Untangling the Chemical Evolution of Titan's Atmosphere and Surface -- From Homogeneous to Heterogeneous Chemistry

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The arrival of the Cassini-Huygens probe at Saturn's moon Titan - the only Solar System body besides Earth and Venus with a solid surface and a thick atmosphere with a pressure of 1.4 atm at surface level - in 2004 opened up a new chapter in the history of Solar System exploration. The mission revealed Titan as a world with striking Earth-like landscapes involving hydrocarbon lakes and seas as well as sand dunes and lava-like features interspersed with craters and icy mountains of hitherto unknown chemical composition. The discovery of a dynamic atmosphere and active weather system illustrates further the ... continued below

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Kaiser, Ralf I.; Maksyutenko, Pavlo; Ennis, Courtney; Zhang, Fangtong; Gu, Xibin; Krishtal, Sergey P. et al. March 16, 2010.

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The arrival of the Cassini-Huygens probe at Saturn's moon Titan - the only Solar System body besides Earth and Venus with a solid surface and a thick atmosphere with a pressure of 1.4 atm at surface level - in 2004 opened up a new chapter in the history of Solar System exploration. The mission revealed Titan as a world with striking Earth-like landscapes involving hydrocarbon lakes and seas as well as sand dunes and lava-like features interspersed with craters and icy mountains of hitherto unknown chemical composition. The discovery of a dynamic atmosphere and active weather system illustrates further the similarities between Titan and Earth. The aerosol-based haze layers, which give Titan its orange-brownish color, are not only Titan's most prominent optically visible features, but also play a crucial role in determining Titan's thermal structure and chemistry. These smog-like haze layers are thought to be very similar to those that were present in Earth's atmosphere before life developed more than 3.8 billion years ago, absorbing the destructive ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, thus acting as 'prebiotic ozone' to preserve astrobiologically important molecules on Titan. Compared to Earth, Titan's low surface temperature of 94 K and the absence of liquid water preclude the evolution of biological chemistry as we know it. Exactly because of these low temperatures, Titan provides us with a unique prebiotic 'atmospheric laboratory' yielding vital clues - at the frozen stage - on the likely chemical composition of the atmosphere of the primitive Earth. However, the underlying chemical processes, which initiate the haze formation from simple molecules, have been not understood well to date.

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  • Journal Name: Faraday Discussions

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  • Report No.: LBNL-3295E
  • Grant Number: DE-AC02-05CH11231
  • DOI: 10.1039/c003599h | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 983172
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc1014589

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  • March 16, 2010

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  • Oct. 14, 2017, 8:36 a.m.

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  • Oct. 17, 2017, 7:02 p.m.

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Kaiser, Ralf I.; Maksyutenko, Pavlo; Ennis, Courtney; Zhang, Fangtong; Gu, Xibin; Krishtal, Sergey P. et al. Untangling the Chemical Evolution of Titan's Atmosphere and Surface -- From Homogeneous to Heterogeneous Chemistry, article, March 16, 2010; Berkeley, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1014589/: accessed November 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.