posted on Feb, 24 2005 @ 09:45 AM
The Huygens probe that roared through Titan's atmosphere has provided the strongest evidence yet to suggest Saturn's giant moon is geologically
active beneath its icy surface.
The Cassini-Huygens mission has already produced remarkable insight into the enigmatic and inhospitable moon, which is unique among the planetary
satellites in our solar system in having its own atmosphere.
Astronomer Tobias Owen, of the University of Hawaii and one of the original planners of the mission, says this suggests methane is being added to
Titan's atmosphere by geological processes rumbling beneath the surface. It is the best evidence so far that the icy moon is a geologically active
body, he says.
Owen adds that how Titan produces its methane will be the subject of much speculation. "There are going to be a lot of models made about Titan," he
told New Scientist.
Spectrographic analysis using Earth-based telescopes has also previously suggested that the carbon in Titan's atmosphere is not fractionated. And the
Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer aboard Cassini also picked up evidence for this as it passed through the moon's upper atmosphere in January.
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Previous evidence suggested that lighter isotopes of oxygen and nitrogen have escaped from Titan's atmosphere into space at a greater rate than the
heavier isotopes. This changes the isotopic ratio of the elements - a process called fractionation. But the atmospheric carbon isotopes do not show
the same trait, implying the gas is being replenished.
[edit on 24-2-2005 by Bourgeoisie]