Bits and Pieces

Thursday, December 30, 2004

You never know what you'll find until you look

Hello, Jack of Random Fate here. While Keith is away, I'm here to keep the geek factor up. For my first post, I'll refer you to otherworldly happenings, literally.

A probe is being dropped into the atmosphere of Titan, a moon of Saturn. Why is this cool? Well, here's why:

Though mission scientists don't think Huygens will stumble upon anything like the green forests and blue oceans here on Earth -- nor any forms of life, for that matter -- they do think it will encounter conditions very similar to those that existed soon after the Earth formed.

"(Titan) is the only moon in the solar system with a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere" -- relatively similar to that on Earth -- said Huygens project scientist Jean-Pierre Lebreton. "In this atmosphere, we may have chemical reactions similar to ones occurring before life appeared on Earth. Going in situ will allow us to better understand what causes those chemical reactions to take place."

Scientists are especially interested in figuring out where the small percentage of methane in Titan's atmosphere is coming from. Normally, light from the sun would break it down into other chemicals that would then fall on the moon's surface like rain. But the fact that some methane still exists in the atmosphere suggests that the surface might harbor pools of liquid methane which regularly evaporate back into the atmosphere.

Life on another world in the Solar System. Just imagine.
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