Surface of Titan image sent back by Huygens Probe

The giant smog-shrouded moon of Saturn, Titan, is changing – both in situ and in the minds of planetary scientists.  Several news stories show not only dynamic processes in play, but revolutions in what scientists think about the moon and its history.  Readers will need to determine which ideas are solidly based on observational evidence.

  1. Punching bag:  Where did Titan get its thick nitrogen atmosphere, unique to the bodies of the outer solar system?  Yasuhito Sekine, a planetary scientist at the University of Tokyo, believes the nitrogen came special delivery, in the form of comets, during a theoretical period called the Late Heavy Bombardment.
    Space.com and New Scientist parroted Sekine’s ideas without stopping to ask why the comets left their gas at Titan and not the other moons.  Space.com did ask, however, where the impact craters went.  Perhaps they were covered up somehow.  The article quoted one other planetary scientist who called Sekine’s idea “an interesting hypothesis.”
  2. Falling sky:  A Cassini press release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory says that Titan’s atmospheric haze is dropping as the sun moves northward, changing Titan’s seasons from equinox to solstice.  In just a few months, the news feature said, the upper haze layer dipped from 310 miles to 240 miles.  Chicken Little was not interviewed for reaction, although the caption said he was “notified”….

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