implications.

Led by Caitlin Griffith, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the researchers posit that Titan's mysterious desert ponds are being fed by "subsurface oases" of liquid methane. This makes sense for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the well-documented and large supply of liquid methane floating around Titan's poles.

Having such large stocks of the liquid hydrocarbon floating around beneath the planet's surface throws up all kinds of interesting ideas, not least of which is what its prescence might mean for the development of complex molecules, and perhaps even life forms, on the moon. Methane, while generally unfriendly and often fairly flammable, is composed of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms, essential elements in the building blocks of life.

Astrobiologist Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University, while not involved in this particular piece of research, is excited about the prospect. "There may be organic chemical processes that occur in liquid hydrocarbons that could lead to compounds analogous to proteins and information-carrying molecules," he said, commenting on the work. "There might be a kind of life that works in liquid hydrocarbons."

"There's a place on Titan named Xanadu, and if you go back to the Coleridge poem on Xanadu, he talks about 'caverns measureless to man'," continued Lunine, adding that he'd "love" to find such caverns filled with hydrocarbons under the surface of Titan.

Lunine and Griffiths are both part of the team proposing that NASA send a mission to Titan to look for signs of such complex molecules in the moon's northern seas. Named the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME), the craft's gathering mission would last for three months. NASA will apparently announce whether or not it will run the mission "soon."

In the meantime, we'll just have to wait to see if Lunine's musings on the potential for new forms of life born of hydrocarbons hold any water (or liquid methane). It'll also be interesting to see what implications the results of the research could hold for potential human involvement in Titan. While it looks generally inhospitable, it is bigger than Mercury and would take significantly longer to kill us than that planet would (for example, we'd suffocate from the lack of oxygen rather than boil to death. Tasty). Plus, I heard from this guy [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz3-tvtEtRQ] from three million years in the future that he spent some time on Titan and Ganymede when he was younger, so who knows? Good luck to the TiME mission and its search for hydrocarbon-based potential life, in any case.


Source: Nature [http://www.nature.com/news/tropical-lakes-on-saturn-moon-could-expand-options-for-life-1.10824]


Image: Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Titan_in_natural_color_Cassini.jpg]

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gigastar

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Guess Titan can be second choice if colonising Mars doesnt go to plan.
 

Fappy

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For some reason I always think about Cowboy Bebop when I think about Titan.
 

CosmicCommander

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I'm creaming my pants at the thought of claiming Titan's hydrocarbon deposits. Any company/individual who did that would probably be the richest group/guy ever.
 

GamemasterAnthony

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There's a Titan Maximum reference in this...I just know it.

CAPTCHA: wishy-washy

Oh, leave Palmer alone, Captcha!
 

Adam Jensen_v1legacy

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CosmicCommander said:
I'm creaming my pants at the thought of claiming Titan's hydrocarbon deposits. Any company/individual who did that would probably be the richest group/guy ever.
Believe it or not, we already have laws against that.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_heritage_of_mankind

The reason why we have this law is because of the Cold War and the whole space race. Both sides were worried about what would happen if they lose. They thought the other side would be able to claim all the riches from space. So they made that law. Of course, once we're actually able to go up there and exploit all those resources, I have a feeling that law will change drastically.
 

Saulkar

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Hevva said:
While it looks generally inhospitable, it is bigger than Mercury and would take significantly longer to kill us than that planet would (for example, we'd suffocate from the lack of oxygen rather than boil to death. Tasty)
You forgot to mention that given the planets surface temperature of -180C and an atmosphere 50% denser than our own it takes about only 25-28 minutes for the human body to completely cystalise into an ice cube.


CAPTCHA: om nom nom - It knows your flavour of demise.
 

Redingold

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Hevva said:
This means that while seas and other large bodies of water are expected to form around the moon's poles, its arid equatorial belt should remain nice and dry as liquid evaporates from its surface and heads back to the poles.
Bodies of water? On Titan? Not with a surface temperature of only around 90K, I think.
 

CosmicCommander

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Adam Jensen said:
CosmicCommander said:
I'm creaming my pants at the thought of claiming Titan's hydrocarbon deposits. Any company/individual who did that would probably be the richest group/guy ever.
Believe it or not, we already have laws against that.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_heritage_of_mankind

The reason why we have this law is because of the Cold War and the whole space race. Both sides were worried about what would happen if they lose. They thought the other side would be able to claim all the riches from space. So they made that law. Of course, once we're actually able to go up there and exploit all those resources, I have a feeling that law will change drastically.
How can they arrest me once I have all the...

[HEADING=1]SPACE OIL[/HEADING]
 

RonHiler

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Redingold said:
Hevva said:
This means that while seas and other large bodies of water are expected to form around the moon's poles, its arid equatorial belt should remain nice and dry as liquid evaporates from its surface and heads back to the poles.
Bodies of water? On Titan? Not with a surface temperature of only around 90K, I think.
Not bodies of water. Far too cold for that. Bodies of liquid would be a more apt description. Those liquids being methane, ethane, and other various hydrocarbons.

I just watched a "The Universe" on Titan the other day. Fascinating stuff.
 

Redingold

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RonHiler said:
Redingold said:
Hevva said:
This means that while seas and other large bodies of water are expected to form around the moon's poles, its arid equatorial belt should remain nice and dry as liquid evaporates from its surface and heads back to the poles.
Bodies of water? On Titan? Not with a surface temperature of only around 90K, I think.
Not bodies of water. Far too cold for that. Bodies of liquid would be a more apt description. Those liquids being methane, ethane, and other various hydrocarbons.

I just watched a "The Universe" on Titan the other day. Fascinating stuff.
Yes, I know that. I was pointing out that the OP wrote bodies of water.
 

Hevva

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Aug 2, 2011
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Redingold said:
RonHiler said:
Redingold said:
Hevva said:
This means that while seas and other large bodies of water are expected to form around the moon's poles, its arid equatorial belt should remain nice and dry as liquid evaporates from its surface and heads back to the poles.
Bodies of water? On Titan? Not with a surface temperature of only around 90K, I think.
Not bodies of water. Far too cold for that. Bodies of liquid would be a more apt description. Those liquids being methane, ethane, and other various hydrocarbons.

I just watched a "The Universe" on Titan the other day. Fascinating stuff.
Yes, I know that. I was pointing out that the OP wrote bodies of water.
The OP didn't mean to, thanks for pointing it out! Will fix now.
 

Quaxar

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gigastar said:
Guess Titan can be second choice if colonising Mars doesnt go to plan.
Nah man, Europa is where it's at.
A water ice crust and the possibility of liquid oceans underneath.
 

uchytjes

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interesting fact: due to the atmosphere and the smaller amount of gravity, it could be possible to have man-powered flight on titan. So pretty much astronauts could slap on a pair of wings to their arms, flap them, and not look like a complete idiot.
 

antipunt

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Months later:

"GAIS, we confirmed it. There's life!"

"holy crap holy crap!"

"there are microorganisms"

"holy crap!"

"it'll take millions of years of evolution for it to become intelligent!"

"...."

" >_> "