content long 11-December-2017 03:18:36

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10-12 years old: The lakes of Titan

Authors: Adrián González Rodríguez, Alberto Parras Martínez 

The Titan Lakes: it could be the first example in the entire solar system where liquid deposits on the surface and riverlike structures on our planet Earth are found. Also because it is the only moon of the Solar System that has a dense atmosphere, and the nitrogen and methane in its atmosphere has a chemical composition similar to the one of the Earth before the appearance of the life.

NASA discovered that hydrocarbon deposits have been found that resemble terrestrial lakes. This makes Titan the only body in the solar system, apart from Earth, which contains lakes on its surface. Also regions that are almost equal to those of the Earth have been detected. However, due to their extremely low temperatures, NASA scientists rule out the possibility that these lakes are water, liquid or frozen. They think that the liquid in those lakes is methane or ethane.

This has carried out scientists to propose that the Titan landscape is created by methane, a hydrocarbon that has a cycle equivalent to that of water on Earth, through the existence of energetic storms composed of methane vapor. These periodic torrential methane rains explain the presence of bright polar clouds and the formation of the dry channels seen by the Cassini- Huygens mission. In these storms would be dense clouds of methane and water droplets would form that can collect on the surface between 100 and 200 liters per square meter, something comparable to torrential rain on Earth. That methane precipitated violently against the surface would generate deposits and rivers of liquid methane able to model the landscape and to run as liquid through the channels until its evaporation. But weather patterns on Titan are altered much more slowly than on Earth, and it takes 29 Earth years for the atmosphere to respond to seasonal changes. These occasional heavy downpours would not explain the moist mud of hydrocarbon on which Huygens landed. To explain this muddy surface, other scientists point to Titan receiving constant, fine rain. These experts believe that that persistent drizzle, which would keep Titan's surface moist, would be formed from small ice crystals that come off the high clouds.

At present, the best telescopes observe Titan regularly, monitoring its meteorological activity, in an important international effort that shows us the similarities and enormous differences between the atmospheres of that moon and the Earth. The study of Earth's atmosphere is very complicated and would help solve many unknown problems by analyzing Titan's atmosphere. So, Titan, is a natural laboratory that tests the knowledge we have about the physical equations that govern the behavior of the atmosphere.


Last Update: 19 May 2017

For further information please contact: SciTech.editorial@esa.int

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