Feeds

NASA spies liquid in Titanic lake

Hydrocarbon fluids confirmed on Saturn moon

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

NASA scientists have announced that at least one of the giant lakes previously spied on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons - making it the "only body our solar system beyond Earth known to have liquid on its surface", as the agency puts it.

The lakes were identified by the Cassini spacecraft, and although scientists couldn't be sure they were liquid, "their dark appearance in radar indicates smoothness and their other properties point to the presence of liquids".

Investigators further suspected these features would be filled with methane, ethane and other light hydrocarbons, but Titan's hazy atmosphere - 95 per cent nitrogen and five per cent ethane, methane and other hydrocarbons - made confirmation difficult.

Back in December last year, though, Cassini used its visual and mapping instrument to cut through the atmospheric hydrocarbon smog and probe "chemically different materials based on the way they absorb and reflect infrared light" in the lake dubbed Ontario Lacus, lying in Titan's south polar region. The feature is roughly 7,800 square miles in area, "slightly larger than North America's Lake Ontario", NASA notes.

Artist's impression of a liquid lake on TitanThe resulting data showed that the lake contains liquid hydrocarbons, and certainly ethane. Larry Soderblom, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist with the US Geological Survey, said: "Detection of liquid ethane confirms a long-held idea that lakes and seas filled with methane and ethane exist on Titan. The fact we could detect the ethane spectral signatures of the lake even when it was so dimly illuminated, and at a slanted viewing path through Titan's atmosphere, raises expectations for exciting future lake discoveries by our instrument."

NASA explains that the ethane is present in "a liquid solution with methane, other hydrocarbons and nitrogen". It adds: "At Titan's surface temperatures, approximately -300°F (-184°C), these substances can exist as both liquid and gas. Titan shows overwhelming evidence of evaporation, rain, and fluid-carved channels draining into what, in this case, is a liquid hydrocarbon lake."

Cassinin's obervations "also suggest the lake is evaporating", since it's "ringed by a dark beach, where the black lake merges with the bright shoreline". The spacecraft "also observed a shelf and beach being exposed as the lake evaporates".

Soderblom concluded: "During the next few years, the vast array of lakes and seas on Titan's north pole mapped with Cassini's radar instrument will emerge from polar darkness into sunlight, giving the infrared instrument rich opportunities to watch for seasonal changes of Titan's lakes." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.