Oct 24, 2014 02:13 PM EDT
NASA has reported that its most recent images of Saturn's moon Titan show a strange phenomenon occurring: gases within the atmosphere near both its north and south poles are glowing. The images were taken by a research team attempting to learn more about what Titan's atmosphere is made of.
According to Martin Cordiner, a researcher working out of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, this discovery is "potentially groundbreaking." And the reason being is that the way this polar glow has shifted over the polar regions to the east and west, "have never been seen before in Titan's atmospheric gases. Explaining their origin presents us with a fascinating new problem."
Cordiner and other researchers on his team have been using data and observations obtained through the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile in order to view Titan's odd new display. According to NASA, ALMA is a "network of high-precision antennas," that can observe Titan's glowing gases because of its sensitivity to certain wave-lengths of light. ALMA has also allowed scientists to create "spacial maps" of the chemicals present in Titan's atmosphere.
According to scientists at NASA, Titan's atmosphere is of great interest because, due to a combination of solar radiation and Saturn's magnetic field, it produces a diverse collection of carbon-based molecules--aka the building blocks of life. It is believed that studying Titan's atmosphere will give researchers insight into what the atmospheric conditions were like billions of years ago on Earth.
Scientists at NASA are still trying to figure out a reason for this east-west shift of the glowing gases over Titan's poles, and some of them include unknown atmospheric circulation movements, thermal effects or perhaps the power of Saturn's magnetic field.
Scientists will continue their observations moving forward in order to ascertain the reason for this strange shift. This effort is a part of NASA's astrobiology program, which is funded by a grant given to the Goddard Center for Astronomy as well as by funding from the Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy program at NASA.
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