Free Newsletters - Space - Defense - Environment - Energy - Solar - Nuclear
..
. 24/7 Space News .




SATURN DAILY
Happy Birthday Titan!
by Staff Writers
Laurel, MD (SPX) Mar 28, 2012


Sunlight reflects off a Titan lake in this image captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME), a candidate for NASA's next Discovery-class mission, would perform the first direct inspection of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on the cloudy, complex moon of Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

On March 25, 1655, Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, using a telescope he built himself, observed a small bright dot suspiciously close to the planet Saturn. Huygens correctly surmised that it might be a moon of that planet, and confirmed as much by following it in its orbit over the next few days.

We now know this distant moon, Titan, to be strangely one of the most Earthlike and most interesting worlds in the solar system. "Huygens would be pleased," says Ralph Lorenz, a planetary scientist and Titan authority from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md.

"He held the view that the universe was full of other planets and that many might have life, and for that matter, their own astronomers just like himself. But he recognized that other worlds would be different too, that while there might be rain on a moon of Saturn, it must be rain of another material because Saturn, so far from the sun, would be too cold for water to be a liquid."

In fact, we now know that Titan has clouds, rain and occasional rivers of methane - more familiar to us on Earth as natural gas. Another component of natural gas, ethane, is slightly less volatile, and is thought to be a significant component of large seas on Titan.

These seas, which have tides caused by Saturn's gravity, have been mapped out using radar and near-infrared observations on the NASA-European Space Agency (ESA)-Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) Cassini spacecraft, which has been flying past Titan typically every few weeks since it arrived in 2004.

A year on Titan is 29.5 Earth years long, so the seasons have changed slowly as Cassini has been observing - and with northern spring underway, sunlight is now falling on the seas. "This will let us learn more about the seas using optical methods," Lorenz says, "and, since the summer warmth will stir stronger winds, perhaps we'll observe waves on the surface of the seas, which have so far been as flat as a mill pond."

The second-largest of these seas, named Ligeia Mare, is the destination of the proposed Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) mission. TiME, one of three candidates to be NASA's next Discovery Program mission, would perform the first direct inspection of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and floating on, Ligeia Mare.

The TiME capsule would launch in 2016 and reach Titan in 2023, parachuting onto the large sea. For 96 days the capsule would study the composition and behavior of the sea and its interaction with Titan's weather and climate. TiME would also seek evidence of the complex organic chemistry that may be active on Titan today and that may be similar to processes that led to the development of life on the early Earth.

"In some ways, Titan is so like the Earth," says Ellen Stofan, TiME principal investigator from Proxemy Research Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md.

"On any given day it could be raining, or you could stand along the shore of a sea and even see small waves on the surface. There are all kinds of organic compounds that are falling out of the atmosphere into the sea - we'd love to learn more about the chemical reactions that take place. They will not be life as we know it, which is not viable in Titan's seas. But there will be chemistry in the seas that may give us insight into how organic systems progress toward life."

If NASA selects TiME, Stofan would lead the mission as principal investigator and APL would manage it. Lockheed Martin in Denver would build the TiME capsule, with scientific instruments provided by APL, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.

.


Related Links
Applied Physics Laboratory (APL)
Explore The Ring World of Saturn and her moons
Jupiter and its Moons
The million outer planets of a star called Sol
News Flash at Mercury






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





SATURN DAILY
Cassini to Make Closest Pass Yet over Enceladus South Pole
Pasadena CA (JPL) Mar 28, 2012
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is preparing to make its lowest pass yet over the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus, where icy particles and water vapor spray out in glittering jets. The closest approach, at an altitude of about 46 miles (74 kilometers), will occur around 11:30 a.m. PDT (2:30 p.m. EDT) on March 27. This flyby is primarily designed for Cassini's ion and neutral mass s ... read more


SATURN DAILY
NASA's Grail MoonKam Returns First Student-Selected Lunar Images

Ecliptic "MoonKAM" Systems Begin Operations in Lunar Orbit

Two New NASA LRO Videos: See Moon's Evolution, Take a Tour

China to get lunar soil

SATURN DAILY
A glow in the Martian night throws light on atmospheric circulation

Mars Science Laboratory Adjusts Orbital Path And Tests Instruments

Geologists discover new class of landform - on Mars

Red Food For the Red Planet

SATURN DAILY
ICAP Ocean Tomo Auctions NASA Software Patent Portfolios

Not your average heat shield

NASA Seeks Space Launch System Advanced Development Solutions

Patent requests in Europe reach record in 2011

SATURN DAILY
China's Lunar Docking

Shenzhou-9 may take female astronaut to space

China to launch 100 satellites during 2011-15

Three for Tiangong

SATURN DAILY
Beaming Success for ISS Fans

ESA Cargo Ship Carries Research and Technology Investigations to ISS

Japan Shares ISS SMILES via Atmospheric Data Distribution

ATV Edoardo Amaldi set for liftoff

SATURN DAILY
ILS Proton Launches Intelsat 22

US ramping up private sector's role in spaceflight

Europe's smart supply ship on its way to Space Station

Third Ariane 5 ready for launch in 2012

SATURN DAILY
Runaway Planets Zoom at a Fraction of Light-Speed

Some orbits more popular than others in solar systems

Herschel's new view on giant planet formation

Kepler Statistical Analysis Suggests Earthlike Planets Extremely Rare

SATURN DAILY
Magnetic field researchers target 100-tesla goal

AMPAC-ISP Hydrazine Propulsion Module Completes Pre-Ship Review

Apple offers to refund Australian iPad customers

Soviet Weather Satellite Falls in Antarctica




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement