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Scientists at UCL have observed how a widespread polar wind is driving gas from the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. The team analysed data gathered over seven years by the international Cassini probe, and found that the interactions between Titan's atmosphere, and the solar magnetic field and radiation, create a wind of hydrocarbons and nitriles being blown away from its polar regions into space. This is very similar to the wind observed coming from Earth's polar regions.

Titan is a remarkable object in the Solar System. Like Earth and Venus, and unlike any other moon, it has a rocky surface and a thick atmosphere. It is the only object in the Solar System aside from Earth to have rivers, rainfall and seas. It is bigger than the planet Mercury.

Thanks to these unique features, Titan has been studied more than any moon other than Earth's, including numerous fly-bys by the Cassini probe, as well as the Huygens lander which touched down in 2004. On board Cassini is an instrument partly designed at UCL, the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS), which was used in this study.

"Titan's atmosphere is made up mainly of nitrogen and methane, with 50% higher pressure at its surface than on Earth," said Andrew Coates (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory), who led the study. "Data from CAPS proved a few years ago that the top of Titan's atmosphere is losing about seven tonnes of hydrocarbons and nitriles every day, but didn't explain why this was happening. Our new study provides evidence for why this is happening."

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