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article imageCassini Spots Ocean Beneath the Surface of Titan

By Tim Neale     Mar 28, 2008 in Science
In a paper appearing in the Mar. 21 issue of Science, Cassini scientists speculate there may be a layer of liquid water and ammonia some 100 kilometers (62 miles) below the surface of Titan.
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon. It lies 1 billion kilometers (620 million miles) from the Sun, nine times the distance that the Earth does. Water ice and liquid hydrocarbons make up its surface. The pressure there is similar to the Earth’s, but Titan’s surface temperature is -180 degrees C.
Lead author of the paper and Cassini radar scientist Ralph Lorenz told a news conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena Calif., "With its organic dunes, lakes, channels and mountains, Titan has one of the most varied, active and Earth-like surfaces in the solar system.”
Methane haze covers the surface of Titan, but Cassini has been using radar to map the surface on repeated flybys. It appears that Titan’s day is shorter than expected by a minute. One explanation for this is there is an ocean between Titan’s rocky core and its surface.
Lorenz said, "Now we see changes in the way Titan rotates, giving us a window into Titan's interior beneath the surface."
Theoretical models of Titan have long suggested that there could be an interior ocean. The first observational evidence supporting the idea came in June last year from data gathered by the Huygens probe, which landed on the surface of Titan.
Launched from Cape Canaveral on Oct. 15, 1997, Cassini-Huygens is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
The study of Titan is a major goal of the Cassini-Huygens mission because it may preserve many of the chemical compounds that preceded life on Earth.
More about Cassini, Titan, Saturn
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