Saturn's Titan Harbors an Ocean of Water --Increases Odds for Life
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June 29, 2012

Saturn's Titan Harbors an Ocean of Water --Increases Odds for Life


           Titan (1)


Saturn's Titan has been considered a “unique world in the solar system” since 1908 when, the Spanish astronomer, José Comas y Solá, discovered that it had an atmosphere, something non-existent on other moons. It seems perfectly appropriate that one of the prime candidates for life in our solar system, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, should have surface lakes, lightning, shorelines, relatively thick nitrogen atmosphere -and seasons. And thanks to new Cassini data pointing to an ocean, it just become more so.

Data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have revealed Saturn's moon Titan likely harbors a layer of liquid water under its ice shell.  Researchers saw a large amount of squeezing and stretching as the moon orbited Saturn. The Cassini team deduced that if Titan were composed entirely of stiff rock, the gravitational attraction of Saturn would cause bulges, or solid "tides," on the moon only 3 feet (1 meter) in height. Spacecraft data show Saturn creates solid tides approximately 30 feet (10 meters) in height, which suggests Titan is not made entirely of solid rocky material. 

"Cassini's detection of large tides on Titan leads to the almost inescapable conclusion that there is a hidden ocean at depth," said Luciano Iess, the paper's lead author and a Cassini team member at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. "The search for water is an important goal in solar system exploration, and now we've spotted another place where it is abundant."

Titan takes only 16 days to orbit Saturn, and scientists were able to study the moon's shape at different parts of its orbit. Because Titan is not spherical, but slightly elongated like a football, its long axis grew when it was closer to Saturn. Eight days later, when Titan was farther from Saturn, it became less elongated and more nearly round. Cassini measured the gravitational effect of that squeeze and pull.

Scientists were not sure Cassini would be able to detect the bulges caused by Saturn's pull on Titan. By studying six close flybys of Titan from Feb. 27, 2006, to Feb. 18, 2011, researchers were able to determine the moon's internal structure by measuring variations in the gravitational pull of Titan using data returned to NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN).

"We were making ultrasensitive measurements, and thankfully Cassini and the DSN were able to maintain a very stable link," said Sami Asmar, a Cassini team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The tides on Titan pulled up by Saturn aren't huge compared to the pull the biggest planet, Jupiter, has on some of its moons. But, short of being able to drill on Titan's surface, the gravity measurements provide the best data we have of Titan's internal structure."

An ocean layer does not have to be huge or deep to create these tides. A liquid layer between the external, deformable shell and a solid mantle would enable Titan to bulge and compress as it orbits Saturn. Because Titan's surface is mostly made of water ice, which is abundant in moons of the outer solar system, scientists infer Titan's ocean is likely mostly liquid water.

On Earth, tides result from the gravitational attraction of the moon and sun pulling on our surface oceans. In the open oceans, those can be as high as two feet (60 centimeters). While water is easier to move, the gravitational pulling by the sun and moon also causes Earth's crust to bulge in solid tides of about 20 inches (50 centimeters).

The presence of a subsurface layer of liquid water at Titan is not itself an indicator for life. Scientists think life is more likely to arise when liquid water is in contact with rock, and these measurements cannot tell whether the ocean bottom is made up of rock or ice. The results have a bigger implication for the mystery of methane replenishment on Titan.

"The presence of a liquid water layer in Titan is important because we want to understand how methane is stored in Titan's interior and how it may outgas to the surface," said Jonathan Lunine, a Cassini team member at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "This is important because everything that is unique about Titan derives from the presence of abundant methane, yet the methane in the atmosphere is unstable and will be destroyed on geologically short timescales."

A liquid water ocean, "salted" with ammonia, could produce buoyant ammonia-water liquids that bubble up through the crust and liberate methane from the ice. Such an ocean could serve also as a deep reservoir for storing methane.

View NASA video on Titan



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What can the Cassini crew not accomplish? These observations are very clever and the information really wonderful to hear.

Perhaps by the middle of the next century we shall have the ability to send a manned crew to see with human eyes, this amazing world.

In the meantime, well done!

The presence of liquid water on the Titan, which is the result of its reaction to methane; how much methane is stored in liquid water? But, how much gases methane is stored on Earth? On Earth Methane is a gas, but on Saturn it is a liquid. On the dwarf planets is methane a solid? For we would have methane in its three natural states of Gas,Liquid and a solid. On Earth planets and organic life holds an abundant amount of Methane that is slowly released into the atmosphere through decay and absorption into the rounding landscape. We can calculate how much methane cows produce, but what is the quantity of methane produced by humans? For there is 6 billions humans on the face of the Earth, but how much gas methane will be on the planet when we reach

Are we, humans, the largest producer of methane? Unlike that of Mad Max beyond Thunder dome, not all methane comes from pig shit.

I'm going to take a shot at a hypothesis: Water or Liquid Methane or both, may likely cause a planet or moon to have a atmosphere? Step 2 the atmosphere then has secondary propeties one how it interacts with other outside environmental factors, ie coment impacts into that environmental zone? Thoughts?

I think most of this solar system´s moons have atmospheres in some form. My thought is that most moons do have an atmosphere , but I´d agree that it´d not have to be the same as the Earth´s atmosphere.

Maybe Titan has life, maybe not. But it seems we're finding an increasing number of places in the Solar System where life is possible. It's only a matter of time before we find it somewhere.

The finding of any kind of life on another celestial body in our local solar system. Will be easily one of the most amazing discoveries mankind has ever achieved. The confirmation of such a discovery will almost certainly bring about a completely new way of understanding the complexity of biological life and its ability to adapt and conform to any environment.

There are massive deposits of frozen methane under our oceans, some of which slowly leak into the water then air, while others "blowout" and put out so much gas that boats lose their buoyancy and sink to the bottom. I see a few theorys as to how it got there but no actual footage or proof that its still being gathered under the seas. But you can google this and see videos of methane leaking back to the atmosphere all over the internet.

I believe having any gaseous coating on a planet, moon, or even smaller is considered an atmosphere. I also think that water and methane would be very dangerous mixture on the explosive side. Its my understanding that the sun breaks down water to hydrogen and oxygen. This doesnt mean that it would automatically blow up. Too many variables with too little info is the story of my life!

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