Titan: Hide methane water factory in the Universe?

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A team of scientists confirmed in the journal “Science” the existence of an underground lake on Saturn’s largest moon. The presence of the liquid layer explains the presence of methane -abundantly and permanently in the atmosphere and opens new avenues to understand what led to life in the Solar System.


Titan, Saturn’s moon awakens the passions of astrobiology, as it is part of the catalog of places in the solar system with water, the element of the origin of life. Its unique atmosphere has earned the name “chemical factory oil” and its similarity to Earth, with its hydrological cycles, storms, rain and lakes, although they are of methane, have become a source of study since 2004. In 1997, born the Cassini-Huygens collaboration between the American agency NASA and the European ESA. Since I arrived in 2004 to Saturn, images and data obtained have allowed to Saturn and its satellites, some of them so far unknown.

One of the great theories of Saturn’s largest moon has just been confirmed. As reported in the journal “Science”, the satellite contains within it a lake of water, revealed by data from six flights made by Cassini since 2006. IESS Luciano, author of the study with members of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of Rome Sapienza, explains: “The appearance of methane in such high-density close to four percent-in the atmosphere is difficult to explain if is a liquid presence within the satellite. Methane into contact with the atmosphere and rapidly dissociates the existence in this figure means that there must be a supply from the inside. We know that the average lifetime of a molecule of methane is a million years and that Titan has about 4,000 million. ” The scientist says that they lack data to know how deep (thought to be between 50 and 200 km) is the volume of water, but they expect to complete their investigations by the three flights that will complete the mission until 2017 , while having direct samples of water is virtually impossible.

IESS believes that “if the interior was solid, the internal methane could not seep to the outside. If there is a liquid layer, it can function as a reserve of methane and facilitate its passage to the atmosphere. It was known that there was ice surface and it was believed that the pressure and temperature at some internal point consent to the presence of water. ” The researcher considers his definitive analysis to explain the many variations on the surface of the moon: “A rock and ice inside would not produce tides in the area of more than ten meters. Thanks to changes in the gravitational effect that cause mass movements of these tides, we know that they exceed the subway here, maximum size of a tide on a rocky core body, “says IESS. Dr. Louise M. Lara, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia, CSIC, says the finding “does not open new lines of research, but can change the scientific explanation of some data from Cassini and Huygens. Topographical changes were observed on the surface of the satellite, whose explanation requires the existence of cry volcanism, now seems more feasible than this’.

Life in Space

A liquid core may explain the complex atmosphere of the satellite, but is synonymous with existence of life? Lara says that “if other conditions of radiation, temperature, pressure, chemicals, distance from the Sun, existence or absence of magnetic field, rotation, etc.., You can begin to think of prebiotic chemistry similar to that which might result in life on Earth. ” According to the team are open three possible configurations for the interior of the moon, though, whether the interior is a mixture of silicates mixed with water and deformable or not: “It will provide important clues about the formation of planets, satellites and the origin molecules of life. Silicates which carry water can not form more than 527 degrees Celsius, IESS ends.

The sea alien

Cassini completed its journey, if NASA does not change your mind, in 2017 and there are still three passes over Titan. Who knows if before returning to Earth will encounter a companion on the ground. In short, according to NASA, the American administration will fund with 360 million euros in 2016 a mission of three shortlisted. The TIME project “Titan Mare Explorer ‘send the first probe to explore the marine environment beyond Earth. The probe sail on one of the lakes of methane from the satellite for a week.
Beyond the scientific interest, costs overturn the balance in favor of some other missions, and in this case, Titan will have to do with the other two scans of vital importance for understanding the solar system: the Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS ), which aims to study the interior of Mars and to understand the formation and evolution of the planet and Comet Hopper, which scans the surface and changes in a comet as it interacts with the Sun Manuel Vazquez, the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute, believes that ‘TIME would be most problematic for the duration of the trip and because you have to go through an atmosphere twice as dense as Earth. The annual budgets of NASA missions defined. So far the most imminent is the arrival of Curiosity Mars in August. ” For Dr. Javier Licandro, also a researcher at the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute, “is not correct to speak of costs, but investment. If research is expensive, much more expensive is ignorance. “

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