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Ocean 'may exist' beneath Titan's crust

Scientists claim to have discovered evidence that points to the existence of an ocean of water and ammonia on Saturn's moon Titan.

world Updated: Mar 21, 2008 14:28 IST

Scientists claim to have discovered evidence that points to the existence of an ocean of water and ammonia on Saturn's moon Titan.

Analysing data from the Cassini spacecraft, they found that 50 unique landmarks established earlier on Titan's surface have shifted from their expected positions by up to 19 miles, the NASA said.

According to lead scientist Ralph Lorenz, "With its organic dunes, lakes, channels and mountains, Titan has one of the most varied, active and Earth-like surfaces in the solar system. Now we see changes in the way Titan rotates, giving us a window into Titan's interior beneath the surface."

Added co-researcher Bryan Stiles of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California: "We believe that about 62 miles beneath the ice and organic-rich surface is an internal ocean of liquid water mixed with ammonia," according to Bryan Stiles of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The study of Titan is a major goal of the Cassini and Huygens mission because it may preserve, in deep-freeze, many of the chemical compounds that preceded life on Earth.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system that possesses a dense atmosphere. The moon's atmosphere is 1.5 times denser than Earth's. Titan is the largest of Saturn's moons, bigger than the planet Mercury.

"The combination of an organic-rich environment and liquid water is very appealing to astrobiologists. Further study of Titan's rotation will let us understand the watery interior better, and because the spin of the crust and the winds in the atmosphere are linked, we might see seasonal variation in the spin in the next few years," Lorenz said.

However, scientists will not have to wait long before another go at Titan. On March 25, Cassini will employ its Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer to examine its upper atmosphere.