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NASA Space Science

Is There a Subsurface Water Ocean On Titan? 57

Stirling Newberry writes "Luciano Iess and team have hypothesized that Titan joins Earth, Europa, and Ganymede as ocean worlds. They measured the size of the tidal bulges and found that the moon is likely not solid (abstract). Team member Jonathan Lunine points out that Titan's methane atmosphere is not stable, so it needs some source, perhaps from outgassing. On Earth, water means life, and in the future, ice covered ocean worlds are targets for human colonization. As the late Arthur C. Clarke observed, water is the most precious substance in the universe to humans."
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Is There a Subsurface Water Ocean On Titan?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I hope this is an exception.

    • No.
    • by docmordin ( 2654319 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:55PM (#40499899)
      It most likely is an exception.

      The idea of a subsurface ocean on Titan is nothing new and surfaces in the geophysics/geoscience literature every so often. For example, when Voyager I passed by the moon, it detected an abundance of only 3% (mole fraction) of CH4, which is sufficiently low to preclude the stable coexistence of liquid CH4 on the surface. Lunine, et al. ("Ethane ocean on Titan", Science, 222, 1229-1230, 1983) suggested that Titan's atmospheric CH4 may have broken down by a catalyzed photochemical reaction to C2H6, with the C2H6 stemming from a subsurface ocean; the resulting deep ocean would consist of a 3:1 mixture of C2H6 and CH4. (To explain, the dissociation steps of C2H6 involve loss of hydrogen by escape, with the postulated set reactions: 2CH4 -> C2H6 + H2 and 2CH4 -> C2H6 + 2H. The intermediate molecule C2H2 plays the role of catalysis and shielding of C2H6 from photolysis. Furthermore, CH4 would break down at a rate of 1.5*10^10cm^-2/s and H/H2 would leave the atmosphere at 5.5*10^9 and 7*10^9cm^-2/s, which is consistent with Hanel, et al.'s analysis ("Infrared observations of the Saturnian system from Voyager I", Science, 212, 192-200, 1981). As such, it is reasonable to conclude that the result is a production of an CH4-rich ocean of 1km depth and a 100-200km thick layer of solid C2H2 on Titan's ocean floor).

      For additional analyses, see: F. M. Flasar, "Oceans on Titan?", Science, 221, 55-57, 1983; O. B. Toon, et al., "Methane rain on Titan", Icarus, 75, 255-284, 1988; N. Dubouloz, et al., "Titan's hypothesized ocean properties: The influence of surface temperature and atmospheric composition uncertanties", Icarus, 82, 81-96, 1989; W. R. Thompson, et al., "Vapor-liquid equilibrium thermodynamics of N2 + CH4: Model and Titan applications", Icarus, 97, 187-199, 1992.
    • Betteridge's Law of Headlines is an adage that states, "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'".
      • "Why do vacuum clear suck ? "

        Has a question mark, but can't really be answered with yes or no.
        I see it more like : any headline, which poses a question which can be answered with yes or no , is not really worth the read.

        Which makes sense : If it can't even answer a question with yes or no, what can it answer ?
        Reading the above headline tells you right away, they don't know if there is surface water on titan. Otherwise it would have been an assertive statement "Surface water on Titan !"

        They should change the

    • I thought it , posted it in almost the same way, and then realized someone else had posted it earlier :-)
      Guess I should read comments before replying.

  • Cassini (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stirling Newberry ( 848268 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:15PM (#40499475) Homepage Journal
    One of the great accomplishments of this probe is that it has turned Titan from a world which, like Venus, was shrouded in a dense atmosphere, and therefore a mystery, to a dynamic and fascinating target for exploration in its own right. Imagining a probe that could function on its surface is a fascinating exercise.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The cool thing is that Titan is a good target for a flying balloon probe. It has a thick atmosphere made of non-corrosive substances, and apparently rather little wind near the surface. The mobility of a probe like that would put even the MSL to shame.

  • by Anonymous Coward


  • by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Friday June 29, 2012 @05:22PM (#40499573)

    We need spice!! Call me when we find a desert planet populated by giant worms.

  • Less so with a methane atmosphere.
  • On Titan, where surface temperature hovers at 94 K, or on Earth, where Octomom makes masturbation porn videos.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I bet 94K in an atmosphere is a lot colder than 3K in empty space.

      • I bet 94K in an atmosphere is a lot colder than 3K in empty space.

        Reminds me of the joke: There were two monkeys in a bathtub, and one says "OO-oo-EE-ee-AH-ah!" and the other says, "Well add some cold water, then"

  • by rossdee ( 243626 )

    Europa is a lot closer
    (and we know it does have an ice covered ocean
    and lower gravity too - easier to get the water off the moon and into space.

    • for living under ice surface is developed, people will naturally want to spread out to others, or even make more. Since the 1960's for example, there have been papers on a glacial period as part of terraforming mars, since the ice sheet will protect the development of micro-organisms from UV and other forms of radiation until such time as there is enough outgassing to have a atmosphere that will do the job.

      In the Saturn system, there is another candidate for a sub surface ocean: Enceladus, which has been

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