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Latest findings by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft

Topics Covered: Awareness in space.

Latest findings by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft: 


Context:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has made the following discoveries in the moons of Saturn by flying through their plumes:

  1. Titan has methane in its atmosphere.
  2. Enceladus has a liquid ocean with erupting plumes of gas and water.

Researchers have concluded that there may be unknown methane-producing processes on Enceladus that await discovery.

 

Methane-producing organisms on Earth:

  • Most of the methane on Earth has a biological origin. Microorganisms called methanogens are capable of generating methane as a metabolic byproduct. They do not require oxygen to live and are widely distributed in nature.
  • Methanogens are found in swamps, dead organic matter, and even in the human gut. They are known to survive in high temperatures and simulation studies have shown that they can live in Martian conditions.

 

How else can methane be produced on Enceladus?

  1. Methane could be formed by the chemical breakdown of organic matter present in Enceladus’ core.
  2. Hydrothermal processes could help the formation of carbon dioxide and methane.

 

About Cassini Mission:

  • Launched in 1997.
  • The mission is a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.
  • This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.
  • Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit.
  • Its design includes a Saturn orbiter and a lander for the moon Titan. The lander, called Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005.

 

Objectives of the mission:

  1. Determine the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the rings of Saturn.
  2. Determine the composition of the satellite surfaces and the geological history of each object.
  3. Determine the nature and origin of the dark material on Iapetus’s leading hemisphere.
  4. Measure the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the magnetosphere.
  5. Study the dynamic behavior of Saturn’s atmosphere at cloud level.
  6. Study the time variability of Titan’s clouds and hazes.
  7. Characterize Titan’s surface on a regional scale.

 

Insta Curious: 

NASA’s Voyager 2 is the second spacecraft to enter interstellar space after Voyager 1? Where Does Interstellar Space Begin? Read this, 

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. About the mission.
  2. Objectives.
  3. Saturn- key facts.
  4. Saturn moons.
  5. About methane.

Sources: Indian Express.