December 06, 2012

Titan, Saturn's largest moon has 200 kilometer thick ice layer and 300 kilometer thick ocean

Scientists have long suspected that a vast ocean of liquid water lies under the crusty exterior of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. New analysis suggests that the internally generated heat that keeps that ocean from freezing relies on the moon's interactions with Saturn and its other moons.

A new analysis of topographic and gravity data from Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons, indicates that Titan's icy outer crust is twice as thick as has generally been thought.

Scientists have long suspected that a vast ocean of liquid water lies under the crust. The new study suggests that the internally generated heat that keeps that ocean from freezing solid depends far more on Titan's interactions with Saturn and its other moons than had been suspected.

"The picture of Titan that we get has an icy, rocky core with a radius of a little over 2,000 kilometers, an ocean somewhere in the range of 225 to 300 kilometers thick and an ice layer that is 200 kilometers thick," he said.

Previous models of Titan's structure estimated the icy crust to be approximately 100 kilometers thick. So if there is more ice, then there should be less heat from the core than had been estimated. One way to account for less heat being generated internally is for there to be less rock and more ice in the core than previous models had predicted.

That all seems simple enough, but there is a complication. Titan is not a true sphere. Its shape is distorted by the gravitational pull of Saturn, making the moon sort of oblong along its equator and a little flattened at the poles.



Howard Zebker's page at Stanford university


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