A new analysis of data provided by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has yielded some surprising results about Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. As it turns out, the large lakes that dot parts of Titan’s surface are home to not water but huge amounts of methane and ethane.
These hydrocarbons are more familiar to us in their gaseous form, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained. But on Titan, the temperatures are so cold that these gases have condensed into liquids — enough, in some cases, to fill lakes that are 300 feet deep.
Scientists have already known that Titan has a cycle similar to Earth’s water cycle — except instead of water, these liquid hydrocarbons are what get pooled in its oceans, evaporated into the atmosphere, and rained back down again. But while we already knew that Titan’s larger seas are filled with methane and ethane, we weren’t sure about the smaller bodies of water.
Cassini collected the data that led to this conclusion almost exactly two years ago, on April 22, 2017. Now, approaching the anniversary of the spacecraft’s last Saturn flyby, this latest research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “Every time we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious,” said the study’s lead author, Marco Mastrogiuseppe.