NASA Scientists Discover ‘Weird’ Molecule in Titan’s Atmosphere

The moon Titan in infrared. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stéphane Le Mouélic, University of Nantes, Virginia Pasek, University of Arizona)

by Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. — NASA scientists identified a molecule in Titan’s atmosphere that has never been detected in any other atmosphere. In fact, many chemists have probably barely heard of it or know how to pronounce it: cyclopropenylidene, or C3H2. Scientists say that this simple carbon-based molecule may be a precursor to more complex compounds that could form or feed possible life on Titan.

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IG Audit: NASA Planetary Program Faces Major Financial, Managerial Challenges

Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

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Evidence for Volcanic Craters on Saturn’s Moon Titan

This image compares nested, multi-collapse craters on Titan (upper left), Mars (upper right), and two on Earth (below). (Credit: Planetary Science Institute)

TUCSON, Ariz. (PSI PR) — Volcano-like features seen in polar regions of Saturn’s moon Titan by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft could be evidence of explosive eruptions that may continue today, according to a new paper by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Charles A. Wood and coauthor Jani Radebaugh of Brigham Young University.

Morphological features such as nested collapses, elevated ramparts, halos, and islands indicate that some of the abundant small depressions in the north polar region of Titan are volcanic collapse craters, according to “Morphologic Evidence for Volcanic Craters near Titan’s North Polar Region” (https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JE006036) that appears in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. A few similar depressions occur near the south pole of Titan. 

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Are Planets with Oceans Common in the Galaxy? It’s Likely, NASA Scientists Find

This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes on Enceladus in October 2015. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

by Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. (NASA PR) — Several years ago, planetary scientist Lynnae Quick began to wonder whether any of the more than 4,000 known exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, might resemble some of the watery moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

Though some of these moons don’t have atmospheres and are covered in ice, they are still among the top targets in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which scientists classify as “ocean worlds,” are good examples.

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Proposed NASA Mission Would Visit Neptune’s Curious Moon Triton

This global color mosaic of Neptune’s moon Triton was taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA/JPL/USGS)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune’s strange moon Triton three decades ago, it wrote a planetary science cliffhanger.

Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft ever to have flown past Neptune, and it left a lot of unanswered questions. The views were as stunning as they were puzzling, revealing massive, dark plumes of icy material spraying out from Triton‘s surface. But how? Images showed that the icy landscape was young and had been resurfaced over and over with fresh material. But what material, and from where?

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NIAC Award: Exploring the Vents of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Graphic depiction of the Enceladus Vent Explorer: Phase II concept. (Credits: Masahiro Ono)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Enceladus Vent Explorer

Masahiro Ono
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Enceladus Vent Explorer (EVE) is a robotic mission to enter an Enceladus. Her mission objective is to collect samples of ocean water that could contain intact organisms (i.e., cells) to

i) draw an unambiguous conclusion on the existence of life in the ocean of Enceladus and

ii) should a positive result be obtained, characterize the life and ecosystem of Enceladus through biochemical, taxonomic, ethological, and ecological studies.

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Dragonfly to Explore the Icy, Exotic World of Titan

Artist rendering of Dragonfly on Titan’s surface. (Credit: Johns Hopkins APL)

by Kevin Wilcox
NASA APPEL Knowledge Services

On January 14, 2005, a spacecraft about 9 feet wide, with a mass of about 700 pounds entered the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Over the next two and a half hours, the Huygens probe, as the spacecraft was known, would report data from its descent through the thick atmosphere of Titan to the orbiting Cassini spacecraft above, and back to Earth. It also returned an image and data from the surface.

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NASA Selects Flying Mission to Study Titan for Origins, Signs of Life

Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

WASHINGTON (NASA PR)  — NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.

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NASA Selects Johns Hopkins APL to Lead Mission to Saturn’s Exotic Moon Titan

Artist rendering of Dragonfly on Titan’s surface. (Credit: Johns Hopkins APL)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — It sounds like science fiction: fly a robotic rotorcraft over the dunes of an alien moon. But NASA is giving a team led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, the opportunity to turn this idea into space exploration reality.

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Dust Storms on Titan Spotted for the First Time

Artist’s concept of a dust storm on Titan. (Credits: IPGP/Labex UnivEarthS/ University Paris Diderot – C. Epitalon & S. Rodriguez)

PARIS (NASA PR) — Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed what appear to be giant dust storms in equatorial regions of Saturn’s moon Titan. The discovery, described in a paper published on Sept. 24 in Nature Geoscience, makes Titan the third Solar System body, in addition to Earth and Mars, where dust storms have been observed.

The observation is helping scientists to better understand the fascinating and dynamic environment of Saturn’s largest moon.

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And the Emmy goes to: Cassini’s Grand Finale

Members of the JPL Media Relations and Public Engagement offices, and leaders of the Cassini Mission received an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program at the Television Academy’s 2018 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Los Angeles.L to R: Alice Wessen, Jia-Rui Cook, Preston Dyches, Phil Davis, Linda Spilker (holding the Emmy), Gay Hill, Veronica McGregor, Stephanie L. Smith, Bill Dunford, Earl Maize, Julie Webster, Jess Doherty. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

LOS ANGELES (NASA PR) — JPL has won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Interactive Program for its coverage of the Cassini mission’s Grand Finale at Saturn. The award was presented Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

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Seeing Titan with Infrared Eyes

The moon Titan in infrared. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stéphane Le Mouélic, University of Nantes, Virginia Pasek, University of Arizona)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL/Caltech PR) — These six infrared images of Saturn’s moon Titan represent some of the clearest, most seamless-looking global views of the icy moon’s surface produced so far. The views were created using 13 years of data acquired by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument on board NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The images are the result of a focused effort to smoothly combine data from the multitude of different observations VIMS made under a wide variety of lighting and viewing conditions over the course of Cassini’s mission.

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Listen: Eerie Sound of Electromagnetic Energy Moving Between Saturn & Enceladus

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — New research from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft’s up-close Grand Finale orbits shows a surprisingly powerful and dynamic interaction of plasma waves moving from Saturn to its rings and its moon Enceladus. The observations show for the first time that the waves travel on magnetic field lines connecting Saturn directly to Enceladus. The field lines are like an electrical circuit between the two bodies, with energy flowing back and forth.

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Complex Organics Bubble From Depths of Ocean World Enceladus

Enceladus jets and shadows. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Data from the international Cassini spacecraft have revealed complex organic molecules originating from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, strengthening the idea that this ocean-world hosts conditions suitable for life.

Very little was known about Enceladus prior to 2005 – the year when Cassini first flew close. Since then, it has become a continuous source of surprises, with secrets still being revealed even now, after the mission end.

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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