Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, has been a topic of fascination since NASA’s Cassini mission started sending us clear images of it. New images depict an even better view of Titan’s lakes, mostly located around the moon’s north pole.
Planetary scientists believe that these lakes are made up of liquid methane and ethane. NASA hopes that the new photos will provide clues about how the lakes were created, potentially leading to new discoveries about Titan’s climate cycles that are similar to those on Earth, if slightly colder. Cassini uses radar and a variety of spectrometers to see through the thick haze that surrounds Titan. Until now, though, those instruments have not been able to get a good view of the moon’s north pole.
So what's changed? Sunlight is hitting Titan’s north pole for the first time in nine years. This has helped get rid of much of the haze and clouds that cover the area. Good weather, too, is also to thank for cooperating with Cassini’s recent flybys. These factors allowed Cassini to get better images than previously, showcasing the lakes in a way we haven’t seen before. The new data even shows that a few lakes may have evaporated, creating something similar to Earth’s salt flats on the surface of the moon. Also, astronomers hope that seeing the lakes more clearly will help them figure out why the water bodies are concentrated in the moon’s northern hemisphere.
If we're lucky, the sunlight and good weather on Titan will allow for more discoveries. Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, said:
"Titan's northern lakes region is one of the most Earth-like and intriguing in the solar system. We know lakes here change with the seasons, and Cassini's long mission at Saturn gives us the opportunity to watch the seasons change at Titan, too. Now that the sun is shining in the north and we have these wonderful views, we can begin to compare the different data sets and tease out what Titan's lakes are doing near the north pole."
You can keep up with everything related to both Titan and the Cassini mission here.