Cassini confirms liquid lakes on Titan

Scientists have discovered a new Lake District deep in the solar system, they revealed today. Liquid pools cover the surface of Titan, Saturn’s biggest moon, marking it as the most Earth-like world in the solar system.

Cassini radar images showing lakesThe discovery of more than 75 lakes – which contain methane instead of water – follows the finding of rivers, a snow-capped mountain range and coastlines on 3,200-mile wide Titan.

The lakes range in size from just under two miles to 45 miles across, the science journal Nature reports. They were spotted by an instrument aboard Nasa’s Cassini spaceprobe which bounced radar signals through Titans’s hazy orange atmosphere.

Scientists are excited because the evidence suggests that Titan resembles Earth as it was four billion years ago and so could be a new cradle for life. They believe that when the sun swells up, swallowing the Earth, conditions for life could be ideal on a warmed-up Titan.

Professor John Zarnecki, of the Open University, who landed a probe called Huygens on Titan in January 2005, told me: “We believe the chemistry is there for life to form. It just needs heat and warmth to kick-start the process. In four billion years time, when the sun swells into a red giant, it could be paradise on Titan.”

The European probe, which had been carried the 2.5 billion miles to the Saturn system aboard Cassini, detected organic chemicals that are the building blocks of life, including nitrogen and methane, as it parachuted to a soft, slushy landing on a rock-strewn landscape.

The Nasa picture is made up of two radar images from Cassini, taken on July 21, 2006, of Titan’s northern hemisphere, showing the lakes.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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