—absolutely cool the Cassini-Huygens mission really is.
The NASA and European Space Agency Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the north polar region of Saturn’s moon Titan. These lakes are filled not with water but with hydrocarbons, a form of organic compound that is also found naturally on Earth and includes methane. The vast majority of liquid in Titan’s lakes is thought to be replenished by rainfall from clouds in the moon’s atmosphere. But how liquids move and cycle through Titan’s crust and atmosphere is still relatively unknown.
A recent study led by Olivier Mousis, a Cassini research associate at the University of Franche-Comté, France, examined how Titan’s methane rainfall would interact with icy materials within underground reservoirs. They found that the formation of materials called clathrates changes the chemical composition of the rainfall runoff that charges these hydrocarbon “aquifers.” This process leads to the formation of reservoirs of propane and ethane that may feed into some rivers and lakes.
And you thought the Canadian Space Agency was only good for sending up Twitter-friendly astronauts? Well, ha! In the wake of this week’s NEO fever, with asteroids racing by, and rocks raining down from the sky, NEOSSat, the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite currently under construction:
Slated for launch in 2013, it will circle the globe every 100 minutes, scanning space near the Sun to pinpoint asteroids that may someday pass near our planet. NEOSSat will also sweep the skies in search of satellites and space debris as part of Canada’s commitment to keeping orbital space safe for everyone. NEOSSat applies key technology already demonstrated in Canada’s very successful MOST satellite.
The suitcase-sized NEOSSat will orbit approximately 800 kilometres high above the Earth, searching for near-Earth asteroids that are difficult to spot using ground-based telescopes. Because of its lofty location, it is not limited by the day-night cycle, and can operate 24/7. The hundreds of images that NEOSSat will generate per day will be downloaded and analyzed by the University of Calgary’s NEOSSat science operations centre.