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On Saturn's Moon, Titan: Icing on a ...Lake?

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On Saturn's Moon, Titan: Icing on a ...Lake?

Postby laconte » Thu Jan 10, 2013 2:58 pm

It's not exactly icing on a cake, but it could be icing on a lake. A new paper by scientists on NASA's Cassini mission finds that blocks of hydrocarbon ice might decorate the surface of existing lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbon on Saturn's moon Titan. Far from the Sun, Titan's temperatures remain at a chilly –290°F (–179°C). In addition to potentially ice-topped lakes, Titan has a terrain that contains mountainous features composed of ice. The presence of ice floes might explain some of the mixed readings NASA's Cassini spacecraft has seen in the reflectivity of the surfaces of lakes on Titan.

"One of the most intriguing questions about these lakes and seas is whether they might host an exotic form of life," said Jonathan Lunine, a paper co-author and Cassini interdisciplinary Titan scientist at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

Titan is the only other body besides Earth in our solar system with stable bodies of liquid on its surface. But while our planet's cycle of precipitation and evaporation involves water, Titan's cycle involves hydrocarbons like ethane and methane. Ethane and methane are organic molecules, which scientists think can be building blocks for the more complex chemistry from which life arose.

Children can investigate icy places like Titan through the module Explore: Ice Worlds! (http://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/explo ... ctivities/). They can also uncover their own surprising discoveries through "missions" to explore three "planets" (which are actually made out of clay decorated with fun craft items) in Strange New Planet (http://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/explo ... anet.shtml).

Modified from Cassini Suggests Icing on a Lake.
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