Tag Archives: Saturn

NASA Space Place – The Fizzy Seas of Titan

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in May, 2017.

By Marcus Woo

2013february2_spaceplaceWith clouds, rain, seas, lakes and a nitrogen-filled atmosphere, Saturn’s moon Titan appears to be one of the worlds most similar to Earth in the solar system. But it’s still alien; its seas and lakes are full not of water but liquid methane and ethane.

At the temperatures and pressures found on Titan’s surface, methane can evaporate and fall back down as rain, just like water on Earth. The methane rain flows into rivers and channels, filling lakes and seas.

Nitrogen makes up a larger portion of the atmosphere on Titan than on Earth. The gas also dissolves in methane, just like carbon dioxide in soda. And similar to when you shake an open soda bottle, disturbing a Titan lake can make the nitrogen bubble out.

But now it turns out the seas and lakes might be fizzier than previously thought. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently experimented with dissolved nitrogen in mixtures of liquid methane and ethane under a variety of temperatures and pressures that would exist on Titan. They measured how different conditions would trigger nitrogen bubbles. A fizzy lake, they found, would be a common sight.

On Titan, the liquid methane always contains dissolved nitrogen. So when it rains, a methane-nitrogen solution pours into the seas and lakes, either directly from rain or via stream runoff. But if the lake also contains some ethane—which doesn’t dissolve nitrogen as well as methane does—mixing the liquids will force some of the nitrogen out of solution, and the lake will effervesce.

“It will be a big frothy mess,” says Michael Malaska of JPL. “It’s neat because it makes Earth look really boring by comparison.”

Bubbles could also arise from a lake that contains more ethane than methane. The two will normally mix, but a less-dense layer of methane with dissolved nitrogen—from a gentle rain, for example–could settle on top of an ethane layer.

In this case, any disturbance—even a breeze—could mix the methane with dissolved nitrogen and the ethane below. The nitrogen would become less soluble and bubbles of gas would fizz out.

Heat, the researchers found, can also cause nitrogen to bubble out of solution while cold will coax more nitrogen to dissolve. As the seasons and climate change on Titan, the seas and lakes will inhale and exhale nitrogen.

But such warmth-induced bubbles could pose a challenge for future sea-faring spacecraft, which will have an energy source, and thus heat. “You may have this spacecraft sitting there, and it’s just going to be fizzing the whole time,” Malaska says. “That may actually be a problem for stability control or sampling.”

Bubbles might also explain the so-called magic islands discovered by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in the last few years. Radar images revealed island-like features that appear and disappear over time. Scientists still aren’t sure what the islands are, but nitrogen bubbles seem increasingly likely.

To know for sure, though, there will have to be a new mission. Cassini is entering its final phase, having finished its last flyby of Titan on April 21. Scientists are already sketching out potential spacecraft—maybe a buoy or even a submarine—to explore Titan’s seas, bubbles and all.

To teach kids about the extreme conditions on Titan and other planets and moons, visit the NASA Space Place: spaceplace.nasa.gov/planet-weather/

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Caption: Radar images from Cassini showed a strange island-like feature in one of Titan’s hydrocarbon seas that appeared to change over time. One possible explanation for this “magic island” is bubbles. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

“Upstate NY Stargazing In October” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the series, “Upstate NY stargazing in October: Prominent constellations of summer and winter visible on Autumn nights,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com. This month, we look for globular clusters in Hercules, and follow the recent progress of Mars, Saturn, and Venus – all while getting early sights of the very best of winter – Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades.

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/2016/10/…nights_offer_some_of_the_best.html

Direct Link: http://www.syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/…nights_offer_some_of_the_best.html

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Caption: This photo, taken by a stationary camera at Mount Megantic National Park in Quebec, captured a fireball that shot over Montreal Wednesday night. The “bolide,” a rock entering Earth’s atmosphere, was seen across the Northeast. The Summer Triangle is shown as a red overlay. (ASTROLab du parc national du Mont-Megantic)

This article also marks the third official mention of our upcoming MOST/TACNY/CNYO hosting of International Observe The Moon Night on Saturday, October 8th. Additional details to follow, but expect the observing to happen somewhere around The MOST itself.

We’ll update the website and social media as we get a better idea on what the weather is supposed to do Saturday night (else we stay inside The MOST the entire time).

Session Announcements: Bob Piekiel’s Summer 2016 Observing Schedule (With Event Links)

UPDATE: Saturday, July 9th, 5:00 p.m. – There’s supposed to be an open pocket of clear sky tonight, so Bob is going ahead with the Clark Reservation session. As a bit of advanced warning, Bob was informed late yesterday that Clark Res may be charging a $5 admission fee to the park for the event (due to the +75 people we had last year).

UPDATE: Friday, July 8th, 4:00 p.m. – Tonight’s Clark Reservation session has been rescheduled to tomorrow (Saturday, July 9th) due to cloud cover. Update to follow Saturday afternoon.

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

In the interest of a little more advanced notice for scheduled events, this page is meant to help you get your own schedules synchronized with upcoming nighttime and solar sessions hosted by Bob Piekiel (with his fellow CNYO’ers serving as wing-observers). Pending additional announcements, the list below fills out his Summer Roster (now with meetup.com and Facebook Events included).

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The attending crowd at last summer’s Clark Reservation session.

For the record, seven sessions in two months counts as a whole lot of fantastic CNY astronomy outreach!

July 8/9 – Bob Piekiel @ Clark Reservation, 8:00 – 10:30 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* nysparks.com/events/event.aspx?e=126-16053.0
* facebook | meetup.com

Planets, stars, and a crescent moon! The summer skies are at their finest, when we can look directly into the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and see it’s many rich star clusters and nebulae. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible. We might even get a peek at Mercury.

July 22/23 – Bob Piekiel @ Baltimore Woods, 9:00 – 11:00 p.m.

* Registration for these events are required. Low registration may cause programs to be canceled.
* $5 for members, $15/family; $8 for nonmembers, $25/family.
* To Register By Email: info@baltimorewoods.org
* To Register By Phone: (315) 673-1350
* facebook | meetup.com

Summer skies at their finest, with the many rich star clusters and nebulae visible in the direction of the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible.

July 29/30 – Bob Piekiel @ Green Lakes, 8:00 – 10:30 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* facebook | meetup.com

The summer skies are at their finest, when we can look directly into the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and see it’s many rich star clusters and nebulae. The Delta Aquarids meteor shower peaks that night, and Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible. We might even get a peek at Mercury.

August 12/13 – Bob Piekiel @ Baltimore Woods, 8:30 – 11:00 p.m.

* Registration for these events are required. Low registration may cause programs to be canceled.
* $5 for members, $15/family; $8 for nonmembers, $25/family.
* To Register By Email: info@baltimorewoods.org
* To Register By Phone: (315) 673-1350
* facebook | meetup.com

The annual persied meteor shower, one of the year’s finest. Bring a blanket or lawn chair to recline on while not looking through a telescope. Great views of the summer Milky way, with the planets Mars Jupiter, Venus and Saturn visible.

August 13/14 – Bob Piekiel @ Clark Reservation, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* facebook | meetup.com

Solar program! Using special telescopes, come and see solar flares, prominences, sunspots, and magnetic storms on our nearest star, the Sun!

August 26/27 – Bob Piekiel @ Green Lakes, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* facebook | meetup.com

Summer skies again, Plus a stunning conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in the west on those nights, and Mars and Saturn also.

August 27/28 – Bob Piekiel @ Baltimore Woods, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

* Registration for these events are required. Low registration may cause programs to be canceled.
* $5 for members, $15/family; $8 for nonmembers, $25/family.
* To Register By Email: info@baltimorewoods.org
* To Register By Phone: (315) 673-1350
* facebook | meetup.com

SOLAR VIEWING PROGRAM. Using special telescopes, come and see solar flares, prominences, sunspots, and magnetic storms on our nearest star, the sun!