Titan - The Extraterrestrial Land of Lakes
December 13, 2013

Cassini Sheds New Light On Size, Composition Of Titan’s Lakes

[ Watch the Video: Soaring Over Titan: Extraterrestrial Land of Lakes ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Thanks to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, astronomers are gaining new insights into Saturn’s moon Titan, particularly when it comes to its hydrocarbon lakes and seas.

According to the US space agency, Titan is one of the most Earth-like entities in the entire solar system. Besides our planet, the moon is the only other place in the Milky Way that has stable liquid on its surface.

“Cassini's recent close flybys are bringing into sharper focus a region in Titan's northern hemisphere that sparkles with almost all of the moon's seas and lakes,” NASA said. “Scientists working with the spacecraft's radar instrument have put together the most detailed multi-image mosaic of that region to date.”

“The image includes all the seas and most of the major lakes. Some of the flybys tracked over areas that previously were seen at a different angle, so researchers have been able to create a flyover of the area around Titan's largest and second largest seas, known as Kraken Mare and Ligeia Mare, and some of the nearby lakes,” the agency noted, adding that the majority of the liquid in the moon’s seas and lakes is methane and ethane.

A colorized movie produced using data obtained by the probe’s radar instrument from 2004 through 2013 shows Titan’s north pole at the center, and extends down to 50 degrees northern latitude. In the video, liquids are either black or blue, based on the way the radar bounced off the surface, while land appears yellow to white.

The largest sea, Kraken Mare, is the black-and-blue area sprawling from below and to the right of the north pole down to the bottom right, the agency said. The second largest sea, Ligeia mare, is a roughly heart-shaped entity located to the left of and just above the north pole. Punga Mare is located just below the north pole.

The images and videos created using the Cassini data showed that Kraken Mare is larger and more complex than previously believed, NASA said. They added that the research demonstrates that nearly all of the lakes on Titan lie in a region approximately 600 miles by 1,100 miles (900 kilometers by 1,800 kilometers) in size. In fact, just three percent of all of the liquid present on the Saturn moon is located outside of that zone.

“Learning about surface features like lakes and seas helps us to understand how Titan's liquids, solids and gases interact to make it so Earth-like,” said Steve Wall, acting radar team lead at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “While these two worlds aren't exactly the same, it shows us more and more Earth-like processes as we get new views.”

“Scientists have been wondering why Titan's lakes are where they are. These images show us that the bedrock and geology must be creating a particularly inviting environment for lakes in this box,” added Randolph Kirk, a Cassini radar team member with the US Geological Survey. “We think it may be something like the formation of the prehistoric lake called Lake Lahontan near Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California, where deformation of the crust created fissures that could be filled up with liquid.”