Besides our planets, Saturn’s moon Titan is the only known space object in the Solar System to present liquid on its surface. However, we’re not talking about water but about hydrocarbon lakes, filled with methane and ethane.
On Earth, both methane and ethane exist as gases, but on Titan, they are in their liquid form because of the freezing temperatures on Saturn’s moon. Previous studies confirmed that the sharp boundaries of the karstic lakes formed by dissolving areas with frozen water and solid organic materials.
A new study, issued in Nature Geoscience, came up with another theory to explain the formation of Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes with protruded boundaries. According to the new explanation, those lakes formed by the nitrogen gas expansion caused by an increase in the temperature of the crust of Titan. Later on, liquid methane and ethane filled the resulting craters.
The Study On The Formation Of Hydrocarbon Lakes On Titan Used The Data Collected By NASA’s Cassini Probe
The scientists said that, during cold periods, Titan’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere rained liquid nitrogen over Saturn’s moon’s rocks, producing pools of nitrogen over liquid water and solid organic materials. Then, during the warmer seasons, due to an increase in temperatures, the nitrogen expands, dissolving the rocks and creating craters.
The new theory explains the formation of hydrocarbon lakes on Titan, and it holds up since it is well-known that this Saturn’s moon has experienced consecutive periods of cold and warm weather. Also, the new research is essential for future exploration missions that NASA thinks to conduct on Titan.
The new study was possible thanks to NASA’s Cassini probe data obtained and sent home during the orbiter’s plunge through Saturn’s atmosphere. “As scientists continue to mine the treasure trove of Cassini data, we’ll keep putting more and more pieces of the puzzle together. Over the next decades, we will come to understand the Saturn system better and better,” said Linda Spilker from NASA.