Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract With a dense N2-CH4 atmosphere rich in organics, both in gas and aerosol phases, and with the possible presence of hydrocarbons oceans on its surface, Titan, the largest satellite of Saturn, appears as a natural laboratory to study chemical evolution toward complex organic systems, in a planetary environment and over a long time scale. Thanks to many analogies with planet Earth, it provides a unique way to look at the various physical and chemical processes, and their couplings which may have been involved in terrestrial prebiotic chemistry. Indeed, analogies with the Earth have a limit since Titan's temperatures are much lower than on the Earth and since liquid water is totally absent. However, from that aspect, Titan also serves as a reference laboratory worth studying — indirectly — the role of liquid water in exobiology. The Cassini-Huygens mission currently developed by NASA and ESA will send an orbiter around Saturn and Titan and a probe in Titan's atmosphere. This mission which will be launched in 1997 for an expected arrival in 2004, offers a unique opportunity to study in detail extra-terrestrial, not life-controled, organic processes, and consequently it will have significant implications in the fields of exobiology and the origins of life.
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