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Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons, shares remarkable similarities with Earth. Its thick atmosphere is composed primarily of nitrogen; it features the most complex organic chemistry known outside of Earth and, uniquely, hosts an analog to Earth's hydrological cycle, with methane forming clouds, rain and seas. Using the latest data from the ongoing Cassini–Huygens missions, laboratory measurements and numerical simulations, this comprehensive reference examines the physical processes that shape Titan's fascinating atmospheric structure and chemistry, weather, climate, circulation and surface geology. The text also surveys leading theories about Titan's origin and evolution, and assesses their implications for understanding the formation of other complex planetary bodies. Written by an international team of specialists, chapters offer detailed, comparative treatments of Titan's known properties and discuss the latest frontiers in the Cassini–Huygens mission, offering students and researchers of planetary science, geology, astronomy and space physics an insightful reference and guide.
We derive the C/O ratio for the exoplanet host star 55 Cnc based on archive Keck/HIRES spectra. The C/O ratio varies widely depending on which oxygen abundance indicator – the 6300.3 Å [O I] line, the 6363.8 Å [O I] line, or the 7774 Å O I triplet – is used, and we find there is still a large uncertainty even based on individual abundance indicators. This case study demonstrates that caution and care are necessary when determining exoplanet host star C/O ratios, and when considering host star C/O ratios in inferring exoplanet compositions.
The science of extra-solar planets is one of the most rapidly changing areas of astrophysics and since 1995 the number of planets known has increased by almost two orders of magnitude. A combination of ground-based surveys and dedicated space missions has resulted in 560-plus planets being detected, and over 1200 that await confirmation. NASA's Kepler mission has opened up the possibility of discovering Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around some of the 100,000 stars it is surveying during its 3 to 4-year lifetime. The new ESA's Gaia mission is expected to discover thousands of new planets around stars within 200 parsecs of the Sun. The key challenge now is moving on from discovery, important though that remains, to characterisation: what are these planets actually like, and why are they as they are?
In the past ten years, we have learned how to obtain the first spectra of exoplanets using transit transmission and emission spectroscopy. With the high stability of Spitzer, Hubble, and large ground-based telescopes the spectra of bright close-in massive planets can be obtained and species like water vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide have been detected. With transit science came the first tangible remote sensing of these planetary bodies and so one can start to extrapolate from what has been learnt from Solar System probes to what one might plan to learn about their faraway siblings. As we learn more about the atmospheres, surfaces and near-surfaces of these remote bodies, we will begin to build up a clearer picture of their construction, history and suitability for life.
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. By characterising spectroscopically more bodies in different environments we will take detailed planetology out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy as a whole.
EChO has now been selected by the European Space Agency to be assessed as one of four M3 mission candidates.
Titan’s atmosphere potentially sports a cycle similar to the hydrologic one on Earth with clouds, rain and seas, but with methane playing the terrestrial role of water. Over the past ten years many independent efforts indicated no strong evidence for cloudiness until some unique spectra were analyzed in 1998 (Griffith et al.). These surprising observations displayed enhanced fluxes of 14-200% on two nights at precisely the wavelengths (windows) that sense Titan’s lower altitude where clouds might reside. The morphology of these enhancements in all 4 windows observed indicate that clouds covered ~6-9% of Titan’s surface and existed at ~15 km altitude.
Here I discuss new observations recorded in 1999 aimed to further characterize Titan's clouds. While we find no evidence for a massive cloud system similar to the one observed previously, 1%-4% fluctuations in flux occur daily. These modulations, similar in wavelength and morphology to the more pronounced ones observed earlier, suggest the presence of clouds covering ≤1% of Titan's disk. The variations are too small to have been detected by most prior measurements. Repeated observations, spaced 30 minutes apart, indicate a temporal variability observable in the time scale of a couple of hours. The cloud heights hint that convection might govern their evolution. Their short lives point to the presence of rain.
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