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NASA's Saturn probe reveals nitrogen bubbles creating fizzy patches on Titan's lakes and seas!

The release of nitrogen, known as exsolution, can also occur when methane seas warm slightly during the changing seasons on Titan.

By Zee Media Bureau | Updated: Mar 16, 2017, 13:22 PM IST
NASA's Saturn probe reveals nitrogen bubbles creating fizzy patches on Titan's lakes and seas!
Cassini captured this mosaic of images showing the northern lakes and seas of Saturn's moon Titan on Feb. 17, 2017. (Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

New Delhi: NASA's Cassini spacecraft is gradually approaching its final days in space around Saturn's orbit.

In September this year, the spacecraft will plunge into the upper atmosphere of the gas giant planet, where it will burn up like a meteor, ending the epic mission to the Saturn system.

No other mission has ever explored this unique region so close to the planet.

In its 20 years in space, out of which 17 years were spent orbiting Saturn, Cassini has collected incredibly rich and valuable information that will aid scientists immensely in their endeavour to explore deep space missions.

However, Cassini still has five months before it completes its mission, that means five months worth of secrets are waiting to be discovered and the spacecraft hasn't let the scientists down.

Data delivered by Cassini during one of its dives near Saturn's largest moon Titan, has helped a NASA-funded study discover how the hydrocarbon lakes and seas of Saturn's moon Titan might occasionally erupt with dramatic patches of bubbles.

 

As per NASA, Cassini found that the composition of Titan's lakes and seas varies from place to place, with some reservoirs being richer in ethane than methane. "Our experiments showed that when methane-rich liquids mix with ethane-rich ones – for example from a heavy rain, or when runoff from a methane river mixes into an ethane-rich lake – the nitrogen is less able to stay in solution," said Michael Malaska of JPL, who led the study.

The result? Lots of bubbles.

The release of nitrogen, known as exsolution, can also occur when methane seas warm slightly during the changing seasons on Titan. A fizzy liquid could also cause problems, potentially, for a future robotic probe sent to float on or swim through Titan's seas. Excess heat emanating from a probe might cause bubbles to form around its structures – for example, propellers used for propulsion – making it difficult to steer or keep the probe stable.

For the study, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, simulated the frigid surface conditions on Titan, finding that significant amounts of nitrogen can be dissolved in the extremely cold liquid methane that rains from the skies and collects in rivers, lakes and seas, NASA reported.

They demonstrated that slight changes in temperature, air pressure or composition can cause the nitrogen to rapidly separate out of solution, like the fizz that results when opening a bottle of carbonated soda.

Results of the study were published online in February by the journal Icarus.