Saturn's moon may hide vast oceans and water means possibility of lifeAuthor: Stig Kristoffersen
Observations by NASA's Cassini spacecraft suggest that Titan - Saturn's largest moon can have huge and deep oceans hidden under a shell of ice.
Photo: AP Photo / NASA, JPL, Space Science Institute / SCANPIX
Saturn's moon may hide vast oceans
And where there is liquid water there is life.
Titan is the only planet other than Earth where lakes are found on the surface, in the form of liquid methane. Here, too, speculation of whether life might have arisen. This image of the surface was taken by the Huygens probe that descended to the moon in 2005.
Photo: NASA / SCANPIX
The researchers think it might be over 400 km deep ocean hidden beneath the surface layer consisting of up to 200 km ice.
Graphic: NASA / JPL
Cassini has investigated the Saturn ring system and moons since 2004, and observed that some details of Titan's orbit and rotation does not match that it is composed of solid through and through, according to Space.com .
The observations and anomalies may make sense if the Titan - the largest of Saturn's moons over 60 - have oceans under the surface, probably composed of liquid water, "says Cassini scientists in a new study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics .
- We believe that the occurrence of an ocean is likely, "said the head of the study, planetary scientist Rose-Marie Balanda at the Royal Observatory in Brussels, Belgium.
Deep Ocean The study joins the ranks of many who concluded that the moon, which is slightly larger than our own, can not be a completely solid body, but hide an ocean beneath a "shell" of ice. Balanda said the team used these studies as a starting point.
- We found the idea very interesting, and decided to take it a little further, "she told Space.com.
The figures are difficult to estimate accurately, but the study suggests that the outer layer of ice may be 150 to 200 km thick, while the possible ocean beneath is between 5 and 425 km deep. On the basis of ideas about how the moon was formed, scientists believe that the sea are mostly water, with a possible "dash" of ammonia, Balanda said.
Titan will not be unique about this match. Also, Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's Europa - one of the hottest candidates for possible life elsewhere in the solar system - probably deep ocean beneath an icy surface.
Lakes of methaneTitan is the only planet other than Earth where lakes are found on the surface, then in the form of liquid methane, and scientists have long thought that might be the source of life.
For while it is speculated that life could arise during the quirky and unexpected circumstances, the chemistry and relationships - as in methane lakes - have scientists who hunt organisms elsewhere in the solar system also based on the only life we so far know: That here on earth. Here on earth access to water - H 2 O - is of crucial importance for life to exist.
Astro biologists still do not know what are the necessary conditions for life to arise, but it seems that the presence of liquid water is required, "says Balanda.
Not yet provenSeveral observations and more research is needed before it can definitely conclude that Titan hides a big ocean. Current and rotation characteristics can possibly be explained by that the moon has been recently disturbed, such as comet or asteroid impact.
- Our analysis strengthens the possibility that Titan has an ocean beneath the surface, but it proves it beyond doubt. So there is still a job to do, "Balanda to Astro Biology Magazine .
Stig-Arne Kristoffersen has a background as civil engineer and geoscientist. He has worked mainly within the oil and gas industry from the mid 1980s. He has written a few fictional novels as well as being the author of some professional litterature within oil and gas sector, he act as a writer to various web sites.