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Titan's Atmosphere Might Have Formed Before Saturn

Nitrogen in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan's was made at temperatures a lot more colder than Saturn itself, flinging a major curveball into notions of solar system creation, counting the origins of our own atmosphere. Similar to Earth, Titan's atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, and supposed to serve as relatively a decent model of environments on the early Earth. Maximum of it is nitrogen 14 but it also covers nitrogen 15. Both are steady and while nitrogen 14 would be to some extent more inclined to escape Titan's gravity to space, calculations by Dr Kathleen Mandt of Southwest Research Institute specify this would not have happened to an amount that would change the configuration over the era of the solar system. Therefore, Mandt could relate Titan's nitrogen ratio with that of other things in the solar system. In the Astrophysical Journal Letters she exposes that Titan's atmosphere matches the nitrogen originates in ammonia in comets from the external reaches of the solar system, but not on Earth.
Image Credit: JPL/NASA

The paper concludes as: “Titan’s atmosphere must have originated as ammonia ice formed in the Protosolar Nebula under conditions similar to that of cometary formation,”. The comets of the external reaches of the solar system are supposed to exist before the planets, counting Saturn. Mandt has earlier found that the methane in Titan's atmosphere is much fresher, less than a billion years old.

It was hypothesized that both Titan and Earth had atmospheres that would match the character of comets, but work done on the study of comets destabilized this notion, and the NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens work disclosed Titan's nitrogen ratio is dissimilar from the Earth's. The question then developed whether Titan started that way, or had it developed over time. Mandt claims to have resolved that problem. To complicate matters though, it is supposed that comets born in the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt vary in their Hydrogen and Nitrogen isotopic proportions. Later this year the ESA's Rosetta mission will come across comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, supposed to be a Kuiper Belt comet, providing a chance to test this indication. If, as expected, Kuiper Belt comets have a changed isotopic ratio it will advance questions as to how Titan could look like objects so much further out, rather than its neighbors. The other test is to reveal the beginning of our own atmosphere. At one time our specific nitrogen rich atmosphere was supposed to have been transported here by comets, but the alteration with the isotopic ratio for Oort cloud comets destabilized this, and the discoveries on Titan mark it less reliable still. Mandt says "Some have suggested that meteorites brought nitrogen to Earth, or that nitrogen was captured directly from the disk of gas that formed the sun. This is an interesting puzzle for future investigations.”

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