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Saturn moon may provide early Earth clues

Washington -- Saturn's largest moon, Titan, could provide valuable answers to the origin of life in the solar system, researchers say.

Astrobiologists say Titan's frozen surface, obscured by an atmosphere of ammonia and methane, could be a "chilled time capsule" of early planetary development, USA Today reported Sunday.

Probes sent to the distant moon have provided researchers with massive amounts of data, they say, but they need to know more.

Titan "is still enshrouded in a cloud of mystery despite the initial flood of data," a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research says.

Using data from the Cassini space probe, study leader Roger Clark and his colleagues say Titan's surface is a mix of organic compounds such as benzene, ethane and methane.

Some scientists suggest the Earth may have seen similar conditions in its early existence, USA Today said.

Such comparisons, "looking at conditions on one world and asking what they mean for our own," are useful, Christopher Chyba of Princeton University says.

"In the big picture, I think what all these studies tell us," he says, "is something about the value of exploring space to help us make sense of things on Earth."

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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