We have discovered frequent variations in the near-infrared spectrum of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, which are indicative of the daily presence of sparse clouds covering less than 1% of the area of the satellite. The thermodynamics of Titan's atmosphere and the clouds' altitudes suggest that convection governs their evolutions. Their short lives point to the presence of rain. We propose that Titan's atmosphere resembles Earth's, with clouds, rain, and an active weather cycle, driven by latent heat release from the primary condensible species. (+info)
From exobiology to cosmobiology at LISA and elsewhere.
Since the emergence of Exobiology, back to the l960ties, this field drastically increased and, although differently named, is today a largely recognized scientific domain of wild interdisciplinarity. It includes not only the search for extraterrestrial living Systems, in particular by direct exploration of planetary bodies and studies of extraterrestrial materials, but also the study on the origins of life on Earth and, in connection to this field, the study of extraterrestrial organic chemistry. The exobiology programmes currently developed at LISA are related to this last aspect. They include the study of prebiotic-like chemistry in the gas and solid phases, based on laboratory simulation experiments, theoretical modeling and future in situ measurements in Titan's atmosphere and in cometary nuclei. A national program of exobiology, coordinated by LISA is under development in France, it covers many of the various aspects of Exobiology, including the study of life in extreme environments, as a reference tool for extraterrestrial life, the study of the primitive environment of the Earth, of the organic chemistry in comets and on Titan, of Mars and Europa and even of extrasolar planets as potential niches for extraterrestrial living systems, associated to the determination of the electromagnetic signatures of life. In parallel to this general program, a proposal for a large simulation chamber to be used as a national facility in particular to simulate the organic chemistry in various planetary environments, and in the interstellar medium, is under preparation. International cooperations linked to these programmes, in particular in the frame of the development of an exobiology facility on the International Space Station, would be of crucial interest. (+info)
Corona chemistry in Titan.
The atmosphere of Titan is constantly bombarded by galactic cosmic rays and Saturnian magnetospheric electrons causing the formation of free electrons and primary ions, which are then stabilized by ion cluster formation and charging of aerosols. These charged particles accumulate in drops in cloud regions of the troposphere. Their abundance can substantially increase by friction, fragmentation or collisions during convective activity. Charge separation occurs with help of convection and gravitational settling leading to development of electric fields within the cloud and between the cloud and the ground. Neutralization of these charged particles leads to corona discharges which are characterized by low current densities. We have therefore, experimentally studied the corona discharge of a simulated Titan's atmosphere (10% methane and 2% argon in nitrogen) at 500 Torr and 298 K by GC-FTIR-MS techniques. The main products have been identified as hydrocarbons (ethane, ethyne, ethene, propane, propene+propyne, cyclopropane, butane, 2-methylpropane, 2-methylpropene, n-butane, 2-butene, 2,2-dimethylpropane, 2-methylbutane, 2-methylbutene, n-pentane, 2,2-dimethylbutane, 2-methylpentane, 3-methylpentane, n-hexane, 2,2-dimethylhexane, 2,2-dimethylpentane, 2,2,3-trimethylbutane, 2,3-dimethylpentane and n-heptane), nitriles (hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen, ethanenitrile, propanenitrile, 2-methylpropanenitrile and butanenitrile) and a highly branched hydrocarbon deposit. We present the trends of hydrocarbons and nitriles formation as a function of discharge time in an ample interval and have derived their initial yields of formation. The results clearly demonstrate that a complex organic chemistry can be initiated by corona processes in the lower atmosphere. Although photochemistry and charged particle chemistry occurring in the stratosphere can account for many of the observed hydrocarbon species in Titan, the predicted abundance of ethene is too low by a factor of 10 to 40. While some ethene will be produced by charged-particle chemistry, the production of ethene by corona processes and its subsequent diffusion into the stratosphere appears to be an adequate source. Because little UV penetrates to the lower atmosphere to destroy the molecules formed there, the corona-produced species may be long-lived and contribute significantly to the composition of the lower atmosphere and surface. (+info)
Evidence for the exposure of water ice on Titan's surface.
The smoggy stratosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, veils its surface from view, except at narrow wavelengths centered at 0.83, 0.94, 1.07, 1.28, 1.58, 2.0, 2.9, and 5.0 micrometers. We derived a spectrum of Titan's surface within these "windows" and detected features characteristic of water ice. Therefore, despite the hundreds of meters of organic liquids and solids hypothesized to exist on Titan's surface, its icy bedrock lies extensively exposed. (+info)
Termolecular ion-molecule reactions in Titan's atmosphere. IV. A search made at up to 1 micron in pure hydrocarbons.
The results of a study of ion-molecule reactions occurring in pure methane, acetylene, ethylene, ethane, propyne, propene, propane, and diacetylene at pressures up to 40 microns of pressure are reported. A variety of experimental methods are used: The standard double resonance in an ICR, for determination of the precursor ions and the modulated double resonance ejection in an ICR, for the determination of the daughter ions. The FA-SIFT technique was used for validation and examination of termolecular reactions with rate coefficients that are less than 10(-26) cm(6) s(-1). An extensive database of reaction kinetics already exists for many of these reactions. The main point of this study was the determination of the accuracy of this database and to search for any missing reactions and reaction channels that may have been omitted from earlier investigations. A specific objective of this work was to extend the study to the highest pressures possible to find out if there were any important termolecular reaction channels occurring. A new approach was used here. In the pure hydrocarbon gases the mass spectra were followed as a function of the pressure changes of the gas. An initial guess was first made using the current literature as a source of the reaction kinetics that were expected. A model of the ion abundances was produced from the solution of the partial differential equations in terms of reaction rate coefficients and initial abundances. The experimental data was fitted to the model for all of the pressures by a least squares minimization to the reaction rate coefficients and initial abundances. The reaction rate coefficients obtained from the model were then compared to the literature values. Several new channels and reactions were discovered when the modeled fits were compared to the actual data. This is all explained in the text and the implications of these results are discussed for the Titan atmosphere. (+info)
Radar evidence for liquid surfaces on Titan.
Arecibo radar observations of Titan at 13-centimeter wavelength indicate that most of the echo power is in a diffusely scattered component but that a small specular component is present for about 75% of the subearth locations observed. These specular echoes have properties consistent with those expected for areas of liquid hydrocarbons. Knowledge of the areal extent and depth of any deposits of liquid hydrocarbons could strongly constrain the history of Titan's atmosphere and surface. (+info)
A SIFT ion-molecule study of some reactions in Titan's atmosphere. reactions of N(+), N(2)(+), and HCN(+) with CH(4), C(2)H(2), and C(2)H(4).
The results of a study of the ion-molecule reactions of N(+), N(2)(+), and HCN(+) with methane, acetylene, and ethylene are reported. These studies were performed using the FA-SIFT at the University of Canterbury. The reactions studied here are important to understanding the ion chemistry in Titan's atmosphere. N(+) and N(2)(+) are the primary ions formed by photo-ionization and electron impact in Titan's ionosphere and drive Titan's ion chemistry. It is therefore very important to know how these ions react with the principal trace neutral species in Titan's atmosphere: Methane, acetylene, and ethylene. While these reactions have been studied before the product channels have been difficult to define as several potential isobaric products make a definitive answer difficult. Mass overlap causes difficulties in making unambiguous species assignments in these systems. Two discriminators have been used in this study to resolve the mass overlap problem. They are deuterium labeling and also the differences in reactivities of each isobar with various neutral reactants. Several differences have been found from the products in previous work. The HCN(+) ion is important in both Titan's atmosphere and in the laboratory. (+info)
Ultraviolet imaging spectroscopy shows an active saturnian system.
Neutral oxygen in the saturnian system shows variability, and the total number of oxygen atoms peaks at 4 x 10(34). Saturn's aurora brightens in response to solar-wind forcing, and the auroral spectrum resembles Jupiter's. Phoebe's surface shows variable water-ice content, and the data indicate it originated in the outer solar system. Saturn's rings also show variable water abundance, with the purest ice in the outermost A ring. This radial variation is consistent with initially pure water ice bombarded by meteors, but smaller radial structures may indicate collisional transport and recent renewal events in the past 10(7) to 10(8) years. (+info)