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But there is an important difference. On our own planet, lakes and seas are flowing with water, while Titan's lakes and seas are filled primarily with methane and ethane, that slosh around within these liquid reservoirs. In this never-before-seen cycle, the hydrocarbon molecules evaporate and condense into clouds that send an exotic "rain of terror" back down to this strange moon-world's carbon-slashed surface.
"Since time immemorial, humanity has looked up and wondered what made the man in the Moon. We know the dark splotches are large, lava-filled, impact basins that were created by asteroid impacts about four billion years ago. GRAIL data indicate that both the near side and the far side of the Moon were bombarded by similarly large impactors, but they reacted to them much differently," noted Dr. Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator, in a November 7, 2013 NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Press Release. Dr. Zuber is of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The JPL is located in Pasadena, California.
In addition, the newly collected data derived from the GRAIL mission helps astronomers redefine the late heavy bombardment--a proposed episode that occurred about 4 billion years ago, during which a heavy shower of projectiles pelted the bodies of the inner Solar System, including Earth and its beloved Moon, creating heavy lunar cratering in the process. The concept of the late heavy bombardment is primarily based on the ages of massive near-side craters that are either within, or adjacent to, dark, lava-flooded basins (lunar maria), that are named Oceanus Procellarum and Mare Imbrium. However, the composition of the material existing on and below the surface of the lunar near-side indicates that the temperatures beneath this area are not representative of Earth's Moon as a whole at the time of the late heavy bombardment. The difference in the temperature profiles may have caused scientists to overestimate the amount of crater-excavating projectiles that characterized the late heavy bombardment. New studies by GRAIL scientists indicate that the size distribution of impact craters on the lunar far-side is a more accurate reflection of the crater-forming history of the inner Solar System than those pock-marking the near-side.
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The astronomers found that larger craters, which excavated pits much deeper into the Moon's surface, only increased porosity in the underlying crust. This indicates that these deeper layers have not reached a steady state in porosity, and are not as fractured as the megaregolith.
Using computer models, the team of scientists came up with a complex interior structure for Ganymede, composed of an ocean sandwiched between up to three layers of ice--in addition to the very important rocky seafloor. The lightest ice, of course, would be on top, and the saltiest liquid would be heavy enough to sink to the bottom. Furthermore, the results suggest the existence of a truly weird phenomenon that would cause the oceans to "snow" upwards! This bizarre "snow" might develop because, as the oceans swirl and churn, and frigid plumes wind and whirl around, ice in the uppermost ocean layer, called Ice III, may form in the seawater. When ice forms, salts precipitate out. The heavier salts would then tumble down, and the lighter ice, or "snow," would flutter upward. The "snow" would them melt again before reaching the top of the ocean--and this would possibly leave slush lurking in the middle of the moon's odd sandwich!
NASA's future exploration of ocean worlds is enhanced by HST's monitoring of Europa's possible plume activity and Cassini's long-term observations of the plume of Enceladus. In particular, the investigations of both ocean worlds are providing the groundwork for NASA's Europa Clipper mission, which is planned for launch in the 2020s.