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The Lakes of Titan

The Lakes of Titan

Publication date: 04 January 2007

Authors: Stofan, E.R. et al.

Journal: Nature
Volume: 445
Issue: 7123
Page: 61-64
Year: 2007

Copyright: Nature Publishing Group

The surface of Saturn's haze-shrouded moon Titan has long been proposed to have oceans or lakes, on the basis of the stability of liquid methane at the surface. Initial visible and radar imaging failed to find any evidence of an ocean, although abundant evidence was found that flowing liquids have existed on the surface. Here we provide definitive evidence for the presence of lakes on the surface of Titan, obtained during the Cassini Radar flyby of Titan on 22 July 2006 (T16). The radar imaging polewards of 70° north shows more than 75 circular to irregular radar-dark patches, in a region where liquid methane and ethane are expected to be abundant and stable on the surface. The radar-dark patches are interpreted as lakes on the basis of their very low radar reflectivity and morphological similarities to lakes, including associated channels and location in topographic depressions. Some of the lakes do not completely fill the depressions in which they lie, and apparently dry depressions are present. We interpret this to indicate that lakes are present in a number of states, including partly dry and liquid-filled. These northern-hemisphere lakes constitute the strongest evidence yet that a condensable-liquid hydrological cycle is active in Titan's surface and atmosphere, in which the lakes are filled through rainfall and/or intersection with the subsurface 'liquid methane' table.

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