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Impact-generated nitrogen on Titan?

Nature Geoscience

May 9, 2011

The massive nitrogen atmosphere on Saturn’s moon Titan could have been generated by planetary impacts during the period of Late Heavy Bombardment four billion years ago, according to a study online this week in Nature Geoscience. The results could explain the unusual formation of a thick atmosphere on a relatively cool planetary body.Yasuhito Sekine investigated the plausibility of nitrogen formation on Titan through impact-induced conversion of ammonia ice to nitrogen, using laser gun experiments. They found that Titan could have acquired enough nitrogen in this way to sustain the current atmosphere. The researchers conclude that if this mechanism is indeed responsible for the formation Titan’s nitrogen atmosphere, the moon’s nitrogen was derived from a source distinct from that for Earth.In an accompanying News and Views, Catherine Neish says: “Proposals such as the one introduced by Sekine and colleagues provide testable hypotheses that will focus future research.”

doi: 10.1038/ngeo1147

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