Titan’s origins linked to Oort cloud

Titan's building blocks may have originated in the cold disk of gas and dust swirling around the sun, not the warm disk that surrounded Saturn when the planet was young.


The nitrogen in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan seems to have gotten its start as ammonia ice in the early solar system. The finding suggests that the essential building blocks of Titan formed under similar conditions as ancient comets in the Oort cloud, not in the warm disk that surrounded Saturn when the planet was young, researchers report June 20 in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

ESA’s Rosetta mission could confirm the results later this year when it studies comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet is from the Kuiper Belt and should have slightly different chemistry than anything originating in the Oort cloud.

The results also provide hints as to how Earth got its atmospheric nitrogen, the scientists say.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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