NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is providing researchers with key clues about Saturn’s moon Titan, and in particular, its hydrocarbon lakes and seas.
Titan is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system, and the only place other than our planet that has stable liquid on its surface.
Scientists working with the spacecraft’s radar instrument have put together the most detailed multi-image mosaic of Titan’s northern hemisphere that has almost all of the moon’s seas and lakes.
The image includes all the seas and most of the major lakes. Some of the flybys tracked over areas that previously were seen at a different angle, so researchers have been able to create a flyover of the area around Titan’s largest and second largest seas, known as Kraken Mare and Ligeia Mare, respectively, and some of the nearby lakes.
These new images show Kraken Mare is more extensive and complex than previously thought. They also show nearly all of the lakes on Titan fall into an area covering about 600 miles by 1,100 miles (900 kilometers by 1,800 kilometers). Only 3 percent of the liquid at Titan falls outside of this area.
The new results indicate the liquid is mostly methane, somewhat similar to a liquid form of natural gas on Earth.
Based on work by Marco Mastrogiuseppe, a Cassini radar team associate at Sapienza University of Rome, calculations made by Alexander Hayes, of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., show there are about 2,000 cubic miles (9,000 cubic kilometers) of liquid hydrocarbon, about 40 times more than in all the proven oil reservoirs on Earth.