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Cassini scientists image of Titan.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have used primitive meteorites called chondrites to develop a model of the Earth's early atmosphere. And it looked nothing like what we have today. Instead of the familiar oxygen and nitrogen, our early atmosphere would have been a toxic mixture of methane, ammonia, Hydrogen and water vapour. Simulating this early environment was actually quite difficult to calculate because the minerals of the early Earth reacted to the hot environment in hard-to-predict ways.
Cassini scientists have assembled this mosaic image of a region on Titan called Fensal-Aztlan. The northern part of the region, "Fensal", has small islands which range in size from 5 to 40 km (3 to 25 miles) across, while the southern "Aztlan" region mostly lacks these islands. The "islands" are thought to be raised areas of water ice, surrounded by dark particulate material which came out of the atmosphere.
The Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) on board the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft malfunctioned a few months ago, and the agency wants to know why. The instrument was working perfectly for two years, and made the surprising discovery of methane in Mars' atmosphere. It might be malfunctioning because of spacecraft vibration, but the source of the problem is still under investigation. Even if engineers can't get the instrument working again, the spacecraft still has another 6 which are working fine.
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