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Oxygen detected in atmosphere of Saturn's moon Dione: Discovery could mean ingredients for life are abundant on icy space bodies

ScienceDaily (Mar. 2, 2012) -- Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and an international research team have announced discovery of molecular oxygen ions (O2+) in the upper-most atmosphere of Dione, one of the 62 known moons orbiting the ringed planet. The research appeared recently in Geophysical Research Letters and was made possible via instruments aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997.

Dione -- discovered in 1684 by astronomer Giovanni Cassini (after whom the spacecraft was named) -- orbits Saturn at roughly the same distance as our own moon orbits Earth. The tiny moon is a mere 700 miles wide and appears to be a thick, pockmarked layer of water ice surrounding a smaller rock core. As it orbits Saturn every 2.7 days, Dione is bombarded by charged particles (ions) emanating from Saturn's very strong magnetosphere. These ions slam into the surface of Dione, displacing molecular oxygen ions into Dione's thin atmosphere through a process called sputtering.

Molecular oxygen ions are then stripped from Dione's exosphere by Saturn's strong magnetosphere.

A sensor aboard the Cassini spacecraft called the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) detected the oxygen ions in Dione's wake during a flyby of the moon in 2010. Los Alamos researchers Robert Tokar and Michelle Thomsen noted the presence of the oxygen ions.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Sun Mar 4th, 2012 at 01:23:10 PM EST
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