Home > Cassini, Unmanned Spaceflight > Cassini Sees Tropical Lakes on Saturn Moon

Cassini Sees Tropical Lakes on Saturn Moon

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has spied long-standing methane lakes, or  puddles, in the “tropics” of Saturn’s moon Titan. One of the tropical lakes appears  to be about half the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, with a depth of at least 3  feet (1 meter).
The  result, which is a new analysis of Cassini data, is unexpected because models  had assumed the long-standing bodies of liquid would only exist at the poles.  The findings appear in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.
Where  could the liquid for these lakes come from?  “A likely supplier is an underground aquifer,”  said Caitlin Griffith, the paper’s lead author and a Cassini team associate at  the University of Arizona, Tucson. “In essence, Titan may have oases.”
Understanding  how lakes or wetlands form on Titan helps scientists learn about the moon’s  weather. Like Earth’s hydrological cycle, Titan has a “methane” cycle, with methane  rather than water circulating. In Titan’s atmosphere, ultraviolet light breaks  apart methane, initiating a chain of complicated organic chemical reactions.  But existing models haven’t been able to account for the abundant supply of  methane.
“An  aquifer could explain one of the puzzling questions about the existence of  methane, which is continually depleted,” Griffith said. “Methane is a progenitor  of Titan’s organic chemistry, which likely produces interesting molecules like  amino acids, the building blocks of life.”
Global  circulation models of Titan have theorized that liquid methane in the moon’s  equatorial region evaporates and is carried by wind to the north and south poles,  where cooler temperatures cause methane to condense. When it falls to the  surface, it forms the polar lakes. On Earth, water is similarly transported by  the circulation, yet the oceans also transport water, thereby countering the  atmospheric effects.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-172

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