NNASA's Cassini spacecraft has confirmed the presence of liquid hydrocarbon in Titan's northern hemisphere by capturing an image of the sun's rays reflecting off a lake.
Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has long intrigued scientists because of its numerous similarities to Earth.
"This one image communicates so much about Titan - thick atmosphere, surface lakes and an otherworldliness," explained Cassini project scientist Bob Pappalardo. ??"It's an unsettling combination of strangeness yet similarity to Earth. This picture is one of Cassini's iconic images."
Indeed, scientists have long theorized that Titan's cold surface hosts seas or lakes of liquid hydrocarbons, making it the only other planetary body besides Earth believed to harbor liquid on its surface.??
The presence of liquid on Titan's southern hemisphere was first confirmed in 2008, when researchers analyzing infrared data idenitifed a large lake known as Ontario Lacus.
But Titan's northern hemisphere, which has more lakes than the southern hemisphere, has been veiled in winter darkness. The sun only began to directly illuminate the northern lakes in recent months as it approached the equinox of August 2009 - the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. ?
"These results remind us how unique Titan is in the solar system," said Ralf Jaumann, a visual and infrared mapping spectrometer expert. "But they also show us that liquid has a universal power to shape geological surfaces in the same way, no matter what the liquid is."