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Titan moon could be hiding an ocean

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Latest update : 2008-03-21

The European Space Agency's Huygens probe has detected irregularities in the rotation of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, hinting at the presence of an ocean under the surface. (Report: France2, Story: B.Harris)

An ocean may be hiding below the crust of Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, teaming up with its dense atmosphere to cause shifts on the moon's surface, a study said Thursday.
   
Years worth of radar observations from the Cassini probe showed that features of Titan's geology had drifted from a fixed point of reference, indicating that the moon's rotation had temporarily sped up, the study said.
   
Powerful winds could be rocking Titan back and forth around its axis, meaning the moon's massive atmosphere speeds up its rotation speed and slows it down later in the year, said the study published in the journal Science.
   
But for the atmosphere to be able to change the moon's surface, it would need help from an underground ocean flowing between Titan's crust and core, said the study by Johns Hopkins University researchers led by astronomer Ralph Lorenz.
   
Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system and is about 50 percent larger than Earth's moon.
   
An ocean may also be hiding under the surface of another Saturn moon, Enceladus, according to NASA.
   
A close overflight by Cassini on March 12 found huge ice geysers erupting between the cracks of Enceladus's frozen south pole. Ice samples and other material collected by Cassini may also indicate the presence of organic molecules.
   
Cassini, a NASA craft, was launched in 1997 attached to the European Space Agency's Huygens probe. The joint Cassini-Huygens mission is the first devoted to the exploration of Saturn.
   
Huygens separated from Cassini in December 2004 to land on Titan, while Cassini went into orbit around Saturn after a seven-year voyage across some 3.5 billion kilometers (2.2 billion miles) of space.

Date created : 2008-03-20

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