Cassini photographs possible lakes on Saturn's moon, Titan

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Two radar images from Cassini that show very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan's north pole.

Cassini, a European and United States space probe, has taken pictures of what appear to be lakes on the surface of Saturn's moon, Titan. If the findings are confirmed, then Titan will be the only other planetary mass, other than Earth, to have liquid lakes on their surfaces. Some of the 'lakes' also contain channels that lead to and from them. The lakes are believed to have been formed by rainfall of liquid methane or ethane.

Some radar images of the lakes and channels leading to and from them, show areas of black, which indicate that there is no image to display and scientists say that it could mean the surface of the 'lakes' are very smooth and flat.

"What we see is darker than anything we've ever seen elsewhere on Titan. It was almost as though someone laid a bull's-eye around the whole north pole of Titan, and Cassini sees these regions of lakes just like those we see on Earth," said U.S. Geological Survey Cassini interdisciplinary scientist, Larry Soderblom.

So far scientists have found at least 12 lakes which range between 6 and 62 miles wide.

"It was a real potpourri," said University of Arizona Cassini scientist, Jonathan Lunine.

"We've always believed Titan's methane had to be maintained by liquid lakes or extensive underground 'methanofers,' the methane equivalent of aquifers. We can't see methanofers but we can now say we've seen lakes ," added Lunine.