Livable Planets



Launched as GRAIL A and GRAIL B in September 2011, the probes were renamed Ebb and Flow by schoolchildren in Montana. The probes operated in almost circular orbit near the lunar poles at an altitude of approximately 34 miles, until their mission came to an end in December 2012. The distance between the twin probes altered a bit as they soared over areas of lesser and greater gravity that were caused by visible topological features on the Moon's surface, such as impact craters and mountains--as well as by masses that were secreted beneath the lunar surface. Titan's atmosphere is approximately 95% nitrogen. However, in a way that dramatically differs from Earth's own mostly-nitrogen atmosphere, Titan's atmosphere has very little oxygen. Indeed, the remainder of Titan's atmosphere is almost entirely composed of methane--along with small qunatities of other gases, such as ethane. At the extremely cold temperatures that are found at Saturn's great distance from the heat of our Star, Titan's methane and ethane can accumulate on its icy surface to form pools of liquid. "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.