Titan chemistry, titanic idea

4822_10623_1CICLOPS, the team that brings the fantastic Cassini images to the public, has just published this natural color panorama. The yellowish Titan is headed behind the planet, while Tethys has come into view.

Cassini is scheduled to fly by Titan at a mere 620 miles in altitude today to further examine the atmosphere of the moon.

In 2005, the doughty spacecraft also sent a probe to land on the surface of methane-shrouded Titan, which, recent evidence suggests, may also contain subsurface oceans.

And in an unexpected surprise, the craft has observed continuously erupting water-ice geysers at the southern pole of Enceladus.

So why is that important?

If these active organic and geological processes are occurring here, in a one solar system in single galaxy - and the one we just happen to occupy to boot - perhaps they are more common than previously believed. Thanks to Hubble, we now know, for example, that organic molecules are present in the atmosphere of another planet orbiting a distant sun. Perhaps, just perhaps, a history-changing discovery awaits.

NASA has made the science from Cassini freely available here if you're interested.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Wayne