Home / Science / Cosmic rays formed strange sand dunes on Saturn's largest moon, studies note

Cosmic rays formed strange sand dunes on Saturn's largest moon, studies note



It has long been believed that the dunes on Saturn's largest moon were formed by precipitation – but new evidence suggests otherwise.

Experts now claim that the rocks were formed by a chemical reaction when cosmic rays hit ice on the surface of the Titan.

19659002] The team recreated the process in a lab and found that it created the same organic molecules found in sand dunes and could explain similar formations on other planets or moons without atmosphere.

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  It has long believed that the dunes on Saturn's largest moon are formed by precipitation - but new evidence suggests otherwise (artist impression)

It has long been believed that the dunes on Saturn's largest moon were formed by precipitation – but new evidence suggests otherwise (artist impression)

The study was conducted by a trio of researchers at University of Hawaii that analyzed the theory that the Titan's atmosphere consisted of certain organic molecules, consisting of long chains of carbon atoms.

The data was captured by the space probe Cassini and triggered the idea that the molecules must have fallen from the atmosphere and formed the sand dunes.

But the researchers' trio thought otherwise – that the dunes covering part of the equatorial area on the surface of the Titan were formed by a chemical reaction.

To test this theory, the team made batches of acetylenis, the ice found on Titan, in a lab and then attacked it with radiation similar to that experienced by Titan.

  It has long been believed that the dunes on Saturn's largest moon formed from precipitation - but new evidence suggests otherwise. Experts now claim that the piles were formed by a chemical reaction when cosmic rays hit ice on the surface of the Titan

It has long been believed that the dunes on Saturn's largest moon were formed by precipitation – but new evidence suggests otherwise. Experts now claim that the piles were formed by a chemical reaction when cosmic rays hit ice on the Titan's surface

They then heated the ice until it sublimed and left behind materials made of organic molecules similar to those believed to form the dunes on Titan.

In this way, they found that the process could produce phenanthrene in as little as 100 years – other molecules would take longer.

  The team recreated the process in a lab and found that it created the same organic molecules found in sand dunes and could explain similar formations on other planets or moons without atmosphere (the image is Saturn with the moon Titan orbiting it)

The team recreated the process in a lab and found that it created the same organi c molecules found in sand dunes and could explain similar formations on other planets or moons without atmosphere (the image is Saturn with the moon Titan orbiting it)

WHAT KASSINI DISCOVERED UNDER THE 20-YEAR MISSION SATURN?

Cassini was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1997, then spent seven years in transit followed by 13 years in orbit of Saturn.

  An artist's impression of the Cassini spaceship studying Saturn

An artist's impression of the Cassini spaceship studying Saturn

In 2000, it spent six months studying it reached Saturn in 2004.

During that time, it discovered another six moons around Saturn, three-dimensional structures towering over Saturn's rings, and a giant storm that raged across the planet for nearly a year.

On December 13, 2004, it made its first flyby of Saturn's moons Titan and Dione.

On December 24, the edited European Space Agency-built Huygens probe was released on Saturn's moon Titan to study its atmosphere and surface composition.

There, it discovered eerie hydrocarbon lakes made of ethane and methane.

In 2008, Cassini completed its primary mission to explore the Saturn system and began its mission extension (Cassini Equinox Mission).

In 2010, it began its second mission (Cassini Solstice Mission) which lasted until it exploded in Saturn's atmosphere.

In December 2011, Cassini received the highest resolution images of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

In December of the following year, it tracked Venus transit to test the feasibility of observing planets outside our solar system.

In March 2013, Cassini made the final turn of Saturn's moon Rhea, measuring its internal structure and gravity.

  Cassini not only studied Saturn - it also captured incredible views of its many moons. In the image above, Saturn's moon Enceladus can be seen drifting before the rings and the small moon Pandora. It was captured on November 1, 2009, with the entire scene backlit by the sun

Cassini not only studied Saturn – it also captured incredible views of its many moons. In the image above, Saturn's moon Enceladus can be seen drifting before the rings and the small moon Pandora. It was captured on November 1, 2009, with the entire scene backlit by the sun

In July of that year, Cassini captured a black-lit Saturn to examine the rings in detail and also captured an image of Earth. [19659002] In April this year, it completed its closest flyby of Titan and started its Grande Finale orbit which ended on September 15.

"The mission has changed the way we think about where life may have evolved beyond our earth," said Andrew Coates, director of the Planetary Science Group at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London.

"As well as Mars, outer planetary moons such as Enceladus, Europe and even Titan are now top contenders for life elsewhere," he added. "We have completely rewritten the textbooks about Saturn."

The team hopes for this new theory, as it can explain why other planets and moons without atmosphere have similar dunes.

This includes Makemake and Pluto, both of which have shown indications of organic ice on their surface.

The researchers acknowledge that both theories that try to explain the ways in which the dunes in Titan form are still unproven.

But they hope that will change, as NASA plans to send a probe called Dragonfly to the Titan, which will land near the dunes of 2026.

NASA made an announcement in June during a media teleconference detailing its vision of a robot rotorcraft called Dragonfly that will collect samples and measure the earth's composition to look for signs of habitation.

The enormous, icy moon is said to be the most earth-like world in the solar system, and earlier findings from the Cassini mission suggest that it contains some of the ingredients necessary for the emergence of life.

Dragonfly is a bold, game-changing way to explore the solar system, "said APL Director Ralph Semmel.

" This mission is a visionary combination of creativity and technical risk-taking that helps us discover some of the most critical mysteries in the universe – including, possibly, the keys to our origin. "

  NASA plans to send a probe called Dragonfly to Titan, which is set to land near the dunes 2026 (artist impression)

NASA plans to send a probe called Dragonfly to Titan, which will land near the dunes of 2026 (artist impression)

Originally, Dragonfly will perform a 2.7-year mission to explore different locations over Titanium, including sand dunes and impact craters.

Observations from the Cassini mission indicate that these areas once contained liquid water and complex organic materials.

The dual quadcopter will test these organic surface materials and measure their composition in an attempt to characterize the great lunar habitat.

Dragonfly will first touch in an equatorial area known as the "Shangri-La" dune field, which has been compared to Namibian sand dunes in southern Africa.

It will then complete "leap" flights of about 8 miles (each 8 km) to jump to ot her areas, stopping to take samples from each location.

Eventually, Dragonfly will reach the Selk impact crater, where scientists have discovered evidence of the last liquid water, organic (carbon-containing) molecules and energy. [19659002] These are said together to be the building blocks of life.


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