ESA releases Cassini images of Titan’s lakes and seas

  • Paris (France) – The European Space Agency (ESA) has released new images of the lake and seas of Saturn’s moon and may provide new insight in the history of Earth and a time before life arose.

    The new images published today were taken by the Cassini spacecraft and show about 60% of Titan’s north polar region and provide a fascinating new view of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes. According to ESA, Titan’s polar region is in winter right now: It is raining methane and ethane liquids that are collected on the surface, filling the lakes and seas and carving out rivers and channels on the moon’s surface.

    Scientists have discovered 400 lakes on Titan so far. The sizes of those lakes range from about 1 square km to more than 100,000 square km, slightly larger than the Great Lakes in the U.S. 70% of the lake are is taken up by water bodies with an aerial size of more than 26,000 square km. 

    Titan has become a key research field for astronomers, as it is believed that the conditions currently seen on Titan could be similar to those on Earth shortly before life evolved on our planet. Titan was discovered by Christiaan Huygens in 1655. The moon has a diameter of about 3200 miles and orbits Saturn at a distance of just under 760,000 miles. The surface temperature of Titan is estimated at -288 degrees Fahrenheit.

    "This is our version of mapping Alaska, the northern parts of Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Northern Russia," said Rosaly Lopes, Cassini radar scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a prepared statement. "It is like mapping these regions of Earth for the first time."
    "We want to see if there are more lakes present there,” Lopes continued. “Titan is indeed the land of lakes and seas, but we want to know if this is true now for the south pole as well," said Lopes. "We know there is at least one large lake near the south pole, but it will be interesting to see if there's a big difference between the north and south polar regions."

    It is summer at Titan's south pole right now, but winter should roll over that region in 2017. A season on Titan lasts nearly 7.5 years, one quarter of a Saturn year, which is 29.5 years long.

    The image released by ESA is available as a 3.2MB JPG version or as a 178 MB high-resolution TIFF file.