New study finds the mix that makes Titan's lakes spew nitrogen bubbles

phys.org | 3/16/2017 | Staff
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New research explains how bubbles erupt in frigid hydrocarbon lakes on Saturn's largest moon Titan, potentially creating fizz intense enough to form geologic features on the moon.

Titan is covered in hydrocarbon lakes made up of methane and ethane. Scientists have noticed bright spots in these lakes, which appeared in some pictures from NASA's Cassini spacecraft and mysteriously vanished in others. They later theorized these "magic islands" might be outbursts of nitrogen bubbles.

Study - AGU - Geophysical - Research - Letters

In the new study published in AGU's journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers simulated Titan's lakes in a pressurized chamber. They found the right combination of methane, ethane and nitrogen crucial for bubbles to form.

Under conditions most like those on Titan, the researchers found ethane had to flow into pools of methane to produce vigorous bubbles. It is possible these bubble outbreaks are strong enough to shape river deltas in bodies of liquid on the moon, according to the new research.

Bubbles - Titan - Lakes - Scientists - Questions

Explaining how bubbles form in Titan's lakes now allows scientists to begin probing fundamental questions about how liquids behave on the moon. Of all the bodies in our solar system, few are more Earth-like than Titan, and it is one of the few places scientists think might have conditions necessary for extraterrestrial life.

The results also hint at scenarios an exploratory submarine might face in Titan's lakes, if the spacecraft were to give off heat and potentially spark an explosion of bubbles.

Titan - Lakes - Kendra - Farnsworth - Scientist

"The more we learn about Titan, the more we learn that we can't ignore the lakes," said Kendra Farnsworth, a planetary scientist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and lead author of the new study. "And we find fun things like bubbles. Maybe a little bit more violent than we'd expected, but definitely fun to watch."

Titan is the only moon in our solar system to have an atmosphere. Its...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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