Methane Rain Falls Mainly on Titan's Plain
[Discover, January 2007]
By RICHARD MORGAN
Astronomers hoped the Huygens probe would reveal a global ocean of methane when it parachuted to the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, on January 14, 2005. Instead of landing with a splash, the spacecraft made more of a splat. "It landed in mud," says planetary scientist Christopher McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center. And that mud was wet with methane. Studies have detected methane rain on Titan and more than 20 lakes of methane at the moon's north pole. Alien as this may seem, Titan's atmosphere—rich in nitrogen and organic compounds—may be similar to the atmosphere of early Earth.
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