Category Archives: Titan

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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Lakes on two worlds

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Montage of lake reflections on Earth and Titan.
Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL / University of Arizona / DLR / Planetary Landscapes

This is a beautiful montage showing sunlight reflecting off lakes on two different worlds. A water lake (of course) on Earth and a methane lake on Saturn’s moon Titan. While the composition is quite different, the hydrological and methanological processes are remarkably similar, with rain, rivers, lakes and seas. Familiar but alien at the same time… Thanks to Planetary Landscapes for use of this image!

When Huygens met Titan

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This is a great new animation showing, from various views, the final descent of the Huygens probe to Titan on January 14, 2005, after it separated from the Cassini orbiter. Take a look!

Ice on Titan’s lakes and seas: implications for possible life?

Artist's conception of possible ice floes on a Titanian sea.Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / USGS

Artist’s conception of possible ice floes on a Titanian sea.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / USGS

Apart from being composed of liquid methane instead of water, the rivers, lakes and seas of Saturn’s moon Titan are amazingly similar in appearance to those on Earth. The hydrological cycle is also very similar, with Titanian rain replenishing them.

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Cassini finds alien version of ‘Nile River’ on Titan

Titan’s version of the Nile River stretches across this radar image; part of the Ligeia Mare sea is also visible on the right side of the image. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI

Want to go river rafting on Titan? The largest moon of Saturn is the only other place in the solar system known to have rivers, lakes and seas on its surface. Appearance-wise, they are eerily similar to their earthly counterparts, but are composed of liquid methane instead of water, in Titan’s extremely cold environment. Now, the Cassini spacecraft has found the largest Titanian river system yet, similar to the Nile River on Earth, as announced on December 12, 2012.

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‘Hot cross bun’ on Titan may indicate subsurface geological activity

Comparison of the “hot cross bun” feature on Titan with a similar volcanic mound on Venus. Credit: NASA

With its methane lakes, rivers and rain, Titan is already one of the most fascinating worlds in our solar system, with intriguing parallels to Earth despite the much colder climate.

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