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Monday, September 12, 2005



Methane Monsoons On Saturn's Moon?


[Media Source*]

(New Scientist Space) Brief but powerful monsoons of liquid methane may lash parts of Saturn's giant moon Titan every few hundred years, suggest new calculations based on observations with the Cassini spacecraft. Astronomers also think they have observed thunderstorms growing and raining down on the moon.

Methane makes up about 5% of the Titan's thick atmosphere and is thought to rain down to the surface and then evaporate back into clouds in a cycle similar to the water-cycle on Earth.

This new theory may help explain why this "multi-million dollar methane moon" (Editor's note: nice tongue twister, heh?) is apparently so dry upon the surface despite showing strong evidence of river beds. Although new evidence revealed that Titan resembled more of a frozen waste land than a potential colony spot, this new theory may help revive Titan's former value once again.

The evidence comes from imaging radar data from the Cassini spacecraft. These reveal canyon-like features that end in triangular slopes that appear to be littered with cobbles a few centimetres wide...

But if the methane in Titan's atmosphere were concentrated into a single liquid layer, it would cover the entire moon in a blanket 10 metres thick. "The air is holding a lot of methane," says colleague Jason Barnes. So if it rains less often, it dumps more liquid--perhaps as much as a metre - at a time, he told New Scientist.

If confirmed, establishing a colony on Titan would pose a unique problem for humanity. Although the financial reward of acquiring the methane upon Titan's surface is probably estimated in the millions (if not billions), risking human lives in order to do so may not be extremely wise, especially if a "methane monsoon" could wipe out any beach heads established by mankind.

Astronomers will probably have to determine the weather conditions before launching a visit to this moon, but if it's found to be relatively safe, this moon would probably be worth it's weight in gold.



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