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A new Southwest Research Institute study tackles one of the greatest mysteries about Titan, one of Saturn's moons: the origin of its thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere. The study posits that one key to Titan's mysterious atmosphere is the "cooking" of organic material in the moon's interior.
"Titan is a very interesting moon because it has this very thick atmosphere, which makes it unique among moons in our solar system," said Dr. Kelly Miller, research scientist in SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division and lead author of the study. "It is also the only body in the solar system, other than Earth, that has large quantities of liquid on the surface. Titan, however, has liquid hydrocarbons instead of water. A lot of organic chemistry is no doubt happening on Titan, so it's an undeniable source of curiosity."
Atmosphere - Saturn - Moon - Earth - Atmosphere
The atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon is extremely dense, even thicker than Earth's atmosphere, and is comprised mainly of nitrogen gas.
"Because Titan is the only moon in our solar system with a substantial atmosphere, scientists have wondered for a long time what its source was," she said. "The main theory has been that ammonia ice from comets was converted, by impacts or photochemistry, into nitrogen to form Titan's atmosphere. While that may still be an important process, it neglects the effects of what we now know is a very substantial portion of comets: complex organic material."
Aspect - Titan - Atmosphere
Another odd aspect of Titan's atmosphere is that it's also about...
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