Saturn Moon Has Tropical “Great Salt Lake,” Methane Marshes
Titan has equatorial oasis as large as Utah landmark, NASA craft hints.
Saturn’s hazy moon Titan has a huge tropical lake and marshes of liquid methane near its equator, suggest surprising new images from a NASA spacecraft.
Titan is the only moon in the solar system to host a significant atmosphere—a roiling haze of organic molecules, which some scientists think might include the ingredients for life as we know it.
It’s also the only object in the solar system, other than Earth, to have bodies of liquid on its surface—previous data from NASA’s Cassini orbiter revealed hundreds of lakes near the frigid moon’s poles.
With surface temperatures hovering around -297 degrees Fahrenheit (-183 degrees Celsius), Titan is far too cold to have liquid water. Instead, the lakes are filled with liquid hydrocarbons, such as methane and ethane.
Now, for the first time, Cassini images show dark regions that appear to be pools of hydrocarbons around the moon’s equator.
“We detect evidence for the presence of a tropical lake with an area of 2,400 square kilometers [927 square miles]—as large as the Great Salt Lake in Utah—with a depth of at least a meter [three feet],” said study leader Caitlin Griffith, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“Our work also suggests the existence of a handful of smaller and shallower ponds, similar to marshes on Earth, with knee- to ankle-level depths.”