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Titanic Atmospheres

11 Feb 2011, 22:51 UTC
Titanic Atmospheres
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This year, the Cassini spacecraft - now in its seventh year of what was only dared hope to be a four-year mission - will visit Titan several times. It is the only moon with a thick atmosphere, the only body in the Solar System besides our own Earth with liquid - and it boasts complex organic molecules of the sort we find on Earth, too.

“It is so far away that light takes more than an hour to get there from the Sun. Spacecraft take years. Much about it is still a mystery . . . We know just enough, though, to recognise that within reach there may be a place where certain processes are today working themselves out that aeons ago on Earth led to the origin of life.” – Carl Sagan, 1994
Saturn’s moon Titan was discovered by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens not many decades after Gallileo had shocked the geocentric world with Jupiter’s moons and heliocentric Universe. He named it “Titan” not because he realised it was large (which it is) but because Saturn’s “family” of Gods in Greek mythology were called the “Titans”. Today we know it to be the second-largest moon in the Solar System ...

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