Hazes above Titan's atmosphere. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SScI

Galactic cosmic rays from outside of the solar system may change the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Titan is one of the most intriguing objects in the solar system — with a thick atmosphere and liquid lakes of hydrocarbons — and scientists think it could harbor the ingredients necessary to support life in some form.

What they found: The new study in the Astrophysical Journal reveals that certain molecules in Titan's atmosphere are likely broken apart by not only the Sun's ultraviolet light, but by cosmic rays as well.

  • This means that scientists may need to factor cosmic rays into models of how Titan's atmosphere came to look the way it does, potentially changing how we understand the world and even its habitability.
"Figuring all this out is a really big deal because it will teach us about how planets make organic chemicals in their atmosphere. ... Maybe we could learn about what types of organics (potential life building blocks and food!) got made on early Earth or are being made on other worlds beyond our Solar System."
— Michael Malaska, a researcher unaffiliated with the study, to Axios via email

Yes, but: It's still not a sure thing that cosmic rays are having this effect on molecules in Titan's atmosphere, and new data is needed to confirm the finding.

The big picture: Titan will get a close-up mission of its own when NASA's Dragonfly launches in 2026.

  • The mission will use a drone to fly to various points of interest on Titan's surface, hunting for signs of life and characterizing the moon's atmosphere from within.

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Coronavirus cases rise in 25 states

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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

New coronavirus infections rose over the past week in half the country.

Why it matters: The U.S. remains largely unable or unwilling to control the spread of the virus.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 33,976,447 — Total deaths: 1,014,266 — Total recoveries: 23,644,023Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 7,233,945 — Total deaths: 206,959 — Total recoveries: 2,840,688 — Total tests: 103,939,667Map.
  3. Education: School-aged children now make up 10% of all U.S COVID-19 cases.
  4. Health: Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine won't be ready until 2021
  5. Travel: CDC: 3,689 COVID-19 or coronavirus-like cases found on cruise ships in U.S. waters — Airlines begin mass layoffs while clinging to hope for federal aid
  6. Business: Real-time data show economy's rebound slowing but still going.
  7. Sports: Steelers-Titans NFL game delayed after coronavirus outbreak.
Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump signs stopgap bill to prevent government shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and President Trump arrives at the U.S. Capitol in March. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Trump signed a bill to extend current levels of government funding after funding expired briefly, White House spokesperson Judd Deere confirmed early Thursday.

Why it matters: The move averts a government shutdown before the Nov. 3 election. The Senate on Wednesday passed the legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 11, by a vote of 84-10.