Researchers have not yet been able to figure out why Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, has such a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere that is more than seven times as massive as Earth’s atmosphere when adjusted for surface area. This creates a haze around the moon which blocks most of the Sun’s rays making its surface near impossible to see. “The main theory has been that ammonia ice from comets was converted, by impacts or photochemistry, into nitrogen to form Titan’s atmosphere. While that may still be an important process, it neglects the effects of what we now know is a very substantial portion of comets: complex organic material. A lot of organic chemistry is no doubt happening on Titan, so it’s an undeniable source of curiosity,” said Dr. Kelly Miller, research scientist in the Southwest Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering Division. Read more for another video and additional information.
“Now data gathered from the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has shed light on this question. The study posits that the atmosphere on Titan is generated in part by the ‘cooking’ of organic material in the moon’s interior. The core of Titan contains dense, organic-rich rocky material which may have come from a smaller body left over from the building blocks of the Solar System, so scientists looked at how much gaseous material could be produced by materials like those in the core. The new data suggests that approximately half of the nitrogen atmosphere and potentially all of the methane could have come from the rocky material at the heart of Titan being heated and releasing gases,” reports Digital Trends.