Helix @ CSIRO

For kids who love science

Ten years of science on Saturn’s moon

1 Comment

Titan 102 Flyby

During a flyby in June, Cassini bounced a signal off Titan’s lakes and back to Earth.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On the largest moon of Saturn, the hills are named after hobbits and elves, and the lakes after lakes on Earth. Titan is, in many ways, the most Earth-like world we’ve ever found.

Titan is a bitterly cold world covered in an orange haze. At around 180 degrees Celsius below zero, Titan is far too cold for liquid water. But beneath the smog lie rivers, lakes and seas, full of liquid ethane and methane. At home, methane is used for gas cooking. On Titan, methane seems to cycle from lakes to clouds like water does on Earth.

The spacecraft Cassini and the Huygens probe arrived at Saturn on 30 June 2004, ten years ago on Monday. In those ten years, Cassini has made over 100 flybys of Saturn’s moons. The most recent one bounced radio waves off Titan’s lakes. In April, it zoomed close enough to ‘sniff’ Titan’s atmosphere and take a chemical sample.

Last month, scientists looked at sunsets on Titan and found the orange smog affects blue light more than red light. This technique could help us understand planets beyond our solar system, the exoplanets. By watching an exoplanet as it moves between its star and Earth, scientists could learn about its alien atmosphere.

Late last year, scientists found the sea floor of Titan’s second largest sea, Ligeia Mare. Radar was able to pass through the pure liquid in the sea and bounce off the bottom. It turns out Ligeia Mare is 170 metres deep. That’s the same depth as Tasmania’s Lake St Clair, the deepest freshwater lake in Australia.

On Sunday, scientists shared a new study. Cassini’s radar had recorded a bright area in Ligeia Mare which later disappeared. Scientists think the bright area could have been a passing feature, like a wave, rising bubbles or something floating on the methane.

Perhaps this is a glimpse of the lake waking from a long winter. Seasons move slowly on Saturn’s moon. Titan’s northern hemisphere had its spring equinox in August 2009, and the summer solstice is not until May 2017.

Infographic on Cassini

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Share with us

NASA is thinking about putting a submarine on Titan to explore the lakes. Do you think it’s a good idea?

More information

Could we put a submarine on Titan?
Build a model Cassini spacecraft.

This article first appeared in Science by Email. Get your weekly dose of science free by subscribing here. 

Author: Sarah

Sarah is a Science Writer and Content Editor for the Double Helix magazines The Helix and Scientriffic, as well as our weekly Science by Email. Loves curries covered in coriander.

One thought on “Ten years of science on Saturn’s moon

  1. That’s extremely interesting, but i thought nothing other than an atom could get pass Jupiter because of the wave force and pressure coming from its own orbit. Wow guess I was wrong. Pretty neat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 275 other followers