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Saturn's Moon Titan & Jupiter's Trojan Asteroids - NASA Animation

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Seeker Land
Largest sea on Saturn's mysterious moon Titan could be more than 1,000 feet deep. NASA's epic Cassini mission at Saturn is still generating valuable scientific data more than three years after its demise.Data from one of the spacecraft's last flybys of Titan, a large moon with the precursors of life's chemistry, reveals that a huge lake on the surface called Kraken Mare is more than 1,000 feet ( 300 meters) deep — that's roughly the equivalent of the height of New York City's Chrysler Building. In fact, the lake is so deep that Cassini's radar couldn't probe all the way to the bottom. Back in 2014, preliminary data from this flyby suggested that Kraken Mare was at least 115 feet (35 meters) deep but extend farther; the newly released results show the lake is nearly 10 times deeper than that early estimate.

Saturn's moon Titan has a weird organic chemical in its atmosphere. Saturn's moon Titan just keeps getting weirder — and more tantalizing when it comes to scientists' hopes for life beyond Earth.

Titan is perhaps the most Earth-like place in our solar system, except the ingredients are jumbled up: ocean below ground, landforms of water ice instead of rock, rains of organic compounds, an atmosphere even denser than our own. Now, two new research findings add still more intrigue to the strange moon, identifying an unexpected chemical in Titan's atmosphere and evidence of more complicated surface phenomena than scientists had previously realized.

"We think of Titan as a real-life laboratory where we can see similar chemistry to that of ancient Earth when life was taking hold here," Melissa Trainer, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement. Trainer wasn't involved in either of the new papers, but she is the deputy principal investigator of NASA's Dragonfly mission that will launch to Titan in 2027 and arrive in 2034.


Scientists' fascination with the chemistry of Titan is what makes the new findings so intriguing. Researchers turned the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile toward the moon and spotted the chemical signature of cyclopropenylidene, an awkward triangular compound made of three carbon atoms and two hydrogen atoms.

"Titan is unique in our solar system," Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at Goddard, said in the same statement. "It has proved to be a treasure trove of new molecules."

Cyclopropenylidene is only the newest of them. But finding it is surprising, the researchers say, because the little-known chemical is pretty friendly: if other compounds are near it, they tend to react, eliminating the cyclopropenylidene signature.

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