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The Seas of Titan

If the dark features Cassini has found near Titan’s north pole really are filled with liquid, they’re seas more than lakes, one of them larger than any of the Great Lakes in North America. The image below says it all, comparing the largest of these features with Lake Superior. This work is being done through radar imaging, detecting dark radar surfaces that imply smoothness. Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer is also at work as the liquid hypothesis at Titan’s surface is explored.

Possible seas on Titan

Image: This feature on Titan is at least 100,000 square kilometers (39,000 square miles), which is greater in extent than Lake Superior (82,000 square kilometers or 32,000 square miles), which is one of Earth’s largest lakes. The feature covers a greater fraction of Titan than the largest terrestrial inland sea, the Black Sea. The Black Sea covers 0.085 percent of the surface of the Earth; this newly observed body on Titan covers at least 0.12 percent of the surface of Titan. Because of its size, scientists are calling it a sea. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC.

Assuming these are bodies of liquid, they’re most likely filled with liquid methane and ethane. That jibes with current thinking that methane is continuing to move between the surface and the atmosphere, a cycle that will be further explored in Cassini’s May flyby, when we’ll get a more targeted pass over these dark areas. See JPL’s mission news for more.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Marc March 13, 2007, 16:59

    Now that’s what I call front page news! This discovery were surely make us want to send other probes there to study it.

  • Bruce V. Hoffinger March 13, 2007, 18:17

    So much talk about finding ‘life’ on other planets. Is there
    ‘life’ on earth?
    Without unity and love there is no ‘life.”


  • MirrorStephen March 13, 2007, 22:11

    So when bacteria asexually reproduce, that means because
    they aren’t in love they aren’t alive?

    Can you say New Age drivel?

  • BLOB[11] March 13, 2007, 22:15

    Liquid methane, huh?

    If only there was a way to get it back here for about $230/1000m^3 gas equivalent…

  • Adam March 14, 2007, 1:46

    Of course it’s already been proposed in fictional form to scavenge all the Shuttle and Saturn V technology that NASA has left lying around and launch a manned mission to Titan to establish a base. Would be a better fate than being museum pieces for the orbiters and old Saturns.

  • C Makepeace March 15, 2007, 13:17

    Why does the Mediterranean not count as an inland sea? It has only one very narrow entrance, like the Black Sea, which is really just a gulf opening off it.

  • Bulova March 18, 2007, 9:51

    This would make a great hard ScFI novel. Sailing on a methane sea with the enormous disk of Jupiter overhead…

    Wish it could be me. Sigh.

  • Administrator March 18, 2007, 9:55

    Sounds like a Frank Paul cover for an old issue of Science Wonder Stories. Ah, the glorious places SF can take us…

  • ljk March 23, 2007, 10:32

    Titan – a moon of Saturn

    March 17, 2007

    Jonathan Lunine has worked on the Cassini mission to Titan since 1983. Like Earth, Titan has lakes. But rather than water, Titan’s lakes are lakes of the simple hydrocarbons, methane and ethane. They have been identified using radiowaves which indicate temperature. There is atmosphere on Titan, an atmosphere of methane. There are methane clouds and methane rainstorms.

    Full transcript here:


  • ljk May 3, 2007, 11:36

    Title: Photolytically generated aerosols in the mesosphere and thermosphere of Titan

    Authors: Mao-Chang Liang, Yuk L. Yung, Donald E. Shemansky

    (Submitted on 1 May 2007)

    Abstract: Analysis of the Cassini Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (UVIS) stellar and solar occultations at Titan to date include 12 species: N$_{2}$ (nitrogen), CH$_{4}$ (methane), C$_{2}$H$_{2}$ (acetylene), C$_{2}$H$_{4}$ (ethylene), C$_{2}$H$_{6}$ (ethane), C$_{4}$H$_{2}$ (diacetylene), C$_{6}$H$_{6}$ (benzene), C$_{6}$N$_{2}$ (dicyanodiacetylene), C$_{2}$N$_{2}$ (cyanogen), HCN (hydrogen cyanide), HC$_{3}$N (cyanoacetylene), and aerosols distinguished by a structureless continuum extinction (absorption plus scattering) of photons in the EUV. The introduction of aerosol particles, retaining the same refractive index properties as tholin with radius $\sim$125 \AA and using Mie theory, provides a satisfactory fit to the spectra. The derived vertical profile of aerosol density shows distinct structure, implying a reactive generation process reaching altitudes more than 1000 km above the surface. A photochemical model presented here provides a reference basis for examining the chemical and physical processes leading to the distinctive atmospheric opacity at Titan. We find that dicyanodiacetylene is condensable at $\sim$650 km, where the atmospheric temperature minimum is located. This species is the simplest molecule identified to be condensable. Observations are needed to confirm the existence and production rates of dicyanodiacetylene.


    ApJL accepted


    Astrophysics (astro-ph)

    Cite as:

    arXiv:0705.0145v1 [astro-ph]

    Submission history

    From: Mao-Chang Liang [view email]

    [v1] Tue, 1 May 2007 17:22:23 GMT (75kb)


  • ljk January 9, 2008, 11:01

    Are Titan’s lakes seasonal?

    From here:



    Based on this swath, there appear to be fewer lakes
    near the south pole than seen in a typical region near
    the north pole (for example, see Titan’s North Polar Region).

    Since Titan is currently in its late summer season in the
    southern hemisphere, this interpretation is consistent with
    a previously proposed theory that methane fills the lakes
    during the winter and evaporates during the summer,
    leaving them dry until the next fall.

  • Carl March 27, 2008, 19:38

    Ok, here is a crazy idea.

    We build a space elevator on Titan. Its used to bring hydrocarbons up from the surface to docked tankers. Once fueled, the tankers return to Earth, using a percentage of their cargo as fuel. Once there, they dock with the Earthbound space elevator and offload the fuel. ENERGY CRISIS SOLVED! The tankers could use melted lunar ice as reaction fuel in a nuclear rocket. Ok, I have given this idea some thought and I am sure there are a million holes in it. But the one big hole I think about is, if we did this, the Earth would turn into Venus pretty quick from all those hydrocarbon pollutants we would be introducing.

  • george scaglione March 28, 2008, 8:36

    carl,well err ahh,turn earth into venus!? not such a good idea! but…as to the rest of it…i like it very much!!! good thinking my friend!!! even keeping in mind that this would have to be done afew years from now…still i am beginning to see in the paper and on tv that the commercials are beginning to plan for great progress!! only making your above idea all the more timely! thanks! your friend george

  • Adam March 29, 2008, 3:51

    Hi All

    Carl, the last thing we need is more hydrocarbon fuels. We need an energy source that lets us reform methane from carbon dioxide, so we can use the hydrocarbons as energy-carriers not energy sources. The only long term viable energy sources are solar and nuclear, both of which are making startling advances. Check out Brian Wang’s “Next Big Future” blog post…


    …covers a pseudo-capacitor that converts nuclear radiation directly into electrical current, and a thermoelectric converter that is aiming at converting heat to electricity at 85% of the Carnot limit. Both have incredible potential if developed successfully – the thermoelectric system being more developed than the nuclear converter.

  • Adam March 29, 2008, 4:49


    The Space Elevator on Titan is not a bad idea, as it would be as easy a Space Elevator on the Moon, both of which require a counter-weight parked in either the L1 or L2 points of the moon. For our Moon that’s 16% of the Earth-Moon distance, some 61,500 km. For Titan that’s 4.3% of the Titan-Saturn distance, or 52,400 km, and Titan’s surface gravity is just 13.7% of Earth versus the 16.56% on the Moon.

    But a Space Elevator is a long way off on either celestial body, even though high strength plastics are currently strong enough for both. A satellite could park in the L1 point and lower rovers via elevator to the surface, or collect samples via the same. Jerome Pearson, co-inventor of the modern Space Elevator, has written extensively on a Lunar Space elevator for supporting unmanned missions and the mass requirements are surprisingly modest.