Astrobiology of Titan


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Astrobiology of Titan and early results from Cassini Huygens Lecture at Penn State Astrobiology Workshop for Educators July 28th 2005 Dr Conor A Nixon University of Maryland NASA GSFC Cassini CIRS Team Overview Saturn system summary Titan the enigmatic moon Why go back The Cassini Huygens spacecraft Latest and greatest Cassini pictures and results Huygens landing Where do we go from here Facts about Saturn i Saturn is the 6th planet from the Sun 9 5 times as far as the Earth Saturn is the 2nd largest by mass and radius Saturn is mostly composed of the same materials as the Sun H2 and He Other common elements such as C N O P are hydrogenated CH4 H2O PH3 NH3 etc Condensates such as NH3 ice form the visible cloud deck there is no surface like the Earth Facts about Saturn ii Saturn has the most extensive ring system of any planet in the solar system Saturn rotates with a period of 10 hours 40 minutes interior with an axial tilt of 26 Saturn has 2nd most moons 47 for now after Jupiter 63 Saturn s largest moon Titan is the 2nd largest in the solar system The Giant Moon Titan was the sixth moon ever to be discovered in 1655 by Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens Named due to its massive size Titan was originally thought to be the solar system s largest moon Through a large telescope Titan appears as a fuzzy pale orange ball Even Voyager 1 saw little detail Obscured by clouds Titan s size was originally over estimated we are looking at dense thick layers of opaque haze not the surface Voyager 1 snapshots of the planet s edge 1980 showed that the haze was multi layered Voyager 1 finally solved the question of size by using radio waves to penetrate the haze Titan s diameter of 5150 km is larger than Mercury but smaller than Ganymede Atmospheric Composition We now know that the atmosphere is largely composed of nitrogen Which other planet is like this In addition the atmosphere contains several percent of methane and many compounds of H C N but no free O2 Earth vs Titan

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