Astronomers see liquid lakes on Saturn’s moon

… but that liquid isn’t water.

Since July of 2006, astronomers scrutinizing images from the Cassini spacecraft have contemplated possible lakes on Titan.

Titan is the largest moon of the planet Saturn. By early January 2007, astronomers were even more confident. There appear to be not just lakebeds, but actual lakes containing liquid on Saturn’s moon.

Images from the Cassini spacecraft – which has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 – indicate that some 75 lakes lie near Titan’s north pole. The lakes range in size from 3 to 60 kilometers – about 2 to 40 miles. Astronomers say they see waves of liquid on these lakes, similar to water waves on Earth.

But Titan’s lakes don’t have liquid water. They can’t because Titan is so far from the sun that any water on its surface would be solid ice. Instead of having liquid water, Titan’s lakes are thought to be filled with methane in a liquid form.

But because Titan is so cold, its methane can also become liquid and even solid. It probably rains and snows methane on Titan, just as it rains and snows water here on Earth. So, that means Titan – Saturn’s moon – is the only world we know besides Earth to have liquid lakes.

Our thanks today to Research Corporation, a foundation for the advancement of science.

March 7, 2007

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