On Saturn's moon Titan, plentiful lakeside views, but with liquid methane

By Will Dunham WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scientists on Monday provided the most comprehensive look to date at one of the solar system's most exotic features: prime lakeside property in the northern polar region of Saturn's moon Titan - if you like lakes made of stuff like liquid methane. Using data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft before that mission ended in 2017 with a deliberate plunge into Saturn, the scientists found that some of frigid Titan's lakes of liquid hydrocarbons in this region are surprisingly deep while others may be shallow and seasonal

Reuters April 16, 2019 03:05:27 IST
On Saturn's moon Titan, plentiful lakeside views, but with liquid methane

On Saturns moon Titan plentiful lakeside views but with liquid methane

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scientists on Monday provided the most comprehensive look to date at one of the solar system's most exotic features: prime lakeside property in the northern polar region of Saturn's moon Titan - if you like lakes made of stuff like liquid methane.

Using data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft before that mission ended in 2017 with a deliberate plunge into Saturn, the scientists found that some of frigid Titan's lakes of liquid hydrocarbons in this region are surprisingly deep while others may be shallow and seasonal.

Titan and Earth are the solar system's two places with standing bodies of liquid on the surface. Titan boasts lakes, rivers and seas of hydrocarbons: compounds of hydrogen and carbon like those that are the main components of petroleum and natural gas.

The researchers described landforms akin to mesas towering above the nearby landscape, topped with liquid lakes more than 300 feet (100 meters) deep comprised mainly of methane. The scientists suspect the lakes formed when surrounding bedrock chemically dissolved and collapsed, a process that occurs with a certain type of lake on Earth.

The scientists also described "phantom lakes" that during wintertime appeared to be wide but shallow ponds - perhaps only a few inches (cm) deep - but evaporated or drained into the surface by springtime, a process taking seven years on Titan.

The findings represented further evidence about Titan's hydrological cycle, with liquid hydrocarbons raining down from clouds, flowing across its surface and evaporating back into the sky. This is comparable to Earth's water cycle.

Because of Titan's complex chemistry and distinctive environments, scientists suspect it potentially could harbour life, in particular in its subsurface ocean of water, but possibly in the surface bodies of liquid hydrocarbons.

"Titan is a very fascinating object in the solar system, and every time we look carefully at the data we find out something new," California Institute of Technology planetary scientist Marco Mastrogiuseppe said.

Titan, with a diameter of 3,200 miles (5,150 km), is the solar system's second largest moon, behind only Jupiter's Ganymede. It is bigger than the planet Mercury.

"Titan is the most Earth-like body in the solar system. It has lakes, canyons, rivers, dune fields of organic sand particles about the same size as silica sand grains on Earth," Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory planetary scientist Shannon MacKenzie said.

The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.