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Titan is a Gas

13 Aug 2009, 06:13 UTC
Titan is a Gas
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Titan has been making a bit of news over the last week. It is Saturn's largest moon, and the only moon in the solar system that boasts an atmosphere much like Earth's, along with an actual weather cycle: clouds and rain, just like Earth, except on Titan the clouds and rain are made of liquid methane. Weather is why it's in the news: a new paper in Nature describes the very first storm observed on Titan, courtesy of NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility and the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. The Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan in 1655, inspired by Galileo, who had used the then-newly-invented telescope 40 years earlier to discover four moons of Jupiter. But it wasn't until Voyager 1 and 2 that scientists began to suspect the moon had seas of liquid methane. Data from Hubble provided more evidence in 1995, and Cassini-Huygens spacecraft confirmed lakes of methane and ethane in 2007 and 2008, respectively.But nobody is quite sure how the methane got there, since methane breaks down rapidly into other organic molecules when it's hit by sunlight. It would need to be replenished somehow.There are two prevailing theories: chemical reactions from iron or magnesium beneath the ...

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