They found the right combination of methane, ethane and nitrogen crucial for bubbles to form. Under conditions most like those on Titan, the researchers found ethane had to flow into pools of methane to produce vigorous bubbles. It is possible these bubble outbreaks are strong enough to shape river deltas in bodies of liquid on the moon, according to the new research. Of all the bodies in our solar system, few are more Earth-like than Titan, and it is one of the few places scientists think might have conditions necessary for extraterrestrial life.
Titan is the only moon in our solar system to have an atmosphere. On Earth, methane is a gas used for heating, cooking and electricity, while ethane gas is a precursor for polyethylene plastic. Temperatures on Titan, however, are cold enough for these compounds to be liquids. There, hydrocarbons cycle through the atmosphere much like Theme From Melrose Place - Various - Televisions Greatest Hits Volume 7 - Cable Ready does on Earth.
Upon heating, the liquid released nitrogen gas in the form of fizzing bubbles. To determine how ethane, methane and nitrogen might burst into bubbles on Titan, Farnsworth and her colleagues conducted experiments in a six-foot tall, pressurized chamber simulating conditions on the moon.
Inside, they set the atmospheric pressure to 1. The researchers allowed one liquid to flow into a sample dish containing a pool of the other.
The researchers then cooled the inside of the chamber until it was either above or below 86 degrees Kelvin Celsius or Fahrenheit to let nitrogen dissolve. In one set of experiments, ethane flowed into ponds of methane.
In another, methane flowed into ethane. The team then gradually warmed up the chamber and waited for bubbles to erupt. Two scenarios resulted in bubbles.
At temperatures below 86 degrees Kelvin, ethane layered on top of nitrogen-rich methane, no matter what order they were poured into the petri dish. As the temperature warmed, the methane underneath began to foam and when the layers dissolved, bubbles reached the surface. Only ethane flowing into methane pools produced bubbles—and did so forcefully.
During one experiment, the outburst of bubbles was so strong, it affected the equipment. Bubbles erupt when flowing ethane mixes Titan - Mi:Grant - Titan / Galaxy methane supersaturated with nitrogen—meaning the methane contains more dissolved nitrogen than normal conditions allow.
When the methane warms, it can hold less dissolved nitrogen, which escapes as gas. The mixture must also have between 40 and 95 percent methane to make bubbles, according to Titan - Mi:Grant - Titan / Galaxy study. When boiling Titan - Mi:Grant - Titan / Galaxy is supersaturated with sugar—or contains more sugar than can normally be dissolved—crystals will form on a piece of sugar-coated wood as the liquid cools.
Source: Kendra K. Farnsworth et al. DOI: The Daily Galaxy via Erin I.
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