Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Surf Titan!

Okay, so there aren't any methane seas on Titan--at least, no permanent ones. But the good news is that Cassini has finally discovered evidence of methane lakes near Titan's north pole:

The radar images Cassini took of the north pole leave little to the imagination--there isn't much else it could be other than methane (or ethane) lakes, and the polar regions were always the most likely location for such formations if there weren't moon-wide seas and oceans. The results have the planetary scientists involved pretty excited, as you can imagine, as evidenced by this Planetary Society article on the discovery:
"The news is lakes, lots of lakes!" said Cassini RADAR team member Rosaly Lopes. The lake-like features are "circular or kidney-shaped and very radar-dark -- the darkest things we have seen. Morphologically, they look much like lakes on Earth. There are drainage features around the sides of lakes."

Seeing these features for the first time was a thrill for Lopes and the rest of the RADAR team. "I think it's been the most exciting pass so far," Lopes said. After it was pointed out that each swath seems to be described as the "most exciting," Lopes laughed. "Maybe we are just like that! But the amazing thing is how every pass is different. Every time we look at Titan with RADAR, the predominant thing on the swath is different from what it was last time. There hasn't been a single case of one of them being like, 'oh, yeah, it's just like the ones we've seen before.' So Titan's surface appears to be very diverse." That diversity hints at lots of fun and challenge ahead for Titan scientists.

Now I supposed the next thing for Cassini to do is image Titan during one of that moon's theorized methane monsoons. Would a massive, worldwide downpour even be detectable by flyby, I wonder?

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