Cassini spots lakes on Saturn’s moon

first_img“We have a first indication of seas that dwarf the lakes seen previously,” said Jonathan Lunine, Cassini interdisciplinary scientist at the University of Arizona. The existence of these seas further marks Titan as an active world, ripe with possibilities for future explorations into the origin of life and the nature of atmospheres, Lunine said. Plus, “being an old science-fiction fan, there is nothing like finding a place with a little bit of action,” he said. Titan is the second-largest moon in the solar system and is about 50 percent larger than Earth’s moon. It is also one of the few bodies in the solar system that has a significant atmosphere, one that is denser than the Earth’s. While scientists have known Titan’s atmosphere emits methane since the 1980s, the source of the gas had long been a mystery. For years, Lunine was convinced large methane-filled oceans would be found on Saturn’s moon. LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE – A Jet Propulsion Laboratory-operated spacecraft has uncovered evidence of several giant, liquid-filled seas on Saturn’s largest moon. The Cassini probe has returned to Earth images of gaping dark spots on Titan’s northern pole, which scientists believe are filled with liquid methane or ethane. The biggest of these features measures 39,000 square miles, larger than any of North America’s Great Lakes, JPL officials said. Until now, Cassini has only returned images of small lakes. “This isn’t a bad consolation prize, though,” he said, referring to the seas. Still, there has to be a larger source of methane that scientists have yet to find, said Lunine, who suspects it will be discovered coming from Titan’s interior. There should be enough data gathered by 2009 to make that determination, he said. “There are some people that don’t get excited about anything, but most people get very excited about places that are similar to the Earth in some way – but yet very exotic,” he said. The place that best fits that description? “Titan is probably it,” he said. [email protected] (626) 578-6300 Ext. 4494160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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