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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Cassini Spacecraft Images Seas on Saturn's Moon

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Instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft have found evidence of seas, likely filled with liquid methane or ethane, in the high northern latitudes of Saturn's moon, Titan. One such feature is larger than any of the Great Lakes of North America and is about the same size as several seas on Earth.

Cassini's radar instrument imaged several very dark features near Titan's North Pole. Much larger than similar features seen before on Titan, the largest of these measures at least 39,000 square miles. Since the radar has caught only a portion of each of these features, only their minimum size is known. Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system and is about 50 percent larger than Earth's moon.

"We've long hypothesized about oceans on Titan and now with multiple instruments we have a first indication of seas that dwarf the lakes seen previously," said Dr. Jonathan Lunine, Cassini interdisciplinary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

While there is no definitive proof yet that these seas contain liquid, their shape, their dark appearance in radar, which indicates smoothness, and their other properties point to the presence of liquids. The liquids are probably a combination of methane and ethane, given the conditions on Titan and the abundance of methane and ethane gases and clouds in Titan's atmosphere.

Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer also captured a view of the region, and the team is working to determine the composition of the material contained within these features to test the hypothesis that they are liquid-filled.

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