Astronomers surprised by the discovery of deep methane lakes on Titan



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This near-infrared color image of Cassini shows the sun shimmering off the northern polar seas of Titan. NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. Arizona / Univ. Idaho

Two years have passed since the Cassini probe ended its mission and burned in the rings of Saturn. The data from his recordings are still being analyzed and astronomers are making surprising discoveries. The latest research using Cassini data has shown that Titan, Saturn's largest moon, hosts deep, liquid methane lakes.

Using radar data, astronomers were able to test the depth of lakes located in the northern hemisphere of Titan. They discovered that some were over 100 meters deep, making Titan the only body in our solar system other than the Earth to harbor a stable liquid on the surface.

While here on Earth, the liquid in question is water, on Titan, it is methane and ethane. These two hydrocarbons are gases on Earth subjected to regular pressures, but Titan is so cold that the two hydrocarbons behave there like liquids. This means that Titan has its own cycle of evaporation and rain similar to our water cycle.

Although it is already known that Titan has large methane seas in the north, it was also unexpected to find methane in the lakes.

"Whenever we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious," said lead author Marco Mastrogiuseppe, a Cassini radar scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, California, in a statement. "But these new measures help answer a few key questions. We can actually better understand the hydrology of Titan. "

It is strange that there is so much liquid on one side of the northern hemisphere, but not on the other. The eastern part of the hemisphere has large seas, while the western part is made up of small lakes. "It's as if you're looking at the North Pole of the Earth and you can see that North America has a geological environment completely different from that of Asia," said scientist Cassini and co-author Jonathan Lunine from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. says in the statement.

It is possible that the lakes formed when the bedrock of ice and other surrounding chemicals dissolved and collapsed. And lakes can be influenced by seasonal variations in the amount of liquid on the surface.

The data used for these discoveries was among the last collected by Cassini during his final flyby of Titan. This makes it an appropriate tribute to a spacecraft that has taught us a lot about Saturn and its moons. "It was Titan's last Cassini race, and it was really a feat," said Lunine.







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