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Cassini mission discovers ‘lakes’ on Saturn’s moon Titan

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Washington: A study using data from the joint NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) Cassini mission suggests the Saturn moon Titan’s surface indentation that is similar to creation of sinkholes on the Earth.

Apart from the Earth, Titan is the only body in the solar system known to possess surface lakes and seas, which have been observed by the Cassini spacecraft.

The team calculated how long it would take for patches of Titan’s surface to dissolve to create these features.

“We compared the erosion rates of organics in liquid hydrocarbons on Titan with those of carbonate and evaporite minerals in liquid water on Earth,” said Thomas Cornet of the European Space Agency.

“We found that the dissolution process occurs on Titan some 30 times slower than on Earth due to the longer length of Titan’s year and the fact it only rains during Titan summer. Nonetheless, we believe that dissolution is a major cause of landscape evolution on Titan and could be the origin of its lakes,” Cornet said.

These are terrestrial landscapes that result from erosion of dissolvable rocks such as limestone and gypsum, in groundwater and rainfall percolating through rocks.

Over time, this leads to features like sinkholes and caves in humid climates and salt-pans where the climate is more arid.

The rate of erosion creating such features depends on factors such as the chemistry of the rocks, the rainfall rate and the surface temperature.

While all of these aspects clearly differ between Titan and Earth, the researchers think the underlying process may be surprisingly similar.

“By comparing Titan’s surface features with examples on the Earth and applying a few simple calculations, we have found similar land-shaping processes that could be operating under very different climate and chemical regimes,” said Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s Cassini project scientist. (IANS)

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NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars

It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like the way a human would drill into a wall at home

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NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars
NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars. Pixabay

After a mechanical problem took NASA Mars rover Curiosity’s drill offline in December 2016, it has now successfully tested a new drilling method on the Red Planet, making a 50-millimetre deep hole in a target called “Duluth”, NASA has said.

Engineers working with the Curiosity Mars rover have been hard at work testing a new way for the rover to drill rocks and extract powder from them.

On May 20, that effort produced the first drilled sample on Mars in more than a year, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new technique, called Feed Extended Drilling, keeps the drill’s bit extended out past two stabiliser posts that were originally used to steady the drill against Martian rocks.

It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like the way a human would drill into a wall at home.

“The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Manager Steve Lee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Representational image.
Representational image. Pixabay

“Those are two vital inches of innovation from 60 million miles away. We’re thrilled that the result was so successful,” Lee said.

Drilling is a vitally important part of Curiosity’s capabilities to study Mars.

Inside the rover are two laboratories that are able to conduct chemical and mineralogical analyses of rock and soil samples.

The samples are acquired from Gale Crater, which the rover has been exploring since 2012.

“We’ve been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our job isn’t done once a sample has been collected on Mars,” said JPL’s Tom Green, a systems engineer who helped develop and test Curiosity’s new drilling method.

Also Read: NASA Probe to ‘Touch’ the Sun Will Carry 1.1 mn Names

“With each new test, we closely examine the data to look for improvements we can make and then head back to our test bed to iterate on the process.”

There’s also the next step to work on — delivering the rock sample from the drill bit to the two laboratories inside the rover.

As soon as this Friday, the Curiosity team will test a new process for delivering samples into the rover’s laboratories, NASA said. (IANS)

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