Between heaven and Earth: The exploration of Titan

Tobias C. Owen, Hasso Niemann, Sushil Atreya, Mikhail Zolotov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The atmosphere of Titan represents a bridge between the early solar nebula and atmospheres like ours. The low abundances of primordial noble gases in Titan's atmosphere relative to N2 suggest that the icy planetesimals that formed the satellite must have originated at temperatures higher than 75-100 K. Under these conditions, N2 would also be very poorly trapped and thus Titan's nitrogen, like ours, must have arrived as nitrogen compounds, of which ammonia was likely the major component. This temperature constraint also argues against the trapping of methane. Production of this gas on the satellite after formation appears reasonable based on terrestrial examples of serpentinization, disproportionation and reduction of carbon. These processes require rocks, water, suitable catalysts and the variety of primordial carbon compounds that were plausibly trapped in Titan's ices. Application of this same general scenario to Ganymede, Callisto, KBOs and conditions on the very early Earth seems promising.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-391
Number of pages5
JournalFaraday Discussions
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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