Titan News 2018


February 9, 2018 : Scientists From Washington State University Simulate An Alien Sea Of Hydrocarbons To Test An Exploration Submarine Of NASA

Researchers from Washington State University have performed a laboratory simulation of the alien sea or lake that one may encounter on Saturn's largest moon Titan. The experiments regarding the dynamics or the composition of the seas or lakes are needed to build a suitable submarine for the exploration of the north polar lakes or seas on the Opaque Moon. NASA is planning a new mission to Titan within the next twenty years and there are several projects involving probes, drones, boats or even submarines. The engineers or scientists re-created the presumed seas or lakes of hydrocarbons in the laboratory and simulated an environment where the environmental temperature is around minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Let's recall that the surface temperature recorded from the Huygens probe on January 14, 2005 after landing was minus 179 degrees Celsius that is to say minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit or 94 Kelvin. The lakes or seas of Titan are likely composed of a mixture of methane and ethane.

The laboratory experiment was fundamentally designed to simulate the behavior of any submarine beneath the surface of a sea or a lake on the giant moon of the Gas Giant Saturn. The simulation was developed by Ian Richardson who is a former graduate student in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. The experiment in the cryogenic laboratory of Washington State University is described in a paper released in the journal Fluid Phase Equilibria. The behavior of liquid hydrocarbons in the pools of Titan's surface may be quite surprising and may be more difficult to manage than in the oceans or seas of liquid water on Earth. Researchers are ambitious for the next step in the exploration of the Hazy Moon. Any probe sent to Titan will have to study the atmospheric conditions where complex organics or hydrocarbons can take shape and will have to study the environment of the lakes or seas as well as the internal phenomena related to the pools of liquids. Will the heat generated by the submarine and its movement engender the emergence or the development of nitrogen bubbles inside the lake or sea explored ?

This mosaic based on near-infrared data taken from the Cassini spacecraft during the T104 Flyby of August 21, 2014 clearly reveals the lakes or seas located in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere of Saturn's largest moon Titan. Data obtained from the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer were used to produce this global view. There is a meteorological cycle implying evaporation processes, condensation processes, cloud formation and precipitation on the Hazy Moon. The properties of the liquids on Titan's surface represent a big question mark. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho.

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February 2, 2018 : Researchers Confirm The Presence Of Vinyl Cyanide High In Titan's Atmosphere And Suggest It May Play A Key Role In The Development Of A Potential Methane-Based Life

Scientists from NASA have confirmed, on the basis of data obtained from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in the desert of Chile, the presence of vinyl cyanide at a high altitude in the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon Titan. Vinyl cyanide is an organic molecule whose chemical formula is C3H3N. The identification of vinyl cyanide in the opaque atmosphere of the Hazy Moon is captivating because researchers believe that vinyl cyanide may represent a key molecule in the development of a potential methane-based life on the giant moon. Molecules of vinyl cyanide in an hypothetical methane-based life on Titan may represent the equivalent of well-known phospholipids in the structure of typical cell membranes in our biosphere. The data from ALMA were in line with the data obtained from the mass spectrometer of the Cassini spacecraft which had led researchers to deduce the presence of vinyl cyanide in the environment of Titan.

Thanks to radar data acquired from the Cassini spacecraft, in particular, we have discovered exotic environments on Titan which are reminiscent of typical environments on Earth. There are mountains, hills, canyons, lakes, seas, rivers and islands on the Opaque Moon. Most lakes or seas are found at high latitudes on the giant moon. The high latitudes of the northern hemisphere appear to be the most humid areas at the present time with major seas or lakes like Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare or Punga Mare. The first body of surface liquids clearly identified on Titan was Ontario Lacus, a kidney-shaped lake or sea located in the high latitudes of the southern hemisphere. Titan unveils a methane cycle implying evaporation processes, condensation processes, cloud formation and rainfall. Water can't appear in its liquid form on the surface of Titan since the environmental temperature is around minus 179 degrees Celsius or minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit. Can liquid methane play the same role as liquid water on Earth for the development of a biosphere on Titan ? Is there a methane-based life on the Orange Moon ?

The image above represents a portion of a radar swath captured from the Radar Mapper of the Cassini spacecraft during the T29 Flyby of April 26, 2007. One can notice the sharp contrast between the land which appears irregular or bright and the pools of liquids which appear dark and relatively uniform. A remarkable network of large interconnected drainage channels can be seen in particular. Some islands can be observed as well. Is there a life form based on liquid methane or liquid ethane in that humid environment ? Do the hypothetical creatures mobilize vinyl cyanide in their metabolism ? Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cassini RADAR Team/Jason Perry.

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January 20, 2018 : Researchers Produce A New Global Topographic Map Of Titan Revealing That The Main Seas Have The Same Height And May Be Interconnected With A Subsurface Network Of Liquids

Some new studies unveiled in Geophysical Review Letters on December 2, 2017 reveal that the main seas located in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere on Saturn's largest moon Titan have the same level similar to our sea level on Earth. This finding implies that the three seas may be interconnected via a subsurface network of liquid hydrocarbons or that the drainage channels between the pools redistribute the liquids so that the level of each sea is similar to the level of the other seas. The new analyses were published in two papers of Geophysical Research Letters. The first paper entitled  Titan's Topography and Shape at the End of the Cassini Mission  was proposed by Paul Corlies, the first author of the paper. The second paper entitled  Topographic Constraints on the Evolution and Connectivity of Titan's Lacustrine Basins  was proposed by Alex Hayes, assistant professor of astronomy.

Researchers managed to produce a new global topographic map of the Opaque Moon which unveils new features such as new mountains that don't exceed the height of 700 meters. The topographic map clearly shows variations in altitude of surface features such as hills or depressions on the entire globe of the Orange Moon. Planetologists were in a position to determine that there are two areas representing depressions in the equatorial region. The depressions may correspond to ancient seas or dried seas or they may represent cryovolcanic flows. The global map also shows that the Hazy Moon is a little bit flatter or more oblate than previously thought. That configuration implies that the thickness of the crust may vary to a larger extent than previously believed. The second paper reveals that the three seas unveil a common equipotential surface that is to say the equivalent of the common sea level on Earth.

There may be a subsurface reservoir of liquid hydrocarbons in the area of Kraken Mare and Ligeia Mare or the channels connecting the seas may balance the level of each sea. The well known seas of Titan's northern hemisphere may communicate or interact via the presumed subsurface reservoir. The analytical work reveals that most lakes represent sharp-edged depressions. Some high ridges can be observed in some locations. Is the environment of Titan's lakes and seas similar to the environment of karstic terrain or limestone areas on Earth ? Are there caves engendered by dissolution processes or erosion ? Liquid water is absent on the surface of Titan due to extremely harsh conditions. The lakes and seas of Titan may be mainly composed of methane and ethane. So, what are their properties or interactions with the soil or crust of the giant moon ? Why do the lakes studied unveil a process of uniform scarp retreat ?

The image above represents a colorized radar map of Titan's northern hemisphere unveiling, in particular, the famous seas or lakes Kraken Mare and Ligeia Mare. The bodies of surface liquid in this view appear blue or dark. There may be a subsurface reservoir of methane or ethane fueling the seas or lakes found in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere of the Hazy Moon. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS.

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