Saturday, January 15, 2005

Pictures from Titan

It took seven years, but the pictures are amazing. This collaborative mission by ESA, NASA, and the Italian Space Agency is probably one of the most ambitious efforts of planetary exploration ever attempted. Not only is the mission to look at the moon of Titan, but it will provide close-up data from the entire Saturnian system. Some of the questions scientists are asking:

  • Mysteriously, Saturn emits 87 percent more energy than it absorbs from sunlight. Which is the source of heat inside Saturn to produce the excess energy?
  • What is the origin of Saturn’s rings?
  • Where do the subtle colours in the rings come from?
  • Are there any other moons to discover?
  • Why has the moon Enceladus such an abnormally smooth surface? Has it recently melted to erase craters?
  • What is the origin of the dark organic material covering one side of the moon Iapetus
  • Which chemical reactions are occurring in the Titan atmosphere?
  • What is the source of the very abundant methane, an organic compound that on Earth is associated to biological activity?
  • Are there any oceans on Titan?
  • Do more complex organic compounds and pre-biotic molecules exist on Titan?

Congratulations to all the scientists who have been waiting a long time to get their answers!

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