With the thickest air of any moon in the solar system, Titan sports an atmosphere that, among other things, may produce rain showers of liquid natural gas. Atmosphere scientist Bob Whitten leads a research effort to investigate another peculiar effect on this Saturnian satellite: how cosmic rays interact with the smog in Titan’s air. In particular, he’s interested in learning how the electrical conductivity of this alien atmosphere depends on these incoming, high-energy particles, on haze, and on sunlight.
While Titan is interesting in its own right, understanding the physics of its atmosphere might also provide clues to the conditions of early Earth’s own gaseous mantle. This cold, far-off moon, so seemingly unlike our own planet, may be a crystal ball offering insight into Earth’s very distant past.