Category Archives: Titan

Cassini plumbs the depths and new mysteries of Titan’s seas

Cassini radar image of part of Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Titan. Radar echoes on a 25-mile (40-kilometer) track along the eastern shoreline are shown as black and blue circles. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Cassini radar image of part of Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Titan. Radar echoes on a 25-mile (40-kilometer) track along the eastern shoreline are shown as black and blue circles. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The Cassini spacecraft continues to make new discoveries about Titan’s methane seas and lakes, answering some questions but raising additional ones as well. As announced this week, Cassini has discovered two more of the unusual “magic islands” – bright features which seem to appear in the seas where they didn’t exist before – and has measured the depth of the largest Titanian sea.

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Titan’s seas and lakes sparkle in the sunlight in recent Cassini images

Near-infrared view, taken Aug. 21, 2014 from Cassini of sunlight glints on methane/ethane seas and lakes near Titan's north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

Near-infrared view, taken Aug. 21, 2014 from Cassini of sunlight glints on methane/ethane seas and lakes near Titan’s north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

Saturn’s moon Titan is a very unique world, and the only place in the solar system known to have seas and lakes (liquid methane/ethane) on its surface, other than Earth. And just like our home world, if you look at them at the right moment from space, you can see sunlight gleaming off of them, as the Cassini spacecraft just did again on Aug. 21, 2014.

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Giant cloud at Titan’s south pole is toxic and freezing cold

View from Cassini of the huge polar vortex cloud over Titan’s south pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/SSI/Leiden Observatory and SRON

View from Cassini of the huge polar vortex cloud over Titan’s south pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/SSI/Leiden Observatory and SRON

Titan is the only moon in the solar system known to have a dense atmosphere, and while similar to Earth’s atmosphere in some ways, such as being rich in nitrogen, it also holds surprises for planetary scientists. Analysis of data from Cassini of a huge cloud which hovers over the moon’s south pole shows that it is both toxic and colder than expected.

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It’s back! ‘Mystery Island’ in Titan sea makes unexpected reappearance

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the “mystery island” in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the “mystery island” in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The mystery of an unusual feature in one of Titan’s hydrocarbon seas, dubbed the “mystery island,” has taken an interesting turn. After apparently disappearing following its initial discovery in 2013, it has now reappeared and has changed in appearance and size, as well.

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Rainfall on Titan may create propane aquifers, study suggests

Illustration of a cross-section of Titan’s surface and near-subsurface, showing the surface lakes/seas, underground aquifers, clathrate layers, and icy crust. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Illustration of a cross-section of Titan’s surface and near-subsurface, showing the surface lakes/seas, underground aquifers, clathrate layers, and icy crust. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is a very alien yet eerily Earth-like world, with rain, rivers, lakes, and seas; seen from above, the landscape has a familiar look to it. But those lakes, seas, and rivers are fed by a different kind of rainfall – liquid methane/ethane. It is far too cold on the surface for liquid water, but the liquid hydrocarbons nicely fill in for H20 in Titan’s “water cycle.” Now, a new study shows how this rainfall interacts with and changes underground aquifers.

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Bacteria discovered in lake of oil: implications for extraterrestrial life?

Pitch Lake in Trinidad, where life has been found inside water droplets within the oil deposits. Credit: Martina Jackson/Wikimedia Commons

Pitch Lake in Trinidad, where life has been found inside water droplets within the oil deposits. Credit: Martina Jackson/Wikimedia Commons

A recent discovery by scientists may have implications for possible extraterrestrial life: Bacteria have been found thriving in a lake of oil in Trinidad, again showing how life can exist in even the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. The discovery brings to mind the similar environment on Saturn’s moon Titan, where lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons (methane/ethane) exist at the moon’s poles.

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Titan’s hidden ocean might be as salty as the Dead Sea

Illustration of what Titan’s interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Illustration of what Titan’s interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s moon Titan is known for its methane seas, lakes, and rivers; surprisingly Earth-like in appearance yet distinctly alien at the same time. But there is also evidence for another ocean, this one of water, below the surface. Little is known about this hidden watery world, but now new results suggest it is likely very salty – as much as the Dead Sea on Earth.

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What is this ‘Magic Island’ that appeared on Titan?

Before and after images showing the appearance of "Magic Island" in Ligeia Mare on Titan. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Before and after images showing the appearance of “Magic Island” in Ligeia Mare on Titan. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Titan is a complex world, reminiscent of our own planet in many ways, with mountains, seas, lakes, rivers and rain. Albeit the liquid on this super-cold moon is methane/ethane instead of water, but the visual similarities are striking. Just how geologically active Titan might be in other ways however isn’t really known yet, but a new discovery might provide some clues. What looks like a new small “island“ has appeared in one of the hydrocarbon seas, where it wasn’t before. Is it really an island, or something else?

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Hazy sunsets on Titan provide clues to atmospheres on alien exoplanets

Artist’s conception of the Cassini spacecraft observing a sunset on Titan. Such studies can also help astronomers understand the atmospheres of exoplanets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of the Cassini spacecraft observing a sunset on Titan. Such studies can also help astronomers understand the atmospheres of exoplanets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s moon Titan is one of the murkiest places in the Solar System; its thick smog-like hydrocarbon haze in the upper atmosphere shrouds the entire moon, much like Venus’ perpetual cloud cover. Titan’s surface is completely hidden by this orange-ish haze, making it look rather bland and uninteresting. This unique environment may provide valuable clues to the nature of atmospheres on distant exoplanets, however, according to new findings from scientists with the Cassini mission.

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Planetary archive: Titan and Saturn’s rings

Titan floats in the distance, beyond Saturn's rings.

Titan floats in the distance, beyond Saturn’s rings. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The Cassini spacecraft has taken thousands of images of Saturn and its moons, and this one is another beauty. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and the one with the methane rain, rivers and lakes, floats in space out beyond Saturn’s rings.

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