Cassini sees Titan cooking up smog

Feb 05, 2013 by Jia-Rui C. Cook
Cassini sees Titan cooking up smog
Reflection of Sunlight off Titan Lake. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/DLR

(Phys.org)—A paper published this week using data from NASA's Cassini mission describes in more detail than ever before how aerosols in the highest part of the atmosphere are kick-started at Saturn's moon Titan. Scientists want to understand aerosol formation at Titan because it could help predict the behavior of smoggy aerosol layers on Earth.

According to the new paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Titan's trademark reddish-brown smog appears to begin with solar radiation on molecules of nitrogen and methane in the ionosphere, which creates a soup of negative and positive ions. Collisions among the organic molecules and the ions help the molecules grow into bigger and more complex aerosols. Lower down in the atmosphere, these aerosols bump into each other and coagulate, and at the same time interact with other, neutral particles. Eventually, they form the heart of the physical processes that rain hydrocarbons on Titan's surface and form lakes, channels and dunes.

The paper was led by Panayotis Lavvas, a Cassini participating scientist based at the University of Reims, Champagne-Ardenne, France. The team analyzed data from three Cassini instruments—the plasma spectrometer, the ion and neutral mass spectrometer, and the radio and science experiment. They compared their results to those obtained by ESA's on its descent through the Titan atmosphere in 2005 and found they were compatible.

Explore further: France raises heat on decision for next Ariane rocket

Related Stories

Cassini Returns to Southern Hemisphere of Titan

Jan 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA'S Cassini spacecraft will return to Titan's southern hemisphere on a flyby tomorrow, Jan. 12, plunging to within about 1,050 kilometers (about 670 miles) of the hazy moon's surface.

Cassini spots mini Nile River on Saturn moon Titan

Dec 12, 2012

(Phys.org)—The international Cassini mission has spotted what appears to be a miniature extraterrestrial version of the Nile River: a river valley on Saturn's moon Titan that stretches more than 400 km ...

The Titanian seasons turn, turn, turn

Jul 11, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft show a concentration of high-altitude haze and a vortex materializing at the south pole of Saturn's moon Titan, signs that the seasons are turning on Saturn's ...

Lake detected near equator of Saturn's moon Titan

Jun 13, 2012

(Phys.org) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft has spied long-standing methane lakes, or puddles, in the "tropics" of Saturn's moon Titan. One of the tropical lakes appears to be about half the size of Utah's Great ...

Titan shines in latest Cassini shots

Dec 03, 2012

Last Thursday, November 29, Cassini sailed past Titan for yet another close encounter, coming within 1,014 kilometers (603 miles) of the cloud-covered moon in order to investigate its thick, complex atmosphere. ...

Recommended for you

Miranda: An icy moon deformed by tidal heating

13 hours ago

Miranda, a small, icy moon of Uranus, is one of the most visually striking and enigmatic bodies in the solar system. Despite its relatively small size, Miranda appears to have experienced an episode of intense ...

The latest observations of interstellar particles

19 hours ago

With all the news about Voyager 1 leaving the heliosphere and entering interstellar space you might think that the probe is the first spacecraft to detect interstellar particles. That isn't entirely true, ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Feb 05, 2013
So that's weird, plasma interactions drive the process. And by the description in the article, they need to find themselves someone who knows a bit about said interactions.
Ramael
4 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2013
If life could evolve on a hydrocarbon world like this.. say if it was closer to the sun, considering the atmosphere wouldn't develop an ozone layer, therefore continuously producing hydrocarbons, with oxygen naturally oxidizing into oxides, etc... would a plant like analogue even evolve on a world like this?
Sinister1811
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 05, 2013
It's possible there could still be methanogenic life on Titan. Scientists are still considering the possibility:
http://en.wikiped...on_Titan
ScottyB
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 06, 2013
Read the book Titan by Stephen Baxter, it talks about life evolving on Titan after the sun expands. its a great read!